Distinguished Visiting Professor of Music
Primary Academic Program: Music
Biography:Marcus Roberts is a highly acclaimed modern jazz pianist, composer, and educator. He is known for his ability to blend the jazz and classical idioms into something wholly new and for his unique approach to jazz trio performance, which relies on all musicians sharing equally in shaping the direction of the music by using a system of musical cues and flexible forms to change its tempo, mood, texture, or form. Roberts’s life and work were featured by CBS’s 60 Minutes in a 2014 episode, “The Virtuoso,” which traced his life from his early years in Jacksonville, Florida, and at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, to his award-winning career as a performer and composer. Roberts launched his own record label, J-Master Records, in 2009, and is the founder of the Modern Jazz Generation, a multigenerational ensemble that is the realization of his long-standing dedication to training and mentoring younger jazz musicians. At Bard, Roberts will teach a series of master classes.
While Roberts began playing piano at age five after losing his sight, he did not have his first formal lesson until age 12. He went on to study classical piano at Florida State University with Leonidas Lipovetsky. Roberts has won numerous awards and competitions over the years, but the one that is most meaningful to him is the Helen Keller Achievement Award. His recordings reflect his artistic versatility and include solo piano, duets, and trio arrangements of jazz standards as well as original suites for trio, large ensembles, and symphony orchestra. His DVD recording with the Berlin Philharmonic showcases his groundbreaking arrangement of Gershwin’s Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra (A Gershwin Night, EuroArts 2003). As a composer, he has received commissioning awards from, among other organizations, Chamber Music America, Jazz at Lincoln Center, ASCAP, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Savannah Music Festival. Roberts’s second piano concerto, Rhapsody in D for Piano and Orchestra, premiered at the Ozawa Music Festival in Japan and was commissioned by conductor Seiji Ozawa and the Saito Kinen Orchestra. Roberts serves as associate artistic director of the Savannah Music Festival as well as director of the annual Swing Central jazz programs that bring high school students from all over the country to Savannah for educational programs and a band competition. Among other accomplishments, Roberts has played with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center, appeared on Saturday Night Live, and was artist in residence for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
In addition to his bachelor of arts degree from Florida State University, Roberts received an honorary doctor of music degree from the Juilliard School. He has served as an associate professor of music at Florida State University’s School of Music. At Bard: 2020–21.