Pianist/Organist/Composer/Arranger/Educator. Aspiring Singer.
The daughter of a European composer and a Great American Songbook
singer, native New Yorker Roberta Piket is a pianist who loves to
swing while exploring the more adventurous harmonic possibilities
of jazz and improvised music.
Roberta’s father was the Austrian composer Frederick Piket, whose
works were performed by the New York Philharmonic under famed
conductor Dimtri Metropolis. (The elder Piket, who passed away
when Roberta was eight, is also renowned for his significant
contribution to the musical liturgy of reform Judaism.)
From her mother, Cynthia, Roberta learned by ear the tunes of
Porter, Gershwin, Kern, Rodgers, and Berlin (as well as
In her early teens, a chance encounter with a classic LP rescued
from a flea market changed the course of Roberta’s life.
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“My older brother had bought a few copies of an old Muse LP of
Walter Bishop Jr.’s trio for 25 cents each. He played it for me
and I flipped. I just fell in love with the sound of the jazz
piano trio. The CD was called Speak Low, and I found the original
sheet music for that tune in my mother’s collection. I learned all
the songs on that record,” which, in addition to the title tune,
included Alone Together, Milestones and On Green Dolphin Street.
Shortly after that epiphany, Roberta became fascinated with the
20th century classical recordings that had belonged to her late
father. Soon she was dividing her time between the stacks of old
sheet music in the attic, learning standards, and the Bartok and
Schoenberg records and scores in her father’s library. Sprinkled
into the mix were a handful of Ellington scores borrowed from the
New York Public Library, and saturation listening to WRVR-FM, the
New York jazz radio station at the time.
As her interest in music intensified, Roberta’s mother tried to
discourage her from the difficult path of a professional musician.
As a compromise, she attended the joint five-year double-degree
program at Tufts University and New England Conservatory.
“Coming from a high school with a strong liberal arts curriculum
[New York’s prestigious Hunter College High School], I was not
opposed to continuing in the liberal arts tradition in college,
rather than narrowing my focus only to music. I believed then, and
still believe, that an artist needs to be stimulated by the
surrounding culture and not live in a vacuum.”
Roberta graduated with a degree in computer science from Tufts and
a degree in jazz piano from New England Conservatory, but after a
year as a software engineer, it was clear her heart was in music,
and she returned to her native New York to study and play. After
applying for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, she
began to study with pianist Richie Beirach.
“I was so young and naive when I moved back to New York. I didn’t
really know much about Richie’s music. It was sort of blind luck
that I started studying with someone who was able to help me
integrate my love of modern classical music into my jazz playing
As her artistry developed, Roberta found herself in the unusual
situation of playing both “straight ahead” jazz as well as so-
called “free” music. After a last minute gig subbing with the
Lionel Hampton band brought her to the vibraphonist’s attention,
she was invited to play on two tunes for his upcoming CD. “The
first CD I ever recorded was with Lionel Hampton. The production
was a bit disorganized so I ended up doing a little of everything
from helping Lionel rehearse the music, to writing out lead sheets
for Ron Carter (who chastised me for writing diminished chords
instead of dominant 7th chords), to helping in the editing stage.
Around the same time, Marian McPartland would hear her as a
finalist in the Thelonious Monk Composers Competition and invite
her to appear as a featured guest on NPR’s Piano Jazz, the first
of three appearances she would make on the show. “Marian was a
good friend to me and to countless young musicians,” Roberta
A 1999 Japan tour with her own trio magically brought Roberta
full circle. “The first night we arrived, I was sitting in my
hotel room playing with the cable radio system. There were several
jazz specialty stations. As soon as I turned on the radio, the
first music I heard was a track from that long ago Walter Bishop
Jr. LP, Speak Low. It was eery and incredibly moving to be brought
back to that moment when I first fell in love with the piano trio
while on my first international tour with my own trio.
Over the years, Roberta has appeared professionally as a
sidewoman with David Liebman, Rufus Reid, Michael Formanek, Lionel
Hampton, Mickey Roker, Eliot Zigmund, Benny Golson, Ted Curson,
Virginia Mayhew, and the BMI/NY Jazz Orchestra. She has also
toured and performed with some of the most interesting musicians
in European and American improvised music, including drummers
Klaus Kugel and Billy Mintz, and saxophonists Roby Glod, Petras
Vysniauskas and Louie Belogenis.
A gifted composer as well, Roberta was a finalist in the
Thelonious Monk BMI Composers’ Competition. She was also the
recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Roberta is from Queens, NY. Her father gave her her first piano
lessons when she was seven. Roberta began serious music studies in
her early teens, studying jazz piano with Walter Bishop, Jr and
classical piano with Vera Wels. While at New England Conservatory
she studied privately with Fred Hersch, Stanley Cowell, Jim
McNeely and Bob Moses. Upon returning to New York, in addition to
six years of study with Richie Beirach, she studied briefly with
In addition to Japan, Roberta’s trios have toured Spain and the
U.S. She has performed at the Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C.),
at the Earshot Festival (Seattle), at the Rochester (NY) Jazz
Festival, and in New York at Small’s, Mezzrow’s, the Blue Note,
Birdland, and Dizzy’s at Jazz at Lincoln Center. On her 2011 CD
release, Sides, Colors, in addition to featuring her trio, she
orchestrated several pieces for winds and strings, sang, and
played organ as well.
An eclectic series of projects has followed, including an
electric band, Alternating Current, the free improvisation trio
Belogenis, Piket, Mintz, the international Roby Glod Quartet, and
the Nabokov Project, which sets poems by Vladimir Nabokov to music
for piano, violin, mezzo-soprano, percussion, and speaker,
blending neo-classical harmonic concepts with lush melodies and
free improvisational sections.
Roberta’s most recent focus has been solo piano performance. Her
2012 CD, Solo, made the “ten best of the year” list of three jazz
critics. A spring 2015 follow-up CD is called Emanation (Solo:
Volume 2). Recent solo concerts include Kostel sv. Vavřince in
Prague, Reigen in Vienna, Palomar College in San Marcos, CA, An
Die Musik in Baltimore and Smalls in New York City.
As an educator, Roberta has held master classes at the Eastman
School of Music (where she performed solo and in duet with Marian
McPartland), Rutgers University, Cal Arts, Duke University, the
Northwestern University Composers’ Colloquium, and others in the
U.S., Europe and Japan. She has served as a panelist for the
Queens Council on the Arts grant review process and has taught at
the Litchfield Jazz Camp and the Vermont Jazz Center. She is also
the author of the Jazz Piano Vocabulary series of workbooks.
Roberta occasionally performs on B3 organ at clubs such as the
Harlem landmark Showman’s, as well as now and then leading her own
groups at Smalls and Mezzrow. She has written several big band
compositions, and is also a self-described “closet singer”. In
recent years she has toured Europe several times, including
France, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Ukraine and Spain.
The melding of different musical worlds in her youth resulted in
Roberta’s unique musical sensibilities and interests. Her numerous
recordings reveal an artist equally at home playing standards
(Solo, Emanation), free improvising (Poltva, Op Der Schmelz), and
composing and arranging her own music (Sides, Colors; Live at the
Blue Note). For Roberta, there are no genre boundaries, only the
opportunity to make exceptional music.