Robert Glasper brings his music mix to the Toronto Jazz Fest (video)
21 June 2012 No Comments
The Robert Glasper Experiment
June 25, Fleck Theatre
TD Toronto Jazz Festival
Photo: Mike Schreiber
By Anya Wassenberg
Jazz pianist, composer, musical director or record producer, Robert Glasper’s sound recognizes no boundaries between genres. His music blends elements of jazz and hip hop — among others — and comes directly as a sum total of his musical influences.
Music was a big part of childhood in Glasper’s native Houston, Texas, where his mother sang with jazz and R&B groups, and in a church choir. Rather than get babysitters, she’d bring him along to her gigs and he absorbed a range of musical styles. “Jazz, blues, R&B, gospel — all kinds of stuff,” he says. “I started playing when I was about 12, stuff off the radio.” What stuff was he listening to? “I was learning Phil Collins and Billy Joel,” he laughs.
At 14, Glasper enrolled in the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston and he credits his education there for giving him good grounding in the theory and techniques of playing jazz. “It was competitive,” he says. From there he went on to the New School for Jazz & Contemporary Music in New York City, and has been there ever since.
The New School is where he met many of the people he still collaborates with today. In NYC’s cauldron of musical creativity, he continued to absorb new sounds. “New York is New York — all of the musicians, rappers, and spoken word artists [hang out]. The Roots used to host jam sessions. I used to go all the time and hang out. That was probably 2002,” he recalls.
A solid group of collaborators was formed across musical styles — he lists Common and Meshell Ndegeocello among them. “I would go to Q-Tip’s house; I became Mos Def’s musical director and when he toured, it was with my band. We did Carnegie Hall. We toured a lot,” he says.
While Glasper’s aware of the buzz surrounding him and the constant comparison of jazz and hip hop in his music, he pays no attention to the labels. “Now, this is what jazz sounds like to me. It’s always transforming. Jazz is this sound, with hip hop. I don’t necessarily hear the regular swing style anymore. That doesn’t define jazz for me. It didn’t even start like that,” he says.
Glasper says he’s letting all his influences, influence him. At the same time, he respects legends like Wayne Shorter and the more traditional approach to jazz. “They didn’t have hip hop, rock to use,” he explains.
He released the album Mood on the Fresh Sound New Talent label in 2003 and went on to wider recognition — and a bigger label. He signed with Blue Note in 2005. Four recordings followed, including Canvas (2005), In My Element (2007), Double-Booked (2009) and this year’s Black Radio. In Black Radio, his version of modern jazz comes into its own. “It’s where all this stuff meets up,” he says. “Hip hop meets jazz meets soul meets rock. There are like 12 guest artists,” he laughs. “It’s really my crossover record. The R&B and hip hop worlds have really embraced it.”
Glasper’s music features the complexity of jazz rhythmically and melodically with hip hop vocals and electronic flourishes, all brought together in a way that’s seamless and organic. His music not only blends musical genres, but also acoustic with electronic sounds, spoken word — and even voicemail recordings. Glasper’s current ensemble includes an acoustic trio and The Experiment, a more eclectic group that he’s bringing to his Toronto show