Matana Roberts, born in 1975 in Chicago, Illinois, is an American sound experimentalist, visual artist, jazz saxophonist, and clarinetist. She was raised on Chicago’s South Side and honed her classical clarinet skills during her youth. As an adept musician, Roberts formed a trio called Sticks and Stones with bassist Josh Abrams and drummer Chad Taylor, and they frequently performed at the Velvet Lounge. In 2002, Roberts relocated to New York City, initially busking in subways and publishing a zine, Fat Ragged, to chronicle her experiences.
Roberts’ contribution to the music industry extends beyond her skillful saxophone and clarinet play. She is known for her composition of “Coin Coin,” a multichapter musical work-in-progress exploring themes of history, memory, and ancestry. The “Coin Coin” project has garnered significant acclaim, with each chapter earning wide recognition. The fourth chapter, “Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis,” was particularly lauded and featured in Pitchfork’s Best Experimental Albums, Bandcamp’s Best Jazz Albums, and the top ten of the NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll in 2019. Anthony Fantano of The Needle Drop praised the album as “one of the decade’s most compelling jazz projects.”
Roberts’ artistic presence has not been confined to the music scene. In 2010, she was the guest curator at The Stone. She was also chosen by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel to perform at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival that he curated in March 2012 in Minehead, England. Moreover, she held a residency at the Whitney Museum of American Art in the summer of 2015, where she produced a series of research-based sound works titled “i call america.” The following summer, she had a solo show at the Fridman Gallery titled “I Call America II,” presented as an expanded version of the Whitney exhibition.
Roberts’ work has received numerous awards and recognitions. Some of her notable accolades include the Doris Duke Impact Award in 2014 and the Doris Duke Artist Award in 2016. The annual DownBeat Critics Poll also named Roberts a Rising Star in both the alto saxophone and clarinet categories.
In more recent years, Roberts has continued to push boundaries in the music industry. She announced the release of the fifth chapter in her “Coin Coin” series, “Coin Coin Chapter Five: In the Garden,” in 2023. Moreover, she became a new, permanent ensemble member in the 2021-22 season, further cementing her influence in the world of jazz and experimental music.
Page last updated 6/21/2023.