Born: August 7, 1963 Primary Instrument: Piano
Marcus Roberts grew up in Jacksonville, Florida where his mother's gospel singing and the music of the local church left a lasting impact on his own musical style. After losing his sight at age five, he began teaching himself to play piano a few years later. He had his first formal lessons at age twelve and ultimately went on to study classical piano at Florida State University with Leonidus Lipovetsky. While at FSU, Roberts won the first of many competitions and awards, the young artist's competition at the 1982 National Association of Jazz Educators annual conference. His many other awards include first prize at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 1987, a National Academy of Achievement award in 1995 and the Helen Keller Award for Personal Achievement in 1998.
At age 21, Roberts began touring with Wynton Marsalis and stayed with the group for over six years. He signed his first recording contract with BMG/Novus in 1988 and completed six recordings for them before signing with Columbia Records early in 1994. All of his recordings have been critically acclaimed, and several have reached the No. 1 spot on Billboard's traditional jazz chart. Roberts’ recording legacy reflects his tremendous versatility as an artist and includes solo piano, duets, and trio arrangements of jazz standards, original suites of music, large ensemble works, and symphony orchestra recordings.
Roberts first performed as a soloist with symphony orchestra in 1992 with Maestra Marin Alsop. Since that time, he has performed with orchestras all over the world, but most frequently with his long-time music mentor, Maestro Seiji Ozawa. In 2003, Roberts premiered his ground-breaking arrangement of Gershwin's “Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra” with Ozawa in Japan with the New Japan Philharmonic and then in Europe, with the Berlin Philharmonic at their annual Wäldbuhne concert (A Gershwin Night (DVD), EuroArts 2003). Among Roberts most recent achievements was the April 2013 premiere of his first piano concerto, “Spirit of the Blues: Piano Concerto in C Minor”, with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Robert Spano. That concerto was dedicated jointly to Maestro Ozawa and the late Martin Luther King, Jr.
Since beginning his own record label, J-Master Records, in 2009, Roberts' has released three CDs on the label: New Orleans Meets Harlem, Volume 1; Celebrating Christmas; and most recently, Deep in the Shed: A Blues Suite. In 2012, the Marcus Roberts Trio collaborated with Béla Fleck to record and tour Across the Imaginary Divide (distributed by Rounder Records). Two new CDs are scheduled to be released shortly on J-Master Records including a two-CD set (Together Again: Live in Concert and Together Again: In the Studio) with the Marcus Roberts Trio and special guest, Wynton Marsalis.
Roberts’ deep respect for the contributions and achievements of the great masters of jazz and classical music has led to his highly innovative and original piano style and philosophy of jazz improvisation. He is an extremely active composer and arranger, with scores of individual compositions and numerous entire suites of music. He has been honored to receive many commissioning awards, including awards from Jazz at Lincoln Center, Chamber Music America, ASCAP, the North Carolina Association of Jazz Educators, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the Savannah Music Festival. Finally, Marcus Roberts is a dedicated teacher. He is devoted to the training and development of younger musicians. Just a few of the remarkably talented musicians that he has trained and guided over the years are Jason Marsalis, Marcus Printup, Nicholas Payton, Ronald Westray, Vincent Gardner, Roland Guerin, Etienne Charles, and Alphonso Horne as well as a number of talented up-and-coming musicians who will be featured on his upcoming recording entitled Romance, Swing, and the Blues. Roberts is generous with his time, his talent, and his vast knowledge of jazz music. He and his trio regularly provide master classes, workshops, lecture-demonstrations and residency programs while on tour. He is always willing to reach out to younger musicians. Roberts serves as the Associate Artistic Director for the Savannah Music Festival where he directs the annual “Swing Central” high school band competition and educational programs for students from all over the country. Roberts lives in Tallahassee, where he is on the faculty at the School of Music at his alma mater, Florida State University.
Awards:1982 Young Artist’s Award, National Association of Jazz Educators 1987 First Prize, Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition 1995 National Academy of Achievement Award 1998 Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award, American Federation for the Blind 2001 Commissioning Award: Chamber Music America (From Rags to Rhythm) 2002 Artist-in-Residence, 2002 Winter Olympic Games 2003 Jacksonville Jazz Hall of Fame 2003-04 Housewright Scholar, Florida State University 2004 Commissioning Award: N.C. Association of Jazz Educators (Journey into Swing) 2005 ASCAP Commissioning Award (premiered at Rose Hall) (The Sound of the Band) 2012 Atlanta Symphony Orchestra piano concerto commissioning aware (The Spirit of the Blues)
Mr. Roberts... plays almost completely free of cliches, and while the intellectual construct within which he works is old - the application of the modern on a foundation of tradition—his ability in all his idioms seemed startlingly thorough. —Peter Watrous, New York Times
That the huge crowd at Orchestra Hall on Friday night responded...with an instantaneous standing ovation said a great deal about Roberts' ability to keep an audience in his spell. —Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune
The sheer power and beauty of Roberts' creations...warrant further investigation. —Larry Blumenfeld, Jazziz
[Roberts'] writing is often brilliant in its juxtaposition of distant musical eras, ...its believable evocation of mood, ...and the way solos are made to emerge organically from the ensembles. —Thomas Conrad, Downbeat
Although classically trained, Roberts is primarily a jazz pianist and composer. He is, therefore, a musician to whom improvisation is not only a living, but also an essential art. The results in the Rhapsody in Blue were fascinating. —Stephen Wigler, The Baltimore Sun
Marcus Roberts is a superb improviser with a considerable compositional gift. —Chris Parker, The Times (London)
There's an easy tendency to criticize the astonishing technical facility of Marcus Roberts and his associates as being too facile... when Marcus Roberts, or Wynton Marsalis for that matter, fly along brilliantly on their instruments, one never intuits a psyche on the edge of abandon but rather one recognizes extraordinary training and immaculate control... Their supreme adroitness still legitimately feeds the thrill of the music. —Richard Perry, The Ottawa Citizen
Blues [for the New Millennium] rarely falters in its grooves. Thanks are due to an irresistible rhythm section, ... and Roberts' compositional wit —Bruce Handy, Time Magazine
No matter what guise they assume, however, the blues are always essential to jazz, and Roberts and his 12 gifted young musicians come to delightful grips with that fact on Blues for the New Millennium. —Geoffrey Himes, The Washington Post
And what became clear by the conclusion of this fascinating program was that Roberts...opens up a creative window on both the past and future. By retaining the substance of these works, without mimicking their styles, by finding within them new musical challenges for the present and the future, rather than a by-the-numbers need for precise historical reproduction, he is identifying the entire jazz repertory as a timeless arena for creative endeavor. —Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times
On The Joy of Joplin, Roberts once again forces us to re-examine what jazz is and where jazz is now. That's good. It's one reason why he is a pivotal figure in today's jazz scene. -Paul J. MacArthur, The Houston Press
There may not be another pianist alive who could pull off such a feat while staying so true to the spirit of Joplin's compositions, if only because Roberts has the historical knowledge, creative imagination and technical prowess to sustain the experiment. Yet one ultimately comes away from this recording with new reverence for Joplin, who emerges as the forger of an indestructible ragtime vocabulary and as a pervasive influence on generations of composers yet unborn when he was in his prime. —Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune
Marcus Roberts...has made a name on the symphonic circuit playing Rhapsody in Blue which he fills with extended and dazzling improvisations that I can't imagine Gershwin wouldn't love. —Judith Green, The Atlanta Journal
Marcus Roberts Quintet, The Truth is Spoken Here, (BMG/Novus, 1989)
Marcus Roberts Septet, Deep in the Shed, (BMG/Novus, 1990)
Marcus Roberts, Alone with Three Giants, (BMG/Novus, 1991)
Marcus Roberts, A Prayer for Peach, (BMG/Novus, 1991)
Marcus Roberts, As Serenity Approaches, (BMG/Novus, 1992)
Marcus Roberts, If I Could Be with You, (BMG/Novus, 1993)
Marcus Roberts Trio, Gershwin for Lovers, (Columbia, 1994)
Marcus Roberts Trio, Time and Circumstance, (Columbia, 1996)
Marcus Roberts with orchestra, Portraits in Blue, (Sony Classical, 1996)
Marcus Roberts Band, Blues for the New Millennium, (Columbia, 1997)
Marcus Roberts, The Joy of Joplin, (Sony Classical, 1998)
Marcus Roberts Trio, In Honor of Duke, (Columbia, 1999)
Marcus Roberts Trio, Cole After Midnight, (Columbia, 2001)
Marcus Roberts Trio with Berlin Philharmonic, A Gershwin Night, (Euroarts, 2005)
Marcus Roberts Trio, Saito Kinen Orchestra with Seiji Ozawa, George Gershwin: Piano Concerto in F, (Decca, 2006)
Marcus Roberts Trio, New Orleans Meets Harlem, (J-Master Records, 2009)
Marcus Roberts Trio, Celebrating Christmas, (J-Master Records, 2001)
Marcus Roberts Trio with Bela Fleck, Across the Imaginary Divide, (Rounder Records, 2011)
Marcus Roberts Nonet, Deep in the Shed: A Blues Suite, (J-Master Records, 2012)
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Willing to teach:
Advanced students only.
On the faculty at Florida State University School of Music
Does clinics and workshops in a wide range of settings. Is Director of Educational programs for Savannah Music Festival