“Determined” is one way to describe professional musician Marcus Roberts, a 1981 graduate of the blind department at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind.
He’s also one very talented guy. In the middle of this month he released three CDs and by the end of it, he is scheduled to be spotlighted on “60 Minutes.”
A portion of the show was videotaped during an August visit to the FSDB campus. For the taping, Roberts was joined by his longtime friend, internationally acclaimed musician, composer, bandleader and educator, Wynton Marsalis. Marsalis, currently the cultural correspondent for CBS “Morning Show” suggested a segment on Roberts on that show, but “60 Minutes” producers opted for prime time.
The Marsalis-Roberts duo wasn’t exactly a musical match made in heaven, Roberts said during a phone interview.
The interview with The Record was one of a number for the 50-year-old pianist/composer, and the next day he was heading out on a tour which would take him to Minneapolis, Toronto, Little Rock and Memphis, concluding at the end of the month in Atlanta.
He likes touring he said, but “it’s a neverending quest,” just like interviews, but “if you’re not interviewed, nobody knows what you’re up to!”
Roberts’ determination was never more prominent, he says, then trying to hook up musically with Marsalis.
A trip of a lifetime
Shortly after graduating from FSDB and in his second semester at Florida State University, where he now serves as an assistant professor of jazz studies, Roberts was selected for a trip to Chicago to participate in “a jazz event for young artists. It was January. I remember because I don’t think I’d ever been that cold in my life” the Jacksonville native said. “I remember thinking: ‘If you stay out here longer than 15 seconds you’ll die!’”
On that trip he met Marsalis’ father, who suggested Roberts meet Wynton. Wynton’s dad gave Roberts Wynton’s number, and “I just called him. He really didn’t want to hear from me, like ‘why does this blind guy keep calling me?’”
But Roberts was determined, and Roberts finally made contact at a Jacksonville Jazz Festival, but “he just wasn’t very approachable,” Roberts said, recalling Marsalis told Roberts: “‘I really don’t want to hear from you, but call me any time.’ I kept calling,” and at one point asked Marsalis: “Is there any way I can play with you?”
Eventually, said Roberts, Marsalis said that if pianist Kenny Kirkland every leaves “‘I’ll call you.’
“When he said that, he had no idea that Kenny would ever leave,” Roberts continued. “Kenny did leave, and he (Marsalis) called me, again not because he really wanted to … It wasn’t because he was enthralled with my playing. He really didn’t like it at all,” but Marsalis called because Roberts was one determined musician.
So June 17, 1985, Roberts went to Marsalis’ New York apartment. “We did the first gig in Salt Lake City, and within a week of playing together we became very close.
“I talked to him this morning,” Roberts said recently. “We’ve been best friends ever since.”