|MARCUS ROBERTS (piano)||RODNEY JORDAN (bass)||JASON MARSALIS (drums)|
In a 2014 issue of Jazz Times, Michael West wrote of Marcus Roberts: “His combination of talent, ambition, discipline, stylistic openness and resourcefulness suggest that he is a remarkable musician—perhaps even a Phenomenon…” According to Roberts, however, he is just honored to be a part of a phenomenal trio—one that is grounded in his long-term musical partnership with drummer Jason Marsalis (who took over the drum chair in 1994) combined with the gifted musicianship of bassist Rodney Jordon, whose profound musical intelligence has left its mark on the trio since joining the group in 2009.
The Marcus Roberts Trio is known for its virtuosic style and entirely new approach to jazz trio performance. While most jazz trios have the piano front and center, all members of the Marcus Roberts Trio share equally in shaping the direction of the music by changing its tempo, mood, texture, or form at any time. And they do this with lightning quick musical reflexes and creative imaginations. The trio is known for having almost telepathic communication on the stage. And more than a few concert goers have been heard to say that it sounds like a lot more than three people up there on the stage!
The Marcus Roberts Trio believes in ‘letting the music take over’ and the result is a powerfully rhythmic and melodic sound that is filled with dynamic contrast. One of the most enjoyable aspects of watching this trio perform is that it is so evident that these three musicians are really having fun playing together.
“One way Roberts individualizes his sound is by utilizing orchestral devices initially borrowed from the Ahmad Jamal Trio. In the course of a single piece, he constantly modulates grooves, tempos and keys, plays separate time signatures with the right hand and the left, and, as he puts it, “flips around the roles of the piano, bass and drums by giving everyone an equal opportunity to develop the concepts and themes, to change the form, to get us where we’re getting ready to go.” -Ted Panken, Jazziz Magazine, 2014
Rodney Jordan is a native of Memphis, Tennessee where he grew up playing the bass in church and with his high school orchestra. He later studied music with Dr. London Branch, Alvin Fielder, and Andy Hardwick at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. During his college years, Jordan joined the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra where he served as Assistant Principal Bassist. After graduating, he became Chair of the String Department at the Dougherty County Public School and served as Principal Bassist with the Albany Symphony Orchestra in Albany, GA. Teaching has always been an important part of Jordan’s life and career. In addition to teaching strings in Dougherty County, he also taught in the DeKalb County School Systems.
During his years in Georgia, Jordan served as a bass instructor at Darton College (part of the University System of Georgia) in Albany and at Georgia State University in Atlanta. While living in Atlanta, Jordan became one of the city’s most active jazz bassists, performing and recording with some of America’s finest jazz musicians, including Marcus Printup, Mulgrew Miller, James Williams, Milt Jackson, George Coleman, and Russell Gunn. He joined the faculty in the School of Music at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL in 2001 where he now holds a rank of Associate Professor of Jazz Studies. Jordan teaches jazz bass, jazz combo playing, music education classes, and a jazz styles class.
It was at Florida State University that Jordan and Marcus Roberts first met and played together. From the beginning, the two had a very close musical bond, playing and teaching together on many occasions. “One of the first things that I noticed about Rodney was his dedicated work ethic”, says Marcus Roberts. “When I observed students around him, I noticed that they became more serious just from working with him. His example inspires and leads them to greater commitment to learning how to play this music. Students respect him because he practices what he preaches. He also spends a lot of extra time with the students, and is never too busy to answer their questions.”
Jordan joined the Marcus Roberts Trio in 2009. It was evident during that first official performance of the newly-formed trio at the prestigious Wigmore Hall in London that Jordan thoroughly understood Roberts’ unique trio conception. Rodney Jordan is one of the most versatile jazz bassists on the scene today. His tone is rich and soulful when he plays hauntingly beautiful phrases with the bow. Just as readily, he plays fast virtuosic passages with apparent effortless skill. Jordan’s knowledge of harmony from his classical bass training combined with the relentless feeling of swing in his playing is a perfect fit for the powerful melodic, blues-based, syncopated improvisational sound of the Marcus Roberts Trio.
Rodney Jordan’s passion and dedication to the music is evident in every note that he plays. In a recent review after a trio performance with the Memphis Symphony, Jon Sparks wrote, “Jordan’s bass work was fluid and ethereal, absolutely beautiful”. There is little doubt that Rodney Jordan will make a lasting contribution to his instrument and to jazz music.
Jason Marsalis (born March 4, 1977) is the youngest son of pianist and music educator Ellis Marsalis. He began playing drums at age three and by age six, began studying with the legendary drummer, James Black. By age nine, he started playing regularly at many of his father’s shows. His association with Marcus Roberts dates back to 1987 (when Roberts was touring with Jason’ s brother, Wynton Marsalis). Young Jason began touring with Roberts in November of 1994 at age 17. When he arrived for his first gig with all of the music from Roberts’ CD Gershwin for Lovers completely memorized, playing it straight through without a mistake, Roberts knew then that Jason would be an anchor for his band and he has been ever since.
Jason Marsalis graduated from the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts High School (NOCCA), studied classical percussion at the Eastern Music Festival, and went on to study music at Loyola University while continuing to tour regularly with Roberts. He has also continued throughout the years to perform with his father and to be an active part of the New Orleans jazz scene, performing with a wide range of bands such as Casa Samba, Neslort, Los Hombres Calientes, and Dr. Michael White’s band.
Marsalis is a perfect fit for the philosophy and style of the Marcus Roberts Trio. His drum sound is clear, precise, well balanced, intelligent, and highly varied and his playing is equal parts discipline and spontaneity. He has “perfect rhythm”, meaning that he can keep many different tempos and time signatures in his head simultaneously without getting lost.
Marsalis draws from the whole history of the drums to express his own very elaborate and organic drum style. One of his signature talents is his use of drum styles that are not traditionally associated with the jazz trio, such as those of Jo Jones, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes and Tony Williams. He is also inspired by the sounds and philosophy of the great trios of Errol Garner, Ahmad Jamal, Nat Cole, and Oscar Peterson. Marsalis brings all of his unique talents and broad knowledge of jazz history and styles together when he solos on the drums. Marsalis has also released five albums under his own name: Year of the Drummer (1998), Music in Motion (2000), Music Update (2009), Year of the Mallets (2013), and 21st Century Trad Band (2014). He has performed on several CDs with his father, pianist Ellis Marsalis, as well as a number of other artists. Marsalis has been featured on all of Roberts’ group recordings with trio, large ensembles, and symphony orchestra since 1995.