The jazz man speaks
Marcus Roberts Trio performs at Saint Anselm College
Marcus Roberts’ impressive resume spills onto three pages. The jazz pianist has played with Wynton Marsalis. He’s performed with ensembles as impressive as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic.
But perhaps his greatest and proudest accomplishment was when he received the Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award in 1998 by the American Federation for the Blind.
Roberts lost his vision when he was 5. After going blind, Roberts turned to music, being inspired by his mother, a gospel singer at a local church.
Roberts and his band (the Marcus Roberts Trio, including Roland Guerin on bass and Jason Marsalis on drums) are coming to The Dana Center at Saint Anselm on Thursday, Feb. 16. Roberts took a moment to school us on jazz.
What led you to the piano?
Just listening to my mom, who was in a gospel group with my sister. So we all sang. Just by going to church and being exposed to it, led me to it.
How come you didn’t stick with singing?
I used to sing. I stopped when my voice changed.
You’re an assistant professor in the School of Music at your alma mater, Florida State University. Why is teaching important to you?
If we teach the young people, then we have a clear way to pass the legacy on to them. They can continue to nurture it. [Jazz] is a very difficult music to learn how to play. And at times it’s even challenging to listen to. People need to know what they’re listening to.
So how can people learn what they’re listening to with jazz?
To me, good jazz has a groove to it. All the records that I listen to by all the best people out there — Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet or John Coltrane playing the sax or Duke Ellington’s Big Band — one thing they have in common is there is a good feeling; an optimism. People forget the first jazz players had tough circumstances. They used music to uplift them.
What one of your favorite pieces of music?
Oh my, there’s so much. Currently I’m really into “After You’ve Gone.” A lot of people play it. It’s what we call a standard. We just take different slants, different approaches to the same material.
What would you love to see if you had your vision back?
Anything, really. It’d be interesting to look around and check out the different cities. It’d be better for me to be able to see what makes one city different from another.
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