The Jazz Man

Jazz man: Kelly Roberti Honored with Arts Award From The BOZEMAN DAILY CHRONICLE
published on Thursday, January 21, 2010 2:57 PM MST
By RACHEL HERGETT, Chronicle Staff Writer

As a child, Kelly Roberti pondered what instruments people played, assuming that the whole world was one big orchestra.

“Obviously he plays the tuba,” Roberti said of an imagined passerby. “That guy’s a flute…”

The son of a piano teacher and musical supervisor in public schools, Roberti never wanted to be anything other than a musician.

I was caught, spellbound as a child by music.

Roberti, 55, considers himself a bassist, composer and poet, but, he said, to continue to be all these things in his native Montana, he had to also become an activist for music.

With a small population and one as spread out as it is in this state, there are less venues showcasing artists, making performances scarce and activism a necessity. As a trade off, “the elbow room” offered by the vastness of the space in which Montanans have chosen to live fosters creativity.

There’s room to have imagination.

It is because of this need for activism, and open conversation with musicians that Roberti began “Jazz with Kelly Roberti,” a summer series at the Bozeman Public Library, showcasing both local and national talent, not only through their music, but also through stories of life experiences.

It is only when we are able to see musicians as humans, to relate to them on a personal level that we are able to truly hear the expression in their music.

We need to let people know we’re human beings, if you humanize the artist, people like them more.

The dialogue Roberti has been able to foster enables musicians to engage the community from within, said longtime friend and collaborator, Eric Funk.

“He breaks the barrier between musician and audience,” Funk said.

Roberti’s approachability, his passion for music, and his desire to promote the art, as shown in his work with the Bozeman Blues and Jazz Society as well as the library series, are all manifest in his latest honor, the 2010 Governor’s Arts Award, which he will receive tomorrow,

Jan. 22, 2010 at 2 p.m. in the Capitol’s Old Supreme Court Chambers in Helena.

A local celebration is in the works for sometime in May, honoring Roberti as well as John Buck and Deborah Butterfield.

Funk, who nominated Roberti for the award, called Sept. 29, 2009, to tell Roberti that while he had to keep the exchange under wraps until it was officially announced, Roberti had been selected.

“It knocked me,” Roberti said. “I had to hang up.”

Roberti said he is indebted to Funk for the nomination, and did not expect to win the award. Still, the recognition in the state he loves is “quite an honor,” .

For Funk, this is a perfect time for Roberti’s recognition, as boundaries between steps on the hierarchy of artistic medium are blurred. For example, a cowboy poet may be received on the same level as a poet laureate, as difference in expressive form is celebrated and officially recognized.

“Awards for arts are really paying attention to the art that these musicians are creating,” Funk said. “It’s wonderful to see.”

Roberti himself enjoys pushing our perception of
what jazz music is.

I don’t care if it’s Duke Ellington or Dolly Parton,
if it moves me, I love it.

And Roberti has never been one to fit nicely into a mold. At one time wanting along with the rest of the world to be the fifth Beatle, he now arranges Beatles tunes and pop standards to perform acoustically with the jazz set.

“I’ve never been one to stick to standards of what people want from me,” Roberti said.

A multicolored phoenix tattoo covers the back of Roberti’s left hand. He got the ink after a motorcycle wreck to symbolizes a rise from the ashes.

“I was really lucky to be alive,” he said.

Roberti also has an eagle on his chest and his zodiac sign, a scorpion, on his right arm.

“I like ink,” he said simply. “A jazz guy with ink is kind of fun.”

Jazz, Funk said, may often be as “rage-full” as the hip hop artists of the day.

It’s a deep social consciousness shouted out from a subverted public ~ Jazz draws on issues of human quandary and social fairness.

Roberti has recorded a new CD, his 55th album appearance. “The Final Drum,” is a collaborative effort composed by Roberti, but adding the talents of Jeni Fleming, Alan Fauque and Funk. The CD is set for release in early March once the title track is complete.

“The Final Drum” is a project to promote peace.

“This composition is a raging storm of emotion and welcomes all improvisatory and heartfelt … reaction,” Roberti wrote about the project on his Web site,

People can download the initial version of the track from the site and record their own addition to it, be it musical or spoken word.

“It is a protest song to the wars started by our last administration,” Roberti said.

The track, Roberti said, is 15 minutes long, and in its final version will be mastered symphonically. Spoken words will add a “chatter” in between tracks tying “The Final Drum” to the rest of the album. The rest of the songs are ballads, love songs, and “whatever else I wrote in the last year or two,” Roberti said.

Funk said the lyrics in Roberti’s ballads exemplify his character, and tie the listener to the musician.
“They show the kind of intensity that drives him.”

Rachel Hergett may be reached at or 582-2603.

One Reply to “The Jazz Man”

  1. Kelly,

    I am playing a gig in Denver in April and would appreciate the name of a bassist (perhaps a younger guy who is hungry for weekend work). John Alexander knows you and said he might ask you for a name. I understand Ellyn Rucker’s X-husband plays bass, but I don’t know his name nor how to reach him. The gig pays only $150, so the most I could pay would be $75.00. Do you know of someone who would be able and willing?

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