Genius comes in many forms and influences along the way count, especially when a young, budding little boy loses his sight from glaucoma and cataracts at 5 years of age and his mother’s impact as a gospel singer takes hold. Music lifted this child into a world of brightness and lit the spark of genius. The personal influence of this child’s Mother gave him the support and guidance he needed building a foundation from which he exploded in talent after immersing himself with the notes and music of Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, John Coltraine, Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton and Ella Fitzgerald. This Jacksonville child has grown into a world-renowned jazz musician, and he is coming back to the Florida Theatre to perform. His name is Marcus Roberts.
Roberts attended the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. He taught himself how to play piano and did not even have a lesson until he was 12. Blindness was no barrier, rather he used his intellect and spirituality to catapult him forward on a path to greatness. He attended college at Florida State University to learn even more about music, and at 21, he toured with the great Winton Marsalis for six years.
“He’s the greatest American musician most people have never heard of.” said Wynton Marsalis.
Born in 1963, he made his first recording in 1988. In 1994, Roberts signed with Columbia Records. After several #1 hits, he began to devote more time to train and develop young musicians, an important legacy he continues to nurture and advance forward. He’s played jazz all over the world and was recently featured nationally in the United States on CBS’ “60 Minutes”.
Today, he has a new approach, a new direction for his music and for jazz trio performance. His versatility is noted in the world of music and includes solo, piano, duets, trio arrangements of jazz standards and original suites. From ground-breaking new arrangements of Gershwin debuting in Japan, then to Germany, Roberts now has his own label, J-Master Records. He has collaborated with Bella Fleck and has three critically acclaimed CDs. As a pianist, composer and arranger, he is noted for originality. Whether he is performing in New York’s at Lincoln Center or in Savannah or Atlanta, he continues as a member of the faculty at Florida State University. His pinnacle achievement was being awarded The Helen Keller Award for Personal Achievement. He has also received an Honorary Doctor of Music degree from The Juilliard School. He continues to be a force of genius in the jazz world.
In 2012, his new 12-piece band ensemble, The Modern Jazz Generation, featured all -original material on a double LP “Romance, Swing & The Blues” (see more) In 2014, the band made its first CD of this multi-generational 1920s through 1950s music, which is based on the principles of mentoring young people in jazz and including musicians from three different generations. This is what Roberts wants to do, nurture and set free – just as music has set him free to use his genius and share what he knows to perpetuate jazz in the future. He’s trained more than 30 jazz musicians, including Jason Marsalis.
Roberts equalizes the drums, bass and piano in a philosophical sense to develop his own brand. He composes juxtaposing independently his right and left hand, leaving the listener believing there are two pianists, not one.
Piano master Marcus Roberts is a living legend.