Features, Interview

Troy Roberts: The Secret Is Friendship


Troy Roberts: The Secret Is Friendship

by Susan Frances

Troy Roberts: The Secret Is Friendship 1
Jazz artists have a long history of not only being effective musicians who evoke emotions and meaningful thoughts in their listeners, but they have an extensive history of being poignant philosophers in the eyes of their audiences. When Charlie “Bird” Parker claimed, “They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art,” he enlightened audiences about the philosophy he followed, which kept him motivated to make music.


When Miles Davis professed, “Good music is good no matter what kind of music it is,” he showed audiences that he did not limit his influences to pre-conceived ideas about jazz. When Cannonball Adderley endorsed, “There’s no future without the past, and anybody who doesn’t really understand where jazz has come from has no right to try to direct where it’s going,” he impressed on audiences to revere the jazz artists of the past, because in his music, the listener will find sparks of them.


Troy Roberts, a bandleader, composer, arranger, collaborator, bass player, and saxophonist learned from each of these jazz artists, evolving into a compelling musician and also into becoming a poignant philosopher. When he illuminates that what keeps him making music and forming a lasting bond with his bandmates is, “The secret is friendship,” he made a niche for himself alongside his predecessors.


Audiences are immediately compelled to stop and reflect on his words. A lightbulb turns on in their heads. Following this single principle stirs the ability to create music naturally that simultaneously affects people on a wide scale. It’s a philosophy that will outlive Roberts.


Born in Perth, Australia, Roberts has released fifteen recordings as a leader and is currently performing live to support his latest offering with his band NU JIVE entitled NU JIVE: Live at the Perth International Jazz Festival from his label Toy Robot Music. The live show at Perth International Jazz Festival was a homecoming for Roberts, who has comfortably made a home for himself in New York City.


He chronicles, “Before immigrating to the US, I formed a band named VOID along with three of my dearest friends from my musical childhood – Tom O’Halloran (keys), Dane Alderson (electric bass) and Andrew Fisenden (drums), and our one and only self-titled album became surprisingly popular amongst musicians in US Colleges.”


“After relocating to the US,” he continues, “I wanted to start an off-shoot band to continue my compositional efforts here, and so NU-JIVE naturally became my new main project.”


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NU-JIVE comprises Roberts on saxophone, Tim Jago on guitar, Silvano Monasterios on piano and keyboards, Eric England on bass, and David Chiverton on drums. Roberts regards, “I’m very fortunate to have created a musical family with my first-choice musicians, who happen to be my best friends from graduate school days – guitarist Tim Jago, pianist/keyboardist Silvano Monasterios, bassist Eric England and drummer David Chiverton.”


He extols, “These particular friends happen to be some of the most fierce and versatile artists in the industry, now collectively based in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles. I’m continually honored that these musicians have committed to and believed in my mission of writing, recording, and performing all these years – a mission I owe to them to continue.”


Pondering the years he has composed and recorded with NU-JIVE, he considers, “Although I’m extremely happy with our studio albums, I’ve always known that the band is best experienced live. It just seemed so appropriate to capture the very rare occurrence of my US-based band performing in my old stomping grounds where it all began for me.”


He notes, “I was very fortunate to perform at the very first Perth International Jazz Festival in 2013, and it’s amazing to see how much it’s grown and flourished over the last ten years. It’s lovely to know that there’s a big, successful, world-class jazz festival in my old hometown.”


Previous to NU-JIVE’s live recording at Perth International Jazz Festival, released in 2023, the band’s studio recording Nations United, released in 2022, ventured inward for the band as Roberts observes, “The previous NU-JIVE albums don’t really have any kind of global message. Although, I think they’re pretty ‘accessible’ beyond the musician’s ear, I would also say they’re more of an introspective documentation of my artistic journey.”


He describes, “The compositional concept for my NU-JIVE band is quite involved, often thru-composed with heavily arranged and extended written material, drawing influences from every kind of genre I find interesting, as well as genre-less imagination.”


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“I feel that my writing approach for my quartet or trio is comparatively more simplistic,” he reflects, “and probably more recognizable to the common ear as ‘jazz.’ The motivation varies from piece to piece, although more often than not, there’s a somewhat cryptic narrative, nucleus, or ‘in-joke,’ whether it be comical or deep, which serves as my motivation for creation.”


“With Nations United,” he stipulates, “I wanted to write and record a body of work that went beyond the music, and given the performance-inactivity of the pandemic, I had plenty of time to think and create.”


He exposes, “The album’s spirit collectively represents the countries of which each of us have roots – The United States, Australia, Venezuela, India, The U.K., France, Ireland, and Portugal, but more specifically, draws from the musical cultures of Indian Classical music, West African polyrhythms, 20th Century Classical music, Venezuelan Merengue, Gospel, Reggae, Jazz, Soul, Funk, and R&B. The album’s repertoire results in a kaleidoscope of fusion, funk, soul, and world-music, musically glued together with jazz-etiquette.”


“Each tune,” he propounds, “has some kind of a ‘tip-of-the-hat’ to each player’s cultural roots, and the many styles and genres I enjoy. I guess it’s best said that Nations United speaks to the ‘universality’ of music – a reflection on the fact that each of us came from all corners of the globe, bonding through the language of music. Hopefully, it will serve as an example to following generations, both in and out of music.”


The track “Five Nations” from Nations United is a buoyant and prismatic soundscape as each musician inputs their individual expressions, while interacting with one another and forming a seamless conversational dialogue. Roberts explains the inspiration for the track, citing, “Before 1722, the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee (an indigenous confederacy in northeast North America) was comprised of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca – which the English referred to as The Five Nations. The founders of whom are traditionally held to be Deganawidah (Great Peacemaker).”


“So I wrote this piece,” he surmises, “and called it ‘Five Nations’ as a peaceful venture designed to sound like an obscure nursery rhyme, mostly featuring myself and Tim Jago in our Best Buddies mode of saxophone/guitar interplay. Best Buddies is a Roberts/Jago co-lead album released in 2021.”


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Speaking of the recording, Best Buddies, a project that Roberts made with guitarist Tim Jago and released in 2021, was a new adventure ignited by the pair’s friendship. Roberts confirms, “The title is precisely what the name portrays – a group of like-minded friends getting together to create spontaneous sounds in the straight-ahead jazz tradition.”


He recollects, “Each of us busy musicians happened to be in the same place simultaneously in our homeland during the COVID lockdown. As you may know, West Australian borders remained closed for a long time, which meant we couldn’t leave easily, but it also meant the state safely opened up quicker than the eastern states, so we were having fun killing time together, jamming on contrafacts. New melodies composed over the existing harmonic structure of various well-known jazz standards, which Tim and I had written specifically for this group – the underlying aesthetic, very much in the post-bop tradition,” he characterizes.


“This rare moment in time,” he remarks, “very naturally progressed toward pressing record in July 2020 and was released in June 2021 on my label, Toy Robot Music.”


Moving further back in time to another release for Roberts in 2021, Stuff I Heard is a collaboration he made with drummer Jimmy MacBride. Roberts avows, “I really didn’t think twice about who to get on drums for this record. Aside from being one of the most versatile and in-demand drummers on the New York City music scene, Jimmy MacBride is a good friend and my long-time live-performance compadre.”


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He ascertains, “Stuff I Heard is an ensemble album but recorded unlike anything I’ve ever produced in that I composed, arranged, mapped MIDI tracks, and performed/overdubbed multiple soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones, as well as acoustic and electric basses myself.”


“Jimmy is always open to new approaches,” he delights, “knows my music inside out, and always brings spirit, fire, big ears, and creativity to any project we’ve ever worked on together. He really helped make this album have a ‘live’ ensemble feel rather than a studio-overdubbing project.”


Forming an organic dialogue with his bandmates affects listeners similarly to the way a live performance makes a lasting impact on audiences. It is a trait rooted in his compositional skills; as Roberts examines, “I’ve always loved composing as much as performing. Although the two are connected in many ways, personally, the art of composition gives me a whole different outlet for self-expression.”


“Creating a vehicle,” he imparts, “and orchestrating a journey through composition is both incredibly gratifying and important to me. I feel like it’s almost more important to me than performing in terms of putting my ‘stamp’ on the music and leaving my mark in this world.”


He transitions, “I guess my love for composition and arranging naturally led me to become a bandleader. The thing I love most about being a bandleader is being able to create a space for my band members to shine and contribute to the musical conversation as equal voices. I’ve noticed that’s when I have the most fun as a sideman, so I make sure my bandmates feel the same way.”

Speaking his mind in his music and having fun making music with his collaborators are qualities identified in the works of Roberts’ predecessors. A class of jazz artists that he was introduced to by his father. He asserts, “My Dad has great taste in music, so from the time I was a youngster, classic jazz albums were always on rotation around the house.”


“Initially,” he proclaims, “I thought I hated jazz. My brother and I were into other kinds of music – some great, some awful. Gradually I was attracted to just one track – Miles Davis’ ‘So What?’, but still ‘hated’ jazz.”


“Then,” he recalls, “just two tracks – Art Blakey’s recording of ‘Moanin’, but still ‘hated’ jazz. Then just three tracks – Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take 5’. By about then, I wanted to know what those full albums were about, so my Dad eventually noticed his CD’s disappearing to my room, and I eventually realized I love jazz.”


He gleans, “Aside from the recorded gems of Stanley Turrentine, Cannonball Adderley, Bird, Paul Desmond, and Ben Webster, my desire to pursue a life centered around the saxophone was heavily influenced by the then local saxophonists on the Perth, West Australian jazz scene (James Sandon, Carl Mackey, Graeme Blevins, Jamie Oehlers, Brandon Allen to name a few).”


He remembers when he embraced his desire to play the saxophone, recounting, “I attended a family friend’s high-school graduation concert when I was about eleven years old. I was enamored by the tenor saxophone solo in one piece and began harassing my parents for what I thought was called a trumpet.”


“After about a year of nagging and also learning it was called a ‘saxophone,'” he underscores, “my parents got me my first little alto by the time I was twelve, and I never put it down. That is until I got the ‘more bendy one’ (tenor).”


He prides himself, “I studied from day one with an elderly Dutch-German gentleman by the name of Bill Louwen, who was one of the most influential forces on my saxophone career in terms of discipline and fundamentals. I am continually attracted to the stylistic versatility and expressive capabilities of the saxophone, which I believe is more so than any other instrument.”


His exploration of music did not stop with playing the saxophone but branched off to the bass as he shares, “Although he didn’t stick with it, my brother was learning the bass, so there was always an electric bass in the house, which I just loved noodling around with for fun. I always loved everything about the electric, and later, acoustic bass – the sound, the feel, the look, its role in the music across all genres.”


“I gradually got better,” he highlights, “from playing for fun over the years, and later on, from playing electric in top 40 bands and the occasional jazz gig on acoustic.”


“As a professional saxophonist from a young age,” he relishes, “I’ve spent a lot of time on and off stage with some of the best bass players around, many of whom would give me tips on what to work on.”


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He singles out, “When I joined Joey DeFrancesco’s band, I would play bass when Joey would switch to acoustic piano or tenor saxophone. I also had the great fortune of playing some bass on a Van Morrison album (The Prophet Speaks) and also behind the great Pharaoh Sanders on Joey DeFrancesco’s 2nd last album (In The Key of The Universe). Now I practice the bass a bit more seriously and still find it so much fun.”


Early in his profession, Roberts discovered that speaking his mind in his music and having fun with his collaborators during the compositional process is essential to experiencing gratification in his endeavors. He muses about the path he has chosen, “Although I will always place great importance on absorbing the language of this artform and paying homage to the greats who created this pathway for us as musicians, I more and more find myself thinking and focusing on finding my own way.”


He discerns, “Trying to create my own things to say, and ways to say it, seems more conducive to making art that would be my ‘mark’ if I were to die tomorrow. As a saxophonist and composer, I think I’ve gradually grown closer to this agenda in the last ten or so years. But it’s a work in progress, which I don’t think I’m even close to really achieving yet. I guess the shift in focus itself is a sign of growth.”


When asked what he enjoys doing when he isn’t working on his music, Roberts intones, “Hmmm… a few things that come to mind are coffee, getting lost in a movie, making claymation or stop-motion short films, family time, all varieties of British comedy. Did I mention coffee?”


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Perhaps his attraction to coffee brought him to New York City, where several coffeehouses can be found in every neighborhood. Or perhaps the coffeehouses were an additional plus, as he purports, “Falling in love with Jazz is what motivated me to move to New York, and this city has really allowed me to grow as a musician. There’s not many other places in the world where you get to work with the best of the best every day and be surrounded by people as musically hungry as you.”


“Being in this environment,” he admits,” not only pushes and inspires me to learn, grow, and become better at what I do but gives me real rewards, such as opportunities to record, perform and tour with many of my heroes, world-class peers, and new inspirers.”


Jazz artists like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Cannonball Adderley very likely had no intention of achieving anything more than speaking their minds through their music and having fun with their collaborations. And yet, each of them shared a philosophy about making music that has outlived their lives. Troy Roberts’ belief, crediting the secret to his bond with his bandmates and his ability to create with them is friendship, is a truth that is as veritable as the truths that jazz artists who came before him believed and followed. Like them, his philosophy will ripple through generations yet to come.

About Susan Frances:

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Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in eastern Long Island, I always enjoyed writing and made several contributions to my high school literary magazine, The Lion’s Pen. Influenced by writers of epic novels including Colleen McCullough and James Clavell, I gravitated to creative writing. After graduating from New York University with a BA in Liberal Arts, I tried my hand at conventional jobs but always returned to creative writing. Since 1998, I have been a freelance writer and have over three thousand articles to various e-zines including: Jazz Times, Blogcritics, Yahoo Voices,, Authors and Books (,,,,,, BTS emag,,,, Hybrid Magazine, and In 2013 and 2014, I was a judge in the Orange Rose Writing Competition sponsored by the Orange County chapter of the Romance Writers of America located in Brea, California.

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