Finding Success as a Jazz Musician with Troy Roberts

Date Posted: September 06, 2017

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Interview conducted by John R. Hylkema

You stay very busy as both a bandleader and sideman. What would you say are the differences between the two roles, and what does one need to know to thrive at both?

Troy Roberts: As a sideman, you first and foremost need to play your parts and interpret the music, which can mean anything from following, contributing or even leading the music at times. Essentially you're hired hands, chosen to bring a band leader's vision into fruition, and hopefully chosen because of the way in which you do this. I have been a sideman in a vast variety of musical situations under an even wider array of band leader personalities, and I've learned something from each and every one of them. I always look for the lesson in every situation and quietly store it away for future reference.

With my own projects, I hire people whose musicianship I admire, whose personalities are fun to be around, who respect my music and thrive to bring my vision into fruition. I want my musicians to take liberties and express themselves within the compositions. I had the pleasure of performing with Wayne Shorter at Herbie Hancock's first International Jazz Day in 2012, where I'll never forget Mr. Shorter saying, "I don't like giving speeches, I prefer dinner table conversation". I want my musicians to shine, and for us to converse. Not everyone's personalities are conducive to being both a great sideman and band leader. But I think I'm doing quite well at both.

When it comes to self-promotion, what is the most challenging aspect?

Being from, and growing up in the very small town of Perth, West Australia, self promotion is something that does not come naturally to me. I was raised to be humble, and that it's best to play down the situation. I find American social norms quite different, and I'm learning a lot about self promoting in an honest and non-intrusive way.

I think it's important to let people know what I'm up to by way of mailing lists and social media, but the challenge is how to reach people I don't already know. Simply taking care of the music has gotten me this far, and the music does speak to strangers at live performances, but I'm still trying to figure out ways to do this off the bandstand...

Photo taken by Yuki Tei at the Newport Jazz Festival

You’ve released seven albums. Could you walk us through your approach to recording?

I composed, arranged, produced and self-released all seven of my records, each of which was released within a year of commencement. The documentation of my musical journey is more important to me than seeing a monetary return. I want to reach people well after I'm gone, and hopefully leave behind a somewhat unique legacy.

My third album 'The XenDen Suite' was probably the most difficult of my projects to record. Not only is it compositionally involved, but it features a large instrumentation; saxophone, piano, acoustic bass, drums, two violins, viola, cello, voice, flute, alto flute, and bass clarinet. There were a lot of rehearsals required to make the two day session run smoothly. All my records were two day sessions, the bulk of which is usually done in the first day.

My two Nu-Jive records were a blast to make! The music is definitely the most challenging of my compositions, but we played and toured so much as a band that the sessions were easy. The recording process was nice and neat as we only needed separation for the drums and sax. The keyboards, electric bass and electric guitar went direct (or had amps tracking in separate booths), so I had them set up together in one big room with the drums, so it just felt like another rehearsal with the exception of me being set up in an isolated sax room.

My latest record 'Tales & Tones' was recorded in the real jazz tradition at Jeff 'Tain' Watts' 'Sanctuary Studios', Easton, PA. We set up facing each other all in the same room, allowing the session to capture the big natural sound of the beautiful old former church. I had read about many classic Blue Note and Van Gelder sessions being recorded in this way, but I finally experienced it when recording Tain's latest three records in this big gorgeous space.

You maintain an extremely busy schedule. Do you have any tips on achieving a work/life balance?

I'm still working on that.. My life is and always has been music/work. But fortunately I'm still in love with what I do - essentially traveling the world playing great music with great people. I honestly don't feel out of balance...

What project(s) are you currently working on?

I'm spending any free time I have this year writing new music for my Nu-Jive band in the hope to record in the new year. Also a very special trio record, which I can't tell you too much more about just yet!

Photo taken by Yuki Tei at the Newport Jazz Festival
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