Jazz Studies Program at Tri-C puts Student on the Right Track
December 11, 2015
Ever had that dream where it’s finals week, and you suddenly realize you haven’t been to class all semester? Eddie Roberts lived it.
Somehow Roberts — now 23 and graduating from Cuyahoga Community College with an Associate of Arts — didn’t realize that he was enrolled in a private piano class that all Tri-C Jazz Studies students have to take. His first clue was when he ran into piano teacher Joe Hunter. “Where’ve you been?” Hunter asked.
Roberts had to take the course the next semester. The lessons started late, but they were life changing. Roberts said he had taken piano lessons in fourth or fifth grade, but he abandoned them for sports. His studies with Hunter put him back where he felt he was supposed to be, he said. “It was like coming back to life.”
That is how the South Euclid man views his Jazz Studies experience in general. After graduating from Benedictine High School in 2010, he enrolled at the Tri-C Eastern Campus without a strong idea about what he wanted to do. He loved music, but wasn’t a jazz guy until he discovered Tri-C’s two year Jazz Studies program at the Gill and Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts. That’s when things started to click.
“When his interest was ignited, his growth was exponential,” Hunter said. “One of the joys of teaching is you witness people self-actualize. [Eddie] is certainly one of those. He came in with no skills and is leaving with a lot of skills.”
Roberts isn’t leaving quite yet, however. In spring semester, he’ll earn credits that will allow him to take advantage of Tri-C’s transfer agreements with Berklee College of Music in Boston. If he passes Berklee’s audition process, and everything falls into place, he can enter as a junior 2016. And if he doesn’t attend Berklee, he’ll find another four-year program.
As a Tri-C jazz student, Roberts focused on honing his skills as a singer. Early in 2015, he was part of a group of student vocalists who took master classes with Janis Siegel, one of the four founding members of the Manhattan Transfer. At the end of the sessions, Siegel joined the group in a packed performance at Nighttown in Cleveland Heights.
Roberts likened the experience to being coached by a Super Bowl star. “We were in the studio with her,” he said. “She was on the other side of the glass, coaching us on how to sing into the mike.”
Siegel also gave him individual feedback about how to get the most out of his voice. “I have a higher register. She found my voice to be special, and she helped me find tunes to highlight it.”
Roberts also was among a small group of advanced jazz students who appear in a video performance of “The Frim-Fram Sauce” (popularized by Nat King Cole). The group first recorded the song, then spent two feverish days playing out the video, which takes place in a restaurant and nightclub. In one scene, Roberts sings a few bars while mixing a cocktail.
“The whole martini shake — trying to do that and sing at the same time, that multitasking — that was new,” he said.
But he loved the experience because he knows that the life of a working musician will call on the skills he and the rest of the team used to make the video.
“In 10 years, I pray that I’m traveling the world, writing and producing music for myself and other artists,” Roberts said. “I want to be traveling and showing others the gift of music.”