Jazz pianist Marcus Roberts, who turns 38, pays tribute to a pair of American musical icons on his new release Cole After Midnight. Half of the album is dedicated to singer and pianist Nat "King" Cole while the remainder features the music of songwriter Cole Porter.
Ask Marcus Roberts to list his musical influences, and you'll get everyone from Beethoven and Mahler to Erroll Garner, John Coltrane and Mary Lou Williams. But these are just a few of his favorite artists. Although he's recorded songs by George Gershwin, Scott Joplin, James P. Johnson, Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton, his tribute to Cole Porter and Nat King Cole may be his deepest and most personal album.
The Nat "King" Cole Trio had a profound impact on Marcus Roberts who assembled his own trio for "Cole After Midnight." Bassist Roland Guerin helps out on Nat "King" Cole's signature song, "Unforgettable."
Marcus Roberts was born in Jacksonville, Florida. Blind since childhood, he began formal piano training at age 12. He was drawn to jazz while attending Florida State University. In 1982, he won his first major piano competition at the National Association of Jazz Educators convention in Chicago. During his six-year tenure with the Wynton Marsalis Quintet, Roberts won top prize at the first Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition.
Recording offers were next, and Roberts wasted no time tapping into his eclectic repertoire. In the early 1990s, he became the first jazz musician to have his first three albums reach Number One on Billboard's jazz chart.
Though many of his albums reflect the works of influential jazz artists, Roberts is equally at home playing originals. He composed and arranged the title song, "Cole After Midnight."
The "other" Cole, Cole Porter, is best-known for such pop standards as "What Is This Thing Called Love" and "I've Got You Under My Skin," both included on the new Marcus Roberts CD. Roberts was most inspired by Porter's jazzier compositions, especially those recorded by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Roberts says his life was never the same after hearing Armstrong's rendition of Cole Porter's "You're The Top."
The Marcus Roberts Trio, featuring Roland Guerin on bass and Jason Marsalis on drums, is currently touring in support of the new album.