CBS News cultural correspondent Wynton Marsalis showcases the rich talents of jazz pianist Marcus Roberts in his first story for 60 Minutes. Roberts lost his sight as a child but gained such incredible insights into American music that his playing has inspired a whole generation of jazz musicians. Hear this "fearsome and fearless musician" play classic American jazz on the next edition of 60 Minutes Sunday, March 30 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
Roberts lost his sight at the age of 5. Then his life changed again forever a few years later. After school one day, he bumped into a strange object in his home. It was a piano. "One of the most...gratifying, exciting days of my life," he tells Marsalis.
He taught himself to play the basics and then became more polished at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. There, a music teacher who was also blind taught him to play the classics from Beethoven and Bach and introduced him to jazz and reading music in braille. But this special teacher, Hubert Foster, taught him even more important things, says Roberts. "He just said, 'You don't want to be ignorant. Because if you add ignorance to not being able to see, you're going to have a rough life,'" recalls Roberts. "I didn't want to be participating in the noble savage notion of being an artist who doesn't really know what he's doing."
Marsalis and 60 Minutes cameras accompanied Roberts back to that school in St. Augustine, Fla., for a reunion with some who knew him as a child and a meeting with others he might inspire. He plays a duet with one of the school students. He also had a message for the students that day. "The same way that this young man...had the courage to come down and play, that's the same courage you all have to have when you go out into the world," he tells the students. "Go out with confidence, but you want as much information as you can get your hands on."
The profile is a musical treat, featuring Roberts playing many of the jazz greats of the last century, including Duke Ellington, Errol Garner, Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum. Today, Roberts is a deeply respected musician and composer with encyclopedic knowledge of America's jazz heritage and a highly acclaimed body of recorded works. When he is not touring with his band or playing special solos, he teaches jazz at Florida State University.