Marcus Roberts: An Uncertain Path To 'Joy'

Jazz pianist Marcus Roberts turns the exuberant "Joy to the World" into a ragtime tinged with melancholy. i i

hide captionJazz pianist Marcus Roberts turns the exuberant "Joy to the World" into a ragtime tinged with melancholy.

John Douglas
Jazz pianist Marcus Roberts turns the exuberant "Joy to the World" into a ragtime tinged with melancholy.

Jazz pianist Marcus Roberts turns the exuberant "Joy to the World" into a ragtime tinged with melancholy.

John Douglas

Tuesday's Pick

Song: "Joy to the World"

Artist: Marcus Roberts

CD: Celebrating Christmas

Genre: Jazz

Jazz pianist Marcus Roberts turns the exuberant "Joy to the World" into a ragtime tinged with melancholy. He starts off with a pensive reading of the familiar opening lines, playing with deliberate slowness, repeating a note for a moment of hesitation, sending out an angelic sequence of upper-register chords, inserting a playful bass line. He seems to be asking: Is there joy in the world?

Then the song picks up its pace a bit. A swing bass creates a ragtime feel that's jolly and reassuring. For a little while, this interpretation teeters on the brink of all-out joy, yet Roberts reins in the happiness. He slows down and adds a few blue notes, and even switches briefly into a minor mode.

As "Joy to the World" comes to its end, Roberts strokes the keys firmly. The 48-year-old keyboardist ends with a strong and simple chord — an affirmation that, in spite of the shifting musical moods, joy may indeed win out, as it so often does.

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