Part II of II — Read Part I here.
Recently, pianist Marcus Roberts and his trio (bassist Roland Guerlin and drummer Jason Marsalis) played in Portland. Marcus grew up in Florida and in the church; his mom was a gospel singer. After studying jazz in college, he played with Wynton Marsalis for six years. His trio is known for its virtuosic, new approach to jazz.
You’re facing the piano, ready to play; what’s going on inside?
My mother, who was also a gospel singer, said you have to communicate a feeling to people. If they don’t get it, you’re wasting your time. I’d play and she’d say, “I don’t really feel anything from that. Keep playing until I feel something.” When I play, I want to make it clear that the art is not really the most important thing. What’s most important is what the interaction with art gives you.
You’ve been given a pass to speak with any musician who’s now on the “other side.” Who do you choose?
Duke Ellington, because he wrote more music than anyone else that played jazz. Also, he had an unruly band. Yet, he kept that band together for 50 years! He was a charismatic individual. They didn’t call him “Duke” for nothing. He grew up with jazz, he was born in 1899, so he was around before jazz. He was literally on the ground floor of our greatest American music.
You’ve alluded to jazz and its connection to dancing. Please elaborate.
Jazz music used to do more when it was part of the dance culture. The bebop era, as great as it was, created a lot of damage, as people quit dancing to jazz and jazz became concert hall music. Now, you went there to look hip and not to enjoy music. Y’all know it’s true!
What’s your take on the art of jazz in the country today?
Life in America, at this time, means we’re stuck with the traditional rhetoric of persuasion and trying to convince you to try to do or believe something. Art doesn’t really do that. Art gives you the imagery and gives you an experience, and that experience tells what you need to change or not change, and what you believe about it. I think that’s where jazz and other art forms could play an important role – to hopefully open up the dialogue in this country with people who have different points of view and who will respectfully communicate and share those ideas.
What food best accompanies jazz?
For me, that would definitely be gumbo. I’m from the South; I’m not going to say salmon!