Saxophonist Troy Roberts: Living the Dream
Seduced by the jazz in his dad’s music collection, a kid from Perth, Western Australia, takes up the saxophone at age 13. He grows up, moves to the United States and becomes a star. Dreams do come true: a number of them in the case of Troy Roberts, one of the featured artists at this year’s Melton Mustafa Jazz Festival.
He’s performed with the likes of Sammy Figueroa, Christian McBride and Aretha Franklin and appeared at International Jazz Day events with Esperanza Spalding, Gregory Porter and the legendary Wayne Shorter. He’s released seven albums as a leader – the latest, “Tales & Tones,” is zooming up the charts – and appeared as a sideman on more than two dozen others, one of which earned a Grammy nomination.
After several years as a student and educator at the University of Miami, Roberts now resides in New York. Since heading north, he’s recorded with such notables as drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and Orrin Evans, a pianist. He’s part of a new ensemble formed by organist Joey DeFrancesco; their debut recording, Project Freedom, also is swiftly climbing the charts.
So what’s it like living the dream(s)? “It’s overwhelming. It also snuck up on me,” he says, explaining that life as a musician based in the jazz capital of the world keeps him constantly busy, playing different kinds of gigs in different places, always consumed by the music – until he has a rare moment between tours and performances and recordings to catch his breath.
“That’s when it hits you,” he says. “and now it’s like, whoa, that just happened.”
Roberts, who grew up listening to DeFrancesco, is excited about his work with the organist. “I finally have a chance to tap into a part of my musical background,” notably the work of saxophonist Stanley Turrentine and organist Jimmy Smith. The music, he says, is “stylistically really vast, really kind of pretty involved compositions but also really accessible.”
Another peak experience was recording “Tales & Tones” with Watts and the bassist Robert Hurst; Roberts said that as a kid, he had dreamed of playing with them. Roberts’ pleasure is evident as he talks about making the album, which he called “probably the most straight-ahead album I’ve ever done.” But he said he’s so busy this year with other people’s projects he doesn’t have time to go on tour to support it.
However, he plans to get back to work on his Nu Jive project, which produced two of his albums and features South Florida-based artists David Chiverton, Eric England, Tim Jago and Silvano Monasterios, who has now also moved to New York. “That’s something I’ve kind of not had the time to put into, but I also recognize that that’s how Tain and Joey D heard about me,” he says. “I think I need to take a little more care of it again.”
He looks forward to his first appearance at the Melton Mustafa Festival, founded by the South Florida trumpet legend and now in its 20th year.
“Melton’s a really important part of the Miami jazz scene and I’m really honored to be there,” he says. “He’s such a great musician in so many ways, I think he needs to be more recognized.”
Troy Roberts is among the featured artists at the Melton Mustafa Jazz Festival, Friday through Sunday, Feb. 24-26, the Lyric Theater, 819 NW 2nd Ave., Overtown. In addition to Sunday’s culminating concert, the event features workshops and master classes, an evening of art, authors and film, and other performances. Tickets range from $10 to $100; Sunday’s show starts at $50; www.eventbrite.com/e/20th-annual-melton-mustafa-jazz-festival-weekend-february-24-25-26-2017-tickets-30812504029.