Hailed as the gateway into jazz for younger audiences, America’s jazz soundtrack wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the musical stylings of GRAMMY Award winner Robert Glasper.
Glasper’s music has helped to propel the genre forward by taking hip hop and fusing it with R&B such as his collaborations with artists like Erykah Badu, The Roots, and Kendrick Lamar. In an interview with NPR last year, Glasper said that there’s a reason why jazz audiences tend to be older and whiter.
“I think a long time ago, white people made jazz into like something you sit down and you appreciate, like golf….,” Glasper explained. “They took the dance floor away put chairs in it, you know what I mean? And then for a long time we weren’t allowed to go to jazz clubs. Black people weren’t allowed to go to jazz clubs. Even the people who were performing, the artists you went to see wasn’t even allowed to come in through the front. You know they had to go to the back to the kitchen and you know we were treated like s***, but we were the main act. So, it’s not something that we’re used to doing, going to jazz shows is not something that’s normal. So, I think it has something to do with that. I think black people just love new stuff,” said Glasper.
Born in Houston, Texas, the jazz pianist was inspired by his mother, a gospel pianist and vocalist. He was inspired by his mother, but one of his early music influences was Roy Hargrove gave him the idea to be who he was musically. “I was a senior in high school and Roy Hargrove came to my high school and he had on overalls and Timberlands. I couldn’t believe it. First of all, I’d never seen an all-black band. So, this is my first time seeing an all-black band and its jazz. It shouldn’t be like that that’s what it was. Never seen that before. And they all were dressed like me and they looked like me. That inspired me to be who I am,” Glasper told NPR.
He went on to study music at the New School University in Manhattan where he found performance work and worked on his craft with artists like bassist Christian McBride and saxophonist Kenny Garrett. After graduation, Glasper went on to work with a multitude of artists including his musical influence Roy Hargrove, as well as Carly Simon, and Mos Def.
In 2004, he released his debut album Mood. Canvas, and In My Element followed in 2005 and 2007.
In 2009, Glasper released Double Booked, which featured Herbie-Hancock inspired songs with two separate bands. The first of these was his trio with drummer Chris Dave and bassist Vicente Archer. They recorded several songs including a cover of Thelonious Monk’s “Think of One.”
His electric band, dubbed the Robert Glasper Experiment, featuring Dave, electric bassist Derrick Hodge, and Casey Benjamin on saxophone and vocoder.
In 2012, the Robert Glasper Experiment released their first stand alone album, Black Radio which blurred the lines between jazz, hip-hop, R&B, and Rock & Roll landing it on the Billboard jazz charts at number one. The same year, Glasper released Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP. In 2013, the Robert Glasper Experiment returned with new addition drummer Mark Colenburg, for their sophomore album Black Radio 2. The album won a GRAMMY for “Best Traditional R&B Performance” for a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Jesus Children of America.” The song features Lalah Hathaway and Malcolm Jamal Warner.
Glasper returned to his piano trio format in 2015 with Covered live at Capitol Studios in front of an invited audience.
Glasper also played on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and Maxwell’s “blackSUMMERSnight,” and for Don Cheadle’s 2016 Miles Davis biopic, Miles Ahead, he curated the soundtrack and wrote original music for the film.
He also recorded Everything’s Beautiful” a tribute album to mark Miles Davis’s 90th birthday. The album features the single “Ghetto Walkin” with Bilal.
The Robert Glasper Experiment then returned to the studio in 2016 and for the first time wrote and arranged songs resulting in ArtScience with singles “Day to Day,” and “Thinkin’ About You.”
Glasper then assembled a new supergroup, Reflect+Respond=Now, featuring Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on trumpet, Derrick Hodge on bass, Taylor McFerrin on synthesizer, Justin Tyson on drums, and Terrace Martin on synth and vocoder. Their debut album, Collagically Speaking, released in 2018, mixes R&B, 1970s jazz-funk fusion, cosmic soul, and instrumental hip-hop.
Coming Up Next
Several cities, including Nashville, have had the chance this year to experience the Robert Glasper City Winery Tour. The intimate tour wraps up in Oakland, California on April 18. Glasper let Rolling Out Magazine in on his future plans. “I’m doing a lot more film scoring this year. I did the score for an HBO documentary about the Apollo Theater coming out in the fall. I’m also working on a new pilot, a comedy on ABC staring Leslie Odom Jr., and I’m doing another Black Radio [album], and that’s slated to come out in 2020,” he revealed.
Glasper continues to inspire and open the portal to new jazz enthusiasts.
To keep up with Robert Glasper, check out his website.