The stories and sonnets of William Shakespeare have traveled remarkably well over the centuries, mostly in live theatre productions and on film, where as of mid-2018, IMDB listed over 1,350 adaptations over the last century or so. Considering the wit, passion and poetry involved, one wonders why more composers and musical artists haven’t tackled the Bard.
Deborah Shulman is trying to change that conversation.. Driven by tenderly sweet and exquisitely soulful jazz arrangements, the veteran club and musical theatre performer's beautifully rendered “The Shakespeare Project” showcases her deep vocal artistry while illuminating just how well ace composers can create memorable, playful and heartrending songs out of Shakespeare’s timeless words.
The foundational inspiration for Shulman and her producer, arranger and pianist Jeff Colella’s deft balance of softly rendered grace and peppy swing is Shakespeare and All that Jazz, a 1964 album by British legends Dame Cleo Laine and her husband/composer Sir John Dankworth. Shulman’s connection to that material goes back to 1987, when she secured the rights to co-produce a theatrical production of “Word Songs,” that included many of the duo’s pieces.
In addition to a handful of Dankworth’s pieces, The Shakespeare Project includes compositions by Arthur Young, Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn (who knew?) and two originals by Colella. Though the traditional lyric rhymes our ears are used to from voices like Shulman’s aren’t there, it’s a continuous joy to experience all the emotion she brings to words (some familiar, some more obscure) that were penned in a very different time - yet somehow seem even more relevant to the human experience now.
Helping bring the history to exquisite life are some of L.A.’s top jazz musicians, including guitarist Larry Koonse, bassists Abraham Laboriel and Chris Colangelo, Bob Shppard (woodwinds) and drummers Joe Labarbera and Kendall Kay.