More so than many jazz pianists of his generation, Marcus Roberts shows the distinct influence of pre-WWII piano players such as Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and others who helped shape the music's first few decades. St. Louis jazz fans will get a chance to experience Roberts' historically informed pianism in a couple of weeks when he and his trio perform on Saturday, December 1 at the Sheldon Concert Hall.
Blind since childhood, Roberts attended attended the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, Florida, also the alma mater of Ray Charles, and studied classical music at Florida State University. His affinity for the jazz tradition made him something of a natural collaborator for trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who in 1985 plucked Roberts from relative obscurity and installed him as the pianist in his small group and in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Roberts began recording as a leader soon after joining Marsalis, releasing albums prolifically through the late 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s that often explored the music of past jazz greats while also incorporating techniques derived from his classical background. Though like many jazz artists, Roberts has put out relatively fewer recordings as the music business began to come apart over the last decade, 2011 saw him release two new albums, New Orleans Meets Harlem and the holiday themed Celebrating Christmas.
This year, he and his longtime collaborators, drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Rodney Jordan, teamed up with banjo player Béla Fleck to release Across the Imaginary Divide and tour in support of the album. In addition, Roberts this month has just released a new, re-recorded version of Deep In The Shed, his 1990 solo album recorded while still with Wynton Marsalis that, though considered one of his strongest early efforts, had gone out of print.
Today, we've got a half-dozen video clips that should serve as a handy short-form introduction to Roberts, his trio, and their approach to music. The first clip seen up above, is a performance of the title track from Deep In The Shed, recorded in 2008 at a retrospective concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Down below, there are solo versions of Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" and Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'", both of which seem to date from around the turn of the century.
Below that, you can see Roberts and the trio playing the Gershwin standard "I Got Rhythm" in 2003 with Seiji Ozawa and the Berlin Philharmonic in 2003. The fifth clip is a version of the Thelonious Monk tune "Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-Are" (aka "Bolivar Blues") that appears to have been recorded in the studios of PBS' Tavis Smiley Show, perhaps in conjunction with Roberts' October 2009 appearance on that program.
To wrap up, there's a video interview with Roberts, recorded last year not long after the release of New Orleans Meets Harlem, that also features some musical excerpts.