“I never plan to stop studying and sharing in the creation of great music. When I play, I play for the people. Jazz is not elitist. It was created and grew from the soil of our fertile and, at times, difficult American experience, and it will resonate as long as our democratic structure exists.”
— Marcus Roberts
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. Roberts studied classical piano at Florida State University with Leonidus Lipovetsky. While at Florida State, Roberts won the first of many competitions and awards garnered over the years. At age 21, he began touring with Wynton Marsalis and stayed for over six years.
Roberts’ critically-acclaimed legacy of recorded music reflects his tremendous versatility as an artist and includes solo piano, duets and trio arrangements of jazz standards as well as original suites of music, large ensemble works, and symphony orchestra recordings (beginning with his Grammy-nominated Portraits in Blue, Sony Classical, 1996). He premiered his ground-breaking arrangement of Gershwin’s “Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra” with the New Japan Philharmonic and with the Berlin Philharmonic for their annual Wäldbuhne concert (DVD: A Gershwin Night, EuroArts 2003). Roberts’ record release of New Orleans Meets Harlem, Volume 1 in 2009 was his first on his own label. The recording demonstrated how Roberts has used the early ragtime, blues, and New Orleans’ jazz influences combined with the virtuosic Harlem styles to create an entirely new sound. In the fall of 2011, the Marcus Roberts Trio will release their first recording of holiday music, entitled simply Celebrating Christmas.
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 also an extremely active composer and arranger, with numerous individual compositions and entire suites of music including “Romance, Swing, and the Blues”, “Deep in the Shed”, “Time and Circumstance”, “In Honor of Duke”, “From Rags to Rhythm”, and “The Sound of the Band”. He has received various commissioning awards, including ones from Jazz at Lincoln Center, Chamber Music America, ASCAP, and the North Carolina Association of Jazz Educators. His most recent commissioning award from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is for a piano concerto to be premiered in 2012.
Roberts is also dedicated to the training and development of younger musicians (Jason Marsalis, Marcus Printup, Nicholas Payton, Ronald Westray, Vincent Gardner and Roland Guerin, to name a few). Roberts and his trio regularly provide master classes, workshops, lecture-demonstrations and residency programs while on tour. Roberts’ commitment to jazz education can also be seen in his role as 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. When not on tour, Roberts lives in Tallahassee, where he serves as an Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies in the School of Music at his alma mater, Florida State University.