Taylor Roberts (guitar) has earned a reputation as one of the Southeast’s top calls for Jazz Guitar. Yet, it is not just the jazz label that defines Roberts’ career. He cut his young teeth on punk, dove headlong into classic rock standards, and found a voice in jazz. Yet, Roberts does not easily fit into any one box.
Years of intensive study with world-renowned educators such as Barry Greene, Keith Javors, and Bunky Green have proven to continually pay off as his career expands. His reworkings and adaptations of songs old and new entrance established fans, serving up Roberts with the type of challenge that any artist craves, the ability to be creative while erasing expectation and assumption.
Roberts has appeared multiple times at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival and has toured internationally with the Christian Tamburr Quintet. He has been hired by the Rolling Stones to play their private events. Accolade and admiration are the reward for years dedicated to the guitar. Forever enveloped in humility, Roberts will always attribute his success to the simple tenet, “music serves all occasions.”
Since switching to 7-string, he has become a favorite among local and regional vocalists for duo work and can be seen frequently playing solo guitar at events in Jacksonville and the surrounding areas. Roberts can do what few can, which is deliver the whole song on one instrument. No looping stations. No playback tracks. Yet, a sound so full and rich that the casual listener is taken aback and the professional stands in awe. Likened to Tommy Emmanuel, Russell Malone, Tuck Andress and Charlie Hunter, Roberts’ masterful playing has begun to etch his name alongside his heroes. He continued to learn and record and in 2021 will release a sophomore album recorded live. Roberts doing what he does best, connecting with people through his music and inviting all to relish in the sound.
Brett Belanger (bass) is a bassist, composer, arranger, and educator based in Charleston, South Carolina. Originally from Greenville, SC, Brett moved to Charleston in 2010 after attending the Fine Arts Center for high school. Brett earned a B.A. as well as an artist certificate from the College of Charleston while working professionally locally and regionally. In addition to composing his own music, Brett has done arranging for the Charleston Jazz Orchestra as well as others groups. As an educator, Brett teaches privately in addition to being on the faculty of both the Charleston Jazz Camp and the Hilton Head Jazz Camp. Brett has had the pleasure of playing with Charlton Singleton, Quentin Baxter, Amos Hoffman, Kevin Bales, Aimee Nolte, Scotty Barnhart, Ruben Studdard, Claire Daily, Carmen Bradford, Victor Provost, Don Braden, Deana Martin, and Eric McPherson to name a few.
Devon Gates (bass, vocals) is our young artist-in-residence from Atlanta, Georgia. As a high school student, she studied with Dr. Gordon Vernick, Kevin Bales, and Billy Thornton as part of the Georgia State University Rialto Honors Combo, with which she released the album Playing the Music of Roy Hargrove in 2019. This fall she began college at Harvard University, studying music and the social sciences while pursuing a dual degree with Berklee College of Music in jazz performance. Between these institutions she has been able to study with Linda Oh, Kris Davis, Terri Lynne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding, and Vijay Iyer, in addition to performing with artists such as Dee Dee Bridgewater and Tia Fuller. She is also passionate about her role as an arranger and featured performer in the Harvard Opportunes acapella ensemble, and involvement with Berklee’s Institute for Jazz and Gender Justice.
Billy Thornton (bass) was raised in rural South Georgia in a musical family. He originally started on bass because it was needed in his father’s band. As Billy grew to love the electric and upright bass he also fell in love with many styles of music and studied the bass’ role in each of them. He studied jazz in college at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville but never cut himself off from the larger musical world. In addition to performing straight ahead jazz Billy has maintained a schedule playing in bands that specialize in classic rock, reggae, indie-folk, pop, and even Celtic rock.
When Billy leads his own ensemble he also takes the role of vocalist. Both his singing and bass playing have a “heart on his sleeve” honesty. Billy strives to be a supportive and vibrant bassist who is as ready to add his ideas to the fray as he is to be the palette on which others can shine. This sensibility has allowed Billy to play with some amazing and creative musicians such as Doug Carn, Dominick Farinacci, Kevin Bales, Taylor Roberts, and Christian Tamburr.
Billy has also been an educator for almost 20 years. Billy was the bass instructor at Jacksonville University in Florida until he moved to Atlanta, GA in 2014. There he began teaching at Georgia State University in 2015 where he teaches jazz bass, jazz history, and teaches several jazz combos. Billy is also part of the Rialto Jazz for Kids program and regularly works with several Atlanta area middle school jazz groups.