Popular jazz musician, hip-hop collaborator appeals to a wide audience

Laying down tracks with Jay-Z? Partying with Beyonce? Where Robert Glasper was before he got in this cab is anybody’s guess. Jazz Winnipeg

Even if you’ve never heard of jazz pianist Robert Glasper before, the list of acts he’s associated with might be enough to pique your interest and get you to come to his first-ever Winnipeg concert at the end of this month.

Glasper went to high school with Beyonce, attended jazz camp with Norah Jones, and has collaborated with Kanye West, Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, Common and many others.

But Glasper has also impressed critics and jazz fans alike with his own recordings, which include three albums released on the famed Blue Note label.

The most recent, 2009’s Double Booked, features six songs by The Robert Glasper Trio, an acoustic jazz band; and six songs by The Robert Glasper Experiment, a hip hop-influenced jazz project that incorporates saxophone, vocoder and rhymes by guests like Mos Def.

“My biggest accomplishment has been gaining the ear of non-jazz lovers, just regular people,” the 32-year-old husband and father writes in an email to The Uniter from a recent tour stop in Amsterdam. “That’s that thing Stevie Wonder has—EVERYBODY has some Stevie in their collection. He gives everyone something they need.”

Indeed, as jazz critic Peter Culshaw points out, Glasper’s audiences are a mix of jazz fans impressed by his reworking of the jazz piano tradition of Thelonius Monk, and younger hip-hop fans who have heard him play on albums like Kanye West’s Late Registration.

There’s also the occasional indie rock fan who’s heard Glasper’s breathtaking medley of Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage and Radiohead’s Everything In Its Right Place.

My biggest accomplishment has been gaining the ear of non-jazz lovers, just regular people.

Robert Glasper

“I can definitely say that my audience has gotten very diverse—many old and young people from all walks of life,” Glasper says. “I feel good when I see that.”

Glasper first began playing the piano in church, performing during services at three separate churches: Baptist, Catholic and Seventh-day Adventist.

During that time, Glasper developed his sound, learned to hear harmony and was inspired to mix church and gospel harmonies with jazz harmonies.

“Study the history, but always look forward with your own ideas,” Glasper tells aspiring jazz musicians. “Some ideas God gave to only one person to share.”

Glasper will share his own ideas with Winnipeggers when he performs at the West End Cultural Centre on Friday, June 24 as part of the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival.

In July, Glasper will enter a Los Angeles studio to record his next album, which will be the first full-length Robert Glasper Experiment release.

Erykah Badu, Mos Def and Bilal are just a few of the people scheduled to make guest appearances on the disc.

So what kind of music has Glasper been listening to lately?

“Bootlegs of my band, without sounding cocky!” Glasper says. “I’m about to record, so I’m listening for ideas!”

Published in Volume 65, Number 26 of The Uniter (June 2, 2011)

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