There are a couple of quite remarkable things in the makeup of the Buffalo Philharmonic Pops concerts in Kleinhans Music Hall this weekend. The first one you'll notice right away. It's the striking "electric blue" Steinway piano that will be used for the concert's musical climax, Gershwin's ever-popular "Rhapsody in Blue."
The second remarkable thing is that the guest pianist, Marcus Roberts, has been blind since he was 5 years old. That hasn't stopped Roberts from carving out a career as one of the most versatile jazz performers around. From 1985 through 1991 he toured and recorded with contemporary jazz guru Wynton Marsalis, and when he began to record for Columbia in 1994, his first CD, "Gershwin for Lovers," stayed in the top 10 on the Billboard jazz charts for seven months. He frequently tours with the Marcus Roberts Trio, which will be an integral part of this weekend's concerts. The other trio members are bassist Roland Guerin and drummer Jason Marsalis.
Conducting is Thomas Wilkins, who has been for seven years the resident conductor of the Tampa-based Florida Orchestra and has just been named to the same position with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Other Gershwin works on the program are the "Strike Up the Band Overture" and "Fascinatin' Rhythm Variations," while Wilcox's "Irving Berlin in Hollywood Overture" and Three Dances from Bernstein's "On the Town" will also be featured. The concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. this evening and 8 p.m. Saturday.