Posted in: Columnist, Opinion, View From Down Here

A Night With Marcus Roberts

Posted on August 13, 2014

A Night With Marcus Roberts

There are a number of world-class musicians who live and work in Tallahassee. Pam Laws, Marcus Roberts, Scotty Barnhardt, and Marvin Goldstein come to mind.

Several weeks ago 60 Minutes did a piece on Marcus Roberts and watching it reminded me that a number of years ago, when we still had a Chez Pierre, Chez Pierre would book The Sir Charles Atkins Down Home Blues Band, a New Orleans-style band that really knows how to play that good old nasty, earthy blues. I am a fan of Atkins and I love the blues, so I went to hear them play.

The band is an interesting mix. Atkins is a rotund smiling, affable blind man with a raspy voice, and he makes his keyboard scream. Think Ray Charles.

Adam Gaffney, also blind, plays a thumping bass and art Donnelley shreds the guitar ah-la Duane Allman style. The drummer is a redhead named Debbie “Sweet-Groove” Berlinger.

I got there just after they had started playing their second set, so I was sopping up some designer beer when they rolled into “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog”. They didn’t play it like Elvis; they played the original version like “Big Mama” Thornton.

About halfway through the set, Sir Charles stood up and moved to another microphone and said, “I wanna bring up my friend Mark up here to play with us.”

I noticed a woman leading a blind man to the stage. I did a double-take when I realized who it was: Marcus Roberts. Actually, it is Professor Marcus Roberts, the world-renowned jazz pianist and professor of music at Florida State University School of Music. I knew I was going to hear something wonderful.

As Roberts sat down, I could tell what that keyboard was thinking: “Man this Marcus Roberts is going to wear me out!” And he did.

Sweet-Groove did a count-down with her sticks and Adam started a walking bass-line as they launched into, “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

I was thoroughly hypnotized as I listened to a true master blend these magical jazz notes perfectly with the raw blues melody. The hair on my arms was standing up, and I don’t think I blinked or took a breath for 20 minutes. I was very aware I was seeing and hearing something special.

The entire band was in the same pocket and they went to that place where all musicians go when they are really getting off on what they are doing.

Then it was over.

The audience didn’t make a sound for about 10 seconds and then we all erupted into applause and we held our lighters in the air as Roberts made his was back to his table.

What a glorious moment.

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