Pianist Marcus Roberts has always brought us music full of blues and swing, but he never sounds like a Throwback Thursday special. He insists on old-school virtues in his music, but he also insists on individuality — on harmony that pushes back where another player’s chords might be too cushy, on tightly sprung rhythms with odd accents that take swing to different places.
Roberts, who brings his trio to the Folly Theater on Friday, Jan. 19, has been a standout since he first appeared on the scene in the mid-1980s alongside trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Even then, in the midst of Marsalis’ swing-and-blues uprising, Roberts seemed to be something of guru, a guy even Marsalis was taking cues from.
Roberts often plays music from the past — Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Nat King Cole, John Coltrane — but never seems to do anything quite like it has been done before. He creates blues-based compositions that gleefully depart from the standard, predictable blues changes and rhythms. He has famously performed (dozens of times) George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with orchestras playing exactly what Gershwin wrote while the pianist totally improvises his own part. He insists on maintaining elements of the past, but he’s just as insistent on finding what works now.
He has made his mark in a variety of contexts but always seems to come back to the classic piano trio. That’s a context that makes his pianistic individuality absolutely clear and brings those quirky rhythms and grooves into sharp focus. (At last report, he was touring with bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Jason Marsalis, yes, one of those Marsalises — this unit has been working together for most of a decade.)
When Roberts came onto the scene among those “young lions,” he seemed to have a musical wisdom beyond his years. Now he’s in his 50s and playing with that same depth, still discovering new beauties in the old swing. It’s a music that seems to be speaking of the past, present and future all at once.
Roberts and the trio perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19, at the Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. Tickets are $20-$55. Call 816-474-4444 or check follytheater.org. Roberts will participate in a question-and-answer session for ticketholders at 7 p.m.
▪ The Boulevard Big Band is back! Catch them at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17, at the Westport CoffeeHouse Theater, 4010 Pennsylvania Ave.
▪ Blues man Millage Gilbert is the guest of honor on the next live performance/recording session for the “12th Street Jump” radio show, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17, at the Black Dolphin, 1813 Grand Blvd. It’s a salute to the music of Bobby Blue Bland.
▪ The Black Dolphin is also bringing in New York drummer Pete Zimmer, an associate of respected figures such as bassist Ron McClure and tenor saxophonist George Garzone. Zimmer’s quartet performs at 9 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 19, and again at 9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20.
▪ The Blue Room, 1600 E. 18th St., has the band Heat Index at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18; the Sons of Brasil at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19; and singer Ida McBeth at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20.
▪ The Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd., has singer Eboni Fondren and pianist Charles Williams at 6 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 14, followed by drummer Natalie Bates’ quartet at 10:30 p.m.; organist Chris Hazelton’s trio at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15, followed by the Villinger/Schlamb Trio at 10:30 p.m.; guitarist Matt Hopper’s trio at 6 p.m. Tuesday, followed by his Agora band at 8 p.m. and the Spaits & Perkins Trio at 10:30 p.m.; organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17, followed by bassist Tyrone Clark’s trio at 10:30 p.m.; Lovern’s trio at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18, followed by Guitar Elation at 8 p.m. and reed man Todd Wilkinson’s trio at 11:30 p.m.; pianist Tim Whitmer’s quartet at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19, followed by Embrey, Lovern & Strait at 8:30 p.m. downstairs, organist Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 at 9 p.m. upstairs and organist Matt Villinger’s trio at 11:55 p.m.; and singer Kathleen Holeman at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 20, followed by Lovern at 6 p.m., Hazelton’s trio at 9 p.m. downstairs and tenor saxophonist Stephen Martin’s quartet at 11:30 p.m. upstairs.
Joe Klopus, 816-234-4751