Join Roberts and his nonet on April 29 & 30 at 8pm in Rose Theater as he takes you on a journey through the compositions and innovations of piano pioneers Earl "Fatha" Hines, whose stride style made the 1920s roar, and Earl "Bud" Powell, whose powerful piano brought the instrument into the modern age.
"I want to figure out the intersection between the two of those guys," explains Roberts. "You don't think of Earl Hines necessarily going beyond Chicago and Louis Armstrong in his playing, even though he was still going strong in his seventies. People don't really know that Bud Powell was an accomplished pianist and could play all the styles of jazz, not just bebop, which he helped create."
In 1925, Earl "Fatha" Hines met Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong in a Chicago poolroom. Hines was 21, Armstrong 24. The two became good friends and made their mark with a band called Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives. Bud Powell received his early training from mentor Thelonious Monk. Powell became known for his ability to play accurately at fast tempos; he soon began working with legendary saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker.
Hines and Powell had a profound effect on the evolution of jazz. "It seems like there's some kind of intersection between the two of them and it links all generations of jazz together," Roberts continues. "I don't think Earl Hines would have felt intimidated walking onstage with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. I don't think Bud Powell would have had any problem playing behind Louis Armstrong. They both gave significantly larger contributions to the American piano than they get credit for. I'm personally glad that I get a chance to explore these great pianists because I honestly haven't really dug deeply enough to find out what they're all about. Doing a show like this is always an opportunity for me to take another step towards the grandeur of their legacy."
Roberts was influenced by the early exposure to his mother's gospel singing. His parents bought him a piano when he was eight and he was at first self-taught, then formally trained. At age 21, he joined Wynton Marsalis in 1985 and toured with Marsalis' band for the next six years. They have been close friends ever since.
Marcus notes that both pianists were very holistic. "While there is no escaping the fact that Bud Powell was the great bebop pianist and responsible for a whole school of pianists that came after him, it would be unfair to limit him or categorize him strictly as a bebop pianist. They're both complete pianists."
How does one study and learn such complex compositions by these early master jazz pianists? "Right now I'm just listening to their music and getting it into my head. That's where I like to start. My two objectives are to come up with colorful arrangements and to display the mastery of these musicians we have on the stage. I want to make sure we use the genius of these pianists as best we can, and give a taste of what made them great. The main thing the audience can expect are different views of swing and hopefully a lot of personality."
"I'm a firm believer in blues being the primary ingredient in anything I do," says Roberts, speaking to his own growth and development. "The biggest thing I want to be is a complete pianist, to be able to play Chopin's music powerfully, Monk's music powerfully, gospel music powerfully. I want to be able to present as much of the history of the piano that I can understand."
Scott H. Thompson is Assistant Director for Public Relations at Jazz at Lincoln Center.