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Marcus Roberts: Has A Lot More To Do

By Published: May 12, 2009

"...after being with RCA and Columbia—which are both fine record labels—I felt like I needed to wait and let things on the Internet and different delivery systems mature so that I could put the music out. I pretty much want to sell it myself, I don't want to do it through a major record label anymore."

Says Roberts, "You can really do what you feel is going to help you reach the people who like what you do. Yeah, it's a little harder and it's a brand new period, but I like it... now people can go to and they can buy this (disc) and eventually there will be more and more CDs there. So that way there's no limit to people having access to the content of yours that they want and they can decide what that is. They can determine how much of it that they want—if they want one song, if they want ten songs, if they want the whole CD, if they want part of this one and part of that one; I'm excited about offering people those options."

With a number of recordings distributed as both a leader and contributor, Roberts possesses an understanding of the business and how important it is for artists to be able to take creative control—a lesson he says jazz musicians can learn from hip-hop artists.

"You're not in between trying to maybe do something that a record label is behind and maybe they're not or maybe they're behind it today, but not tomorrow. Or maybe they decide that what you have no longer fits with their overall catalog strategy—I mean who knows? But it's very important to me that artists are able to just do their work and find better ways to communicate with their audience."

"I want to delve deeper into this technology of how we can deliver more music to people. I have to learn about that as well. Artists are usually not that comfortable with telling people go here and buy my stuff, but we're in a time when we're just going to have to get over it and do it. All of us coming together more and more—it's going to help us all to learn better strategies and use more of a community approach to selling what we do."

"I think that's one thing we need to gradually expand into. That's what the hip-hop artists did. That's why their thing expanded the way it did and had as much power and impact that it did. The jazz musician—we're a little more scattered and into these separate camps. I just don't know if that's the way to go. You know I can't push or force these things, but my opinion is that we need to head in a more collaborative direction."

If the first offering from J Master Records is any indication, music fans have a lot to look forward to. New Orleans to Harlem, Volume I is an example of what happens when you put three talented musicians together and allow them room to work. Featuring Roberts on piano, with bassist Roland Guerin

Roland Guerin
Roland Guerin
and Jason Marsalis
Jason Marsalis
Jason Marsalis
on drums, the disc is a celebration of New Orleans music and the role it played in the further development of jazz.

"New Orleans has such a rich history and an important role in starting jazz and preserving it and most people, if you were to ask them, what they consider jazz to be or what they definitely consider jazz to be, New Orleans is probably going to be the first choice."

While eleven of the disc's twelve cuts are traditional compositions the results are anything but traditional. Musicians like these make the traditional new again.

"When you have talented musicians—and again a lot of this music we've been playing for years too... all those things kind of work together to produce the inspiration that you need to take it from the original version to figuring out, well here's what we can do with it. Some of its just time. Like "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are" (Monk) we've been playing that tune for a long time—we had four or five different arrangements of it—before we settled into okay, this how we really like to play this tune. With a lot of the music that's kind of how it is."

"I chose a lot of the pieces based on how comfortable we had become playing (them)—There a certain pieces that we were able to really personalize and I guess, put our signature on so that played the biggest role. And of course there are certain pianists I've always had an interest in—Monk, Fats Waller

Fats Waller
Fats Waller
1904 - 1943
and Duke—so those two variables really determined what this first volume would be. "A Real Slow Drag" I did that solo on a record called The Joy of Joplin and we started playing it with the trio and (it) just developed into what's on this recording; same with "The Entertainer," "Jungle Blues"—a lot of them they're tunes that we love and that we did a lot for our development."

Many of these selections are referred to as timeless and they indeed have become a part of the proverbial American songbook. But initial critical reaction indicates that when done well, they can be enjoyed and explored again and again. For Roberts, that's where the interest lies.

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