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.


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.

Tom Roberts on piano with Leon Redbone on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

After I appeared on The Tonight Show, while in the hotel in Hollywood, I received multiple offers from bands with full-time jobs! That single moment (documented in the previous photo) liberated me. I was free to create a life that I knew was worth living for me.

That single event led to every adventure that I’ve experienced since. I love Leon because of the change he created in my life.

When I foolishly left New Orleans in 1994, I was able to reconnect with him and tour with him until 2002. We toured throughout the world and I have many more stories than what were shared in this article. But I do recall the sense of loss that hung around him. His desire to connect with the past, his obsession with memory and the mystic.

Article in Oxford American

When he retired a few years ago I was contacted by Megan Pugh because of my steel trap memory and I shared three hours with her reminiscing about my years with Redbone. Let me know if you need more, but you’ll notice that the title of the article is from one of my memories. It’s towards the end.

Read the article “Vessel of Antiquity” in the March 2019 issue of Oxford American magazine

©2019 Tom Roberts