A full house of jazz lovers in the Rose Theatre at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York were taken to class by Marcus Roberts and his orchestra as they played a myriad of tunes by the great Jelly Roll Morton. Roberts is not only one of the most brilliant piano players in the world but is also an excellent teacher of jazz at Florida State University.
Along with the other members of his trio, Rodney Jordan on bass and Jason Marsalis on drums, Roberts added Ron Westray on trombone, Stephen Riley on tenor, Ricardo Pascal on soprano (and tenor), Alphonso Horne on trumpet and Joe Goldberg on clarinet to form a powerful octet.
For two nights, May 11th and 12th, audiences were treated to renditions of some rather less known Jelly Roll Morton tunes as Roberts and company explored Morton's different innovations that helped define the early parameters of traditional jazz --- especially the New Orleans sounds and rhythms and what Jelly Roll referred to as the "Latin tinge".
Marcus Roberts on several occasions took the audience on enchanting rides as he would do extended solos, often gently moving from trad jazz into bebop and swing, and then into his own complex style that always finds a way to amaze.
Marcus says (referring to Jelly Roll Morton's accomplishments): "Nothing else from then reflects such a seminal, clear conception, which he was able to write down on paper for people who weren't native New Orleans musicians, or not directly tied to that conception, and teach it to them and play it. One could argue that he was one of the first people to really spread what jazz was all about in his native environment."
In his landmark album, "New Orleans Meets Harlem, Volume 1" (J Master Records 2010), Marcus Roberts along with Jason Marsalis and Roland Guerin superlatively accomplished this feat of celebrating early Morton and Joplin tunes and the elegance of Ellington and beyond. Many of you might remember our interview of Marcus on WWOZ two years ago when he spoke eloquently about the creative process between Jason Marsalis and Roland Guernin and himself.
I recommend "New Orleans Meets Harlem, Volume 1" to jazz lovers for its beauty and musicianship, but also for the album's shear grace and intelligence. Marcus Roberts and his octet accomplished some of the same at JALC this mid-May, and as I left the theatre, I hoped that we might soon enjoy Volume 2.
Jelly Roll Justice