By Philip Booth
Music festivals come and go, and several have fallen victim to recession-driven cutbacks.
The Clearwater Jazz Holiday, though, celebrates its 30th anniversary this weekend with a lineup largely focused on smooth jazz. Singer Al Jarreau, saxophonist Boney James, trumpeter Chris Botti and bass virtuoso Brian Bromberg are among the headliners, along with veteran New Orleans funk band the Neville Brothers. All except Jarreau are making encore appearances at the festival.
The event, which annually draws tens of thousands to breezy Coachman Park on the waterfront, has presented genuine jazz legends over the years, from Dizzy Gillespie to Count Basie to Branford Marsalis.
Fans of straight-ahead jazz are marking their calendars for Sunday's 4 p.m. performance by the Marcus Roberts Trio. The acclaimed pianist has worked with Wynton Marsalis and released a string of solo albums.
Earlier this year, Roberts released New Orleans Meets Harlem, Vol. 1 on his own J-Master label. It's a salute to the music of Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.
The disc, the pianist's first since leaving Sony in 2001, has Roberts joined by longtime trio mates Roland Guerin on bass and Jason Marsalis on drums for a funky version of Joplin's The Entertainer and a down-home take on Monk's Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are, among other tunes. (For Sunday's show, Rodney Jordan will fill in for Guerin.)
The CD, eventually to be followed by a second volume, with Louis Armstrong music added to the mix, reflects Roberts' artistic imperative. His musical philosophy: Respect the tradition, but keep moving forward.
"I feel like one of the definitive characteristics of any great band is that you have original music — that you contribute to the legacy of the music — and that you also create a dialogue with the standard literature," said Roberts, who has been blind since age 4, from his Jacksonville home. "I feel like we play these arrangements in a unique way. Our sound and approach still comes across."
Roberts, an assistant professor of jazz studies at his alma mater, Florida State University, in addition to leading trio projects, has recently worked with singer Dianne Reeves. Next year, his trio plus saxophonist Wess Anderson, trumpeter Marcus Printup and other horn players will record music originally heard on the pianist's 1989 Deep in the Shed album.
"I'm always interested in the tension that is created when you take something that is 'old' and you find something new to do with it," Roberts said. "I think that is a compelling and very rich thing."