Forget about beans and cornbread! Growing up on a steady diet of Maceo Parker, Stanley Turrentine, and Junior Walker, nourished the soulfulness of saxophonist Jimmy Roberts. This Suffolk, Virginia native heaped his plate with healthy portions of R&B jazz, and rock, and after more than three decades, Jimmy Roberts still hungers for the taste of good music.
Roberts paid his musical dues in the backwoods of Virginia, later moving to Toronto, and eventually Los Angeles. Etta James, Sade, Bonnie Raitt, and Greg Allman are just a few of the heavy hitters for whom Roberts has played. In 2000, Roberts collaborated with session guitarist and producer Peter Roberts to form The Roberts Brothers. They released their first project called “Sugar and Spice,” on BDM Records. Perhaps, what Jimmy Roberts is most commonly known for is his role as saxophonist to legendary rocker Rod Stewart. Roberts describes Stewart as a “spiritual guy and a very soulful man.” However, he could very easily use these same words to describe himself.
The soul is where our emotions live, and judging from Roberts’ new CD “Bless My Soul,” he had a great deal of emotions to release. The voyage of emotion begins with the title track, “Bless My Soul,” which lends itself to solemn reflection gradually evolving into hope. At this point you may be tempted to turn off your CD player for fear that “Bless My Soul,” could not get any better, but believe it, or not, it does. Jimmy Roberts provides an edginess not often found in smooth jazz offerings. Even classic remakes like the Isley Brothers’ “For the Love of You,” find a new groove with the unpredictable sax solo by Roberts backed up by Jeff Golub’s guitar, and the heavy percussive rhythms laid down by David Palmer.
Roberts also enlists the talents of percussionist Lenny Castro, bassist Wil McGregor, trumpeter Sal Marquez and many other A-list musicians to get his first solo project off the ground. Here’s what Jimmy Roberts has to say about “Bless My Soul.”
Jazz Review: Jimmy, thanks for taking the time to give us the scoop on your new project, “Bless My Soul.” So right off the top, what was the blessing in this project?
Jimmy Roberts: Well, first off, let me thank you for sharing your space to allow me to talk about my project. The blessing in this project truly was the fact that we got it finished. As you probably know, trying to get so many people together to make sessions happen sometimes is next to impossible, everyone's schedule being so hectic, but lo’ and behold we got it done. I think it is a very nice sincere piece of music.
Jazz Review: Jimmy, you have worked as Rod Stewart’s saxophonist for many years. You’ve also worked with Sade, Rick Braun, Jeff Golub, and Bonnie Raitt, among others. When putting together a solo project do you consciously decide that you do not want to take from their styles or do you embrace it and work it into your own style of music?
Jimmy Roberts: Truthfully, for me, I just write and perform the music and I am sure that as we live and touch other people, somehow they leave us with a little piece of themselves which in it's own right helps to shape and influence us in ways that we aren't even aware of.
Jazz Review: In the notes of the “Bless My Soul” CD, you acknowledge Grover Washington Jr., as the Godfather of smooth jazz. This is obviously a smooth jazz album, but your saxophone is thoughtful, unpredictable, and harder-hitting than a lot of smooth-jazz saxophonists- much like the late Grover Washington Jr. Was that deliberate?
Jimmy Roberts: First of all, the initial consciousness of Bless My Soul was not at all about making a smooth jazz record. The true nature of this record was to do something that allowed me to be as close to who I am as a saxophonist and writer as I could be. My background is really more R&B and rock than it is jazz. I enjoy playing jazz but I am truly one of the last honkers. That style goes back to Willis Jackson, Big Jay McNeelly and a host of other bar walkers who could turn a club into a frenzy with pure saxophonic wailing. I still think that the ultimate level of inhibition came though the soulful primal screaming of some of those hard blowing tenor sax men of yester year, and this seems to be the nature of my playing whether I like it or not.
Jazz Review: If you were to describe yourself as a saxophonist what positive adjectives would you use? Now I’m all for the positive attributes, but I know that only Jesus is all good, so just to keep it real, the second part of the question is what negative adjectives would you use to describe yourself as a saxophonist?
Jimmy Roberts: Now that is an interesting question. I guess the most positive adjectives I could use to describe my sax playing would be soulful, hard driving and sincere. The negative adjective that comes close to my own evaluation of my style would be that it is quite raw at certain times. But I'm not so sure that raw is so much of a negative attribute- for in its rawness there is pureness and sincerity
Jazz Review: The rawness is one of the qualities I most enjoy. I also really enjoyed the song, “Driving It In,” for that reason. It grabs you from the first drumbeat and then pulls you in more and more with the fast pace and gritty sax. It’s easily my favorite. I also like “Ain’t that Peculiar,” and “This Time,” If you were given the choice of picking three songs to represent this album, which would you pick and why?
Jimmy Roberts: How odd that you would pick "Driving It In" as your fav. For all of the things that I have described about my style, that song for me really says it all. As far as my three favorite songs on the record I would have to say "She Told Me So," "Love Lingers On" and "This Time."
Jazz Review: You’ve been at this saxophone business for a while, who was spark that ignited your passion for the instrument?
Jimmy Roberts: The first time that I remember getting really excited about what I felt from hearing a sax player was listening to John Coltrane's "Love Supreme."
Jazz Review: Jazz wasn’t always the passion for you.
Jimmy Roberts: I was pretty much raised on R&B and rock but anyone who played the sax turned my ear. There was a song called "Tuff" that was recorded by Ace Cannon that I used as an opener in my early years of doing talent shows. It was just a simple blues riff but I delivered it as a sultry lowdown instrumental and the girls went wild. Honestly, I don't think the genre mattered as much as did the freeness to express. For me it was all music from the heart, be it jazz, blues, R&B or rock. To me it was all jazz.
Jazz Review: What other forms of music inspire you now. Is there anybody coming up that takes your breath away?
Jimmy Roberts: I keep an open ear to all music for there is inspiration forthcoming from all places at all times. I find myself listening to mostly jazz and I expose all of my children to the jazz of today and jazz of past eras but I also let them expose me to what excites them being that we all can sometimes turn a deaf ear to artful changes. As far as someone who gets me excited today, I love to hear Kirk Whalum play his horn. I also love to hear some of the new producers out of Virginia Beach. A lot of the new pop tracks have a fresh touch to them, so again my ears are open.
Jazz Review: Speaking of Virginia Beach, I know that you are from the Suffolk area and you left home at young age to move to Canada and eventually California. Growing up would you have ever imagined that the Hampton Roads area would be yielding such a musical influence on the country?
Jimmy Roberts: The Hampton Roads area has always had a wealth of incredible talent, but not enough outlets to expose the greatness of it all, thus those who were able to create a success for themselves had to leave the area. And now it seems talent from all over the world are mining the minds and environment for that new thing, that fresh sound. It is not so far fetched that Virginia would have the musical impact that it has on the country but it is a surprise that it came from my own backyard and I wasn't at home to be a part of it.
Jazz Review: Does Jimmy Roberts have any words of advice, or warning for anyone trying to come this way, and plant their feet in the music business?
Jimmy Roberts: The greatest words of advice that I could give to anyone approaching this business of music, would be to stay true to ones own talent and find ones own thumbprint in whatever art-form they pursue b0ut by all means when you venture into the business of art, spend as much time learning the business of art as you spend learning the voice of your art-form.
Jazz Review: If you were granted a dream session, who would be there, where would it be, and what would be the show-stopping exit song?
Jimmy Roberts: If I were granted a dream session, it would be in the future and I would have my three year old on something because even at three he has such a sense of rhythm my six year old on vocals for her love for singing is so acute it is exciting to watch and I guess the show-stopping exit song has not been written, as of yet. (Smile)
Jazz Review: Will you be doing any touring, or working on other projects any time soon?
Jimmy Roberts: This new year I have plans to start a second Roberts Brothers project with my partner Peter Roberts, a second Jimmy Roberts project, and I want to do a project with a rapper out of New York named Paul Joseph, sort of an instrumental/rap record. There are possibly some dates with Rick Braun coming up in early spring so if all works out 2003 will be a fairly busy and prosperous year. And once again I do want to thank you for helping me to spread the word and for that, "Bless Your Soul!!!"
Jazz Review: Well, we thank you for taking the time to talk to us. God Bless you and much success with “Bless My Soul.”
Courtesy Jazzreview - Jimmy Roberts was interviewed by Monica India Johnson.