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World Class Jazz Comes to Berea

Marcus Roberts, celebrated pianist, and trio members Jason Marsalis and Roland Guerin brought their self-described "elegantly contemporary" blend of jazz to Phelps-Stokes on September 16.

Roberts and Guerin in the zone on Thursday

The special Stephenson Memorial event featured the transformation of American Jazz from the classical rhythms of early piano pioneer Scott Joplinís ragtime pieces, to the eclectic syncopations of Harlem's innovative Thelonious Monk.

The trio explores innovative renditions of Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Joplin, and Monk and others in this series subtitled "New Orleans meets Harlem". According to Roberts, those artists "produced an enormous body of work that served asÖ foundations [that] were crucial to the evolution of Jazz". Renditions of Joplin's "Entertainer" and Waller's "Aint Misbehavin", among the most memorable, evoked awe in audience members. Student and pianist Krista Bowker, commented "Most people donít understand how many years it takes to get to that level."

Robertsís interpretation of James P. Johnson's "Carolina Shout" transitioned well into the rhythmic syncopation of Monk's newer Harlem influence. Jelly Roll Mortonís "New Orleans Blues" provided a backdrop, while Fats Waller and Ellington highlighted the more recent and fuller New York influences. Rounded out by his original "Searching for the Blues," Roberts completed the history of American Jazz by returning to its blues roots.

The Stephenson Memorial Fund sponsored the event. Founded in 1987 in honor of Anne Stephenson and her brother John, former president of Berea College, the fund emphasizes high quality musical talent. Impressed by a concert performance in Charlotte, Randall Roberts, convocation director, was excited about acquiring Roberts for the Memorial series. Roberts noted "each year, we try to make sure to bring a high class jazz act and Marcus Roberts is really well known." So well known in fact, Marcus and his Trio routinely draw ticket sales between $25 and $60.

Roberts' success has been 20 years in the making. A Florida State graduate, Roberts emerged as a serious talent at the National Association of Jazz Educators in 1982, where he first met jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Roberts subsequently toured with Marsalis from 1985-91, simultaneously winning first prize at the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 1987. His most recent success, the 1998 Helen Keller Personal Achievement Award, came during his ten years with the Trio.

Drummer Jason Marsalis, and bassist Roland Guerin have distinguished accomplishments as well. Marsalis, brother of Wynton and Branford Marsalis, attained national interest at drumming as early as seventeen. Guerin, with three solo albums to his credit, is a premier slap bass player as exemplified during his performance of "Honeysuckle Rose."

The performance stood out in quality and entertainment value. Bassist Guerin noted a high quality tone and feel in the performance. "You donít listen to jazz, you feel it" added student and pianist Kris Colli-Biondi deftly capturing the mood of the convocation. The trio will continue on to Kansas City to create that mood with audiences, as they demonstrate why they occupy a position among the best jazz artists of our time.

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