Tom Roberts

Tom Roberts is a leading exponent of early jazz piano. He's played everywhere from New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Tonight Show to the major jazz clubs in the French Quarter.


78 records: Raising the Dead

What we refer to as “sound” is simply our perception of vibrations.

To state this idea in the simplest possible manner:

When you hear me speak, my breath is causing my vocal cords to vibrate, which is amplified by my mouth, putting the molecules of air into motion, causing them to vibrate, and those vibrations enter into the listener’s ear, causing their eardrum to vibrate, and these vibrations are transferred to the three tiny bones within the ear to translate those vibrations into what our brain interprets as sound.

When recording were originally created, the performer would stand in front of a large horn that acted as the ear. He or she would sing or play and the vibration of their breath would travel into the “ear” causing a device reproducing the ear drum to vibrate that caused a needle to etch those vibrations into a spinning disc, capturing the breath into grooves.

When we put the steel needle into the grooves of a 78 RPM record this process is reversed.

We feel the vibrations of the breath of a person who has left this earth come back at us across the centuries.

This is the closest thing we have to time travel and not only that!

Breath is what gives life. It is called different things in different traditions. It is sometimes called prana, which is synonymous with the life force.

When we put the needle into the groove we in essence bring the dead back to life.

The Hot Club of Pittsburgh

Want to experience this yourself?

Join me and join The Hot Club Of Pittsburgh third Thursdays at Scratch Food & Beverage and hear the most miraculous things you've never heard before!

I will be spinning shellac hot jazz from the original 78 rpm records on a vintage portable wind up victrola.

Thinking of Leon Redbone

Thinking of Leon Redbone, who passed away this week.

Leon Redbone on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in 1990. Tom Roberts on piano.

Tom Roberts has gone from high school music teacher to touring piano man

Saturday, July 21, 2001

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

Tom Roberts' journey to playing piano on the latest Leon Redbone album, "Anytime," began on the stage of Graffiti.

Roberts wasn't on stage.

Redbone was.

Roberts, at the time a Schenley High School music teacher, was in the audience. As he recalls, "I said, 'I've always wanted to play with this guy. I need to get out of this town.' So I gave him a tape on stage."

WQED interview with Jim Cunningham on Voice of the Arts

Tom Roberts accompanies the silent films "The Rink," "The Pawn Shop" and "Kid Auto Races at Venice California" in his own score with Mary Beth Malek on clarinet.

In this conversation with Jim Cunningham, they describe the genius of Charlie Chaplin, provide details on the event, and talk about the music they will play along with four excerpts from the score or the films recorded in the WQED-FM studio.

Vessel of Antiquity: Influence, invention, and the legacy of Leon Redbone

Sure, Leon Redbone changed my life.

In 1990 I went on tour with Redbone, which was a dream come true. My first performance on the road was The Tonight Show! I had never left Pittsburgh and was starting feel as if life would be a tragedy and that I needed to escape. I realized that life was more than just working at something that you didn’t like, let alone love and tried to escape the previous year with a failed attempt to move to New Orleans and play music exclusively.

This all changed after June 1990.

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More of Rick Sebak's Nebby

Rick Sebak re-purposed some of the music I composed for the first two installments of Nebby and the results are delightful for "People Who've Written Books Around Here".

A set of conversations and a celebration with wordsmiths who live (or have lived) in the Pittsburgh area. It's the 3rd documentary in the NEBBY series.

From Rick Sebak's blog: The music for Route 88 had to be piano music.

From Nebby: Rick Sebak's Tales of Greater Pittsburgh:

"The coincidental connection between Route 88 and 88 keys on a piano came to me one morning in the editing room. Then I knew I wanted piano music for the whole program. I guess I was ranting about it somewhat loudly because WQED’s popular TV cook Chris Fennimore happened to be walking by the editing room, overheard me, and he said, 'Call Tom Roberts. He’s a great piano player, and I think he’d like to do this. I’ll send you his info. He’d be perfect.'"

Tom talks about "The Barbecue Prelude" and demonstrates, then Frank records the transition music from New Eagle Atlas through Monongahela City to 4th Street Barbecue in Charleroi. Route 88!

©2019 Tom Roberts