Robert Glasper : Taking Jazz to New Audiences


Hailing from Houston, Texas, Robert Glasper is a jazz pianist with a knack for mellow, harmonically complex compositions that also reveal a subtle hip-hop influence. Inspired to play piano by his mother, a gospel pianist and vocalist, Glasper attended Houston’s High School for the Performing Arts. After graduation, he studied music at the New School University in Manhattan, where he found performance work with such luminaries as bassist Christian McBride, saxophonist Kenny Garrett, and others. After graduating college, Glasper worked with a variety of artists, including trumpeter Roy Hargrove, vocalist Carly Simon, and rapper Mos Def. The pianist released his debut album, Mood, on Fresh Sound New Talent in 2004. Canvas and In My Element followed in 2005 and 2007, respectively, on Blue Note Records.  (Allmusic Biography by Matt Collar)

With his fourth album, Double Booked, Glasper introduced a new band, the Robert Glasper Experiment, that pivoted further from traditional jazz to explore elements of the latter genres.

Two albums with the Experiment followed, Black Radio and Black Radio 2, featuring an impressive roster of guest vocalists—among others, Erykah Badu, Musiq Soulchild, Lalah Hathaway, and Yasin Bey. The albums netted Glasper two Grammys—one in 2013 for best R&B album, the second this year for best traditional R&B performance.

On his latest album, Covered, out earlier this month, Glasper features his original trio with bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reid. Recorded in front of a small audience at Capitol Studios, it reinterprets a wide variety of songs, including cuts from the Black Radio albums and alumni, as well as Joni Mitchell, John Legend, Jhené Aiko, Radiohead, and Kendrick Lamar—with the Victor Young standard “Stella By Starlight” for good measure.  (Jacob Blickenstaffjun, “How Jazzman Robert Glasper Won Over the Hip-Hop Heads”, Mother Jones Magazine, 29, 2015)

A lot of times, jazz musicians try to educate people. What other genre does that?

Don Cheadle was not going to make a conventional biopic when he set out to direct Miles Ahead, his recent film about Miles Davis’ mid-Seventies lost years. “Make some mistakes, go crazy, crash into a wall – anything but something fucking cookie-cutter,” the actor-director told Rolling Stone of his liberally fictionalized narrative.  Robert Glasper – who scored Cheadle’s film and makes a cameo near the end — took a similar approach to Everything’s Beautiful, a new album that features his reworking of Miles Davis material from the Sony vaults.

I thought Miles Ahead, the movie, was pretty bad, mainly because of the suspense-thriller plotting and  cringe-worthy characterizations.  However, Glasper’s recasting of Miles’s music is well worth hearing.

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