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Presidential campaign rhetoric is music to this blind jazz virtuoso’s ears

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Marcus Roberts’ new album “Race for the White House” features gems like “Making America Great Again (All By Myself)” and “Feel the Bern.” Hear them here.

By this point in the presidential election, we’ve heard all the stump speeches. We’ve also heard the fights. But pianist Marcus Roberts hears something else when he turns on the news: music. 

Marcus Roberts went blind at age five, nearly 50 years ago. Now, as a world renowned musician, he makes his living playing America’s national inheritance, Jazz. So it might make sense that his new EP, titled “Race for the White House,” is based on the people hoping to inherit the presidency. Marcus Roberts joined Take Two’s A Martinez for a look at the current candidates and the music they inspired. 

Bernie Sanders

“I call the piece ‘Feel the Bern.’ That’s why you hear that little three-note motif,” Roberts said. “It’s contrasted later by a slow, mellow kind of mood, so I guess if Bernie wins, he’ll be all relaxed and chill. Everybody will have gotten free education and all these other things he says we’ll get.”

Donald Trump

“The whistling and the trumpet represent two things: the whistling is Donald is looking over his vast empire holdings, all his rich friends, he’s like ‘Yeah, things are working out really well,’,” Roberts said. “[The trumpet] represents ‘I’m gonna make America great again all by myself. I’m going to get it all hooked up,’ and it has like a superhero feeling like superman or batman.”

At the end of the song, a sinister laugh can be heard. Roberts says this is another reference to the GOP frontrunner’s wealth. 

“It’s basically just saying ‘it really doesn’t matter. I’m going to be rich anyway, so win or lose I’m going to be good.’”

Hillary Clinton

“The piece starts off in a minor key which kinda represents some of the controversy. It seems like Hillary is often attacked no matter what she does or says,” Roberts said. “But then it goes into a major key, a very happy kind sound — kind of upbeat because she seems to be very resilient. She’s re-created herself several times, and she’s managed to build — despite everything — a pretty big following for herself.”

Roberts says he originally had a different title planned for the piece, but eventually he settled on “It’s My Turn.”

“I was originally gonna call this piece, ‘I Guess I’m Just Overqualified.’ If you look at all of the candidates, she’s really the only one that has the traditional qualifications that you need to be president of the country,” Roberts said. “But it’s interesting how right now that seems to work against you, and I can’t think of a job where your argument for getting the job is ‘I have no experience at the job.’”

Roberts admits that some have asserted that his songs take a political stance, but he disagrees. He contends that jazz music is just his way of interpreting candidates he cannot see. 

“Music brings you into an experience that goes beyond even the topic,” Roberts said. “Jazz music has a relevance that speaks to the very core of our best values because it requires cooperation and dignity and tolerance and virtuosity to be played well. And it’s not ultimately about the individual; it ’s really about the individual celebration to represent the best of the whole group of people.” 

Press the blue play button to hear more, including a song inspired by the former Republican candidate, Ben Carson. 

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