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Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts is a very talented -- if very raw -- young musician, whose good fortune it was to capture the attention and goodwill of the all-powerful Wynton Marsalis. Roberts is one of the generation of young African-American jazz musicians who seems bent on forging the future by reinventing the past; his infatuation with older forms renders his music a pastiche of obsolete styles. Roberts is a gifted mimic, though his adoption of his idols' surface mannerisms does not penetrate to the essence of their art. Roberts is without sight; he attended a school for the blind near his childhood home of Jacksonville, FL. He began playing piano in his youth, and studied the instrument at Florida State University in the mid-'80s. Roberts replaced Kenny Kirkland as Marsalis's pianist in 1985. He recorded as a sideman with the trumpeter through the rest of the decade and into the '90s, while at the same time making records under his own name for Columbia. Roberts became Marsalis's aide de camp at Jazz at Lincoln Center, writing and arranging extensively for the house big band, and participating in most of the cultural center's activities variously as a composer, performer, or teacher. Roberts is an outspoken proponent of jazz traditionalism; he has little patience for styles of jazz that lie outside the narrow parameters set down by his mentors. His lack of interest in expanding jazz's creative possibilities causes his music to have a hermetic quality, which is unfortunate, because one gets the feeling by listening to his recent compositions that, were Roberts to broaden his horizons a bit, he might be capable of doing excellent work. Chris Kelsey

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