Musician Robert Glasper

The celebrated keyboardist talks about the release of “The Remix” of his “Black Radio” project.

The music of multitalented producer, songwriter and keyboardist Robert Glasper is genre-defying and appeals to a variety of audiences. He's also been labeled a star of the new jazz generation and performs at jazz festivals around the world. A native of Houston, TX, Glasper was influenced early by his mother, a jazz and blues singer, and developed his fusion sound in churches of various denominations. The Grammy nominee has worked with a diverse roster of artists and also fronts his own band, the Robert Glasper Experiment, which issued the jazz/hip-hop CD, "Black Radio," earlier this year and is back with "The Remix EP."


Tavis: Robert Glasper is a Grammy-nominated jazz pianist whose much talked about new project is a six-track EP called “Black Radio Recovered.” The disc includes appearances by Erykah Badu, The Roots, Solange Knowles and more. Here now some of the video from the single “Letter to Hermione.”


Tavis: I’ve always loved that your group is called “The Robert Glasper Experiment.”

Robert Glasper: Yes.

Tavis: Who came up with that idea?

Glasper: Actually, somebody at a club that booked us one time. It was supposed “The Robert Glasper Experience,” but when they put it in The New York Times for advertisement, they messed up and put Experiment and I liked it [laugh]. Hey, I’ll take it.

Tavis: To your mind – I can think of a number of different things – but to your mind, the distinction between an experience and an experiment is what artistically?

Glasper: Artistically, an experience is, I guess, the feeling that you get once the art is given to you. You’re experiencing the art. But the experiment is actually doing the art. That’s the experiment and then you get to experience the experiment.

Tavis: Wow. I like that, I like that [laugh]. So does this on a daily basis when you’re playing this here and around the world, does it feel like an experiment? You got me all confused now [laugh].

Glasper: I know, right [laugh]?

Tavis: Does it feel like an experiment to you?

Glasper: Every time we play is an experiment. We always leave it open. The way we play and restructure things is we don’t structure things. So a lot of times, everything’s open-ended from the beginning to the end. We don’t know how it’s gonna end or how it’s gonna start, but that keeps it fresh and every audience has their own specific special show.

Tavis: Is jazz pianist too limiting for you? Are you offended by that? Offended is a strong word, but is that too narrow?

Glasper: Not really. When I hear the words jazz pianist, that just means I have the skills to do most things. Because to be a jazz pianist, even to be a bad jazz pianist, you have to be pretty good, if that makes any sense, you know what I mean?

Tavis: It does.

Glasper: It gives you a lot of tools just to play jazz even bad. So you can pretty much approach any other music and be able to technically play it. So a jazz pianist just like, you know, a state of mind. Jazz is a state of mind. You know, there’s no boundaries. It just is what it is.

Tavis: The crew and I were talking before you walked in about how you got your street cred, your hip-hop street cred. How much of that has to do with being on that project with Q-Tip?

Glasper: [Laugh] Actually, that’s a big part of it. Q-Tip was a major part of my hip-hop street cred. Put me in some videos in the front and he supports me for a long time. He used to come check me out in Brooklyn at my little gigs at cafes and my trio and stuff like that. Him, Common, Mos Def, you know, all those guys would just come out and hang out really to support me. You know what I mean? I did have a lot to do with it.

Tavis: The artist former known as Mos Def…

Glasper: Exactly.

Tavis: Is on this new project.

Glasper: Right.

Tavis: Tell me about that track.

Glasper: That track is called “Black Radio.” The premise of the song was he had lyrics already, but I put music to it. It’s basically about, you know, when the plane crashes, they have a thing called the black box or the black radio that holds all the information. So he was always like, well, if that survives, why don’t you just make the whole plane out of that? So we always have that joke.

So I called this project “Black Radio” because I feel like when we feel music is crashing around us, crashing and burning, all good music still stands the test of time. I can always go back to Donny record, Marvin Gaye record, Isley Brothers record or Michael Jackson record, like certain albums, certain songs, will stand the test of time regardless.

Tavis: You’re right. I can take that comment two ways. Let me take it both ways and get you to unpack it from your own experience. So I take that comment two ways. One, it is a damning statement and a legitimately damning statement about “Black Radio” today. It could be taken that way, so your comments on that first?

Glasper: Exactly, right, exactly [laugh]. It’s a two-edged sword. Right, exactly. When I thought about it, I was like we’ll call it this because it has seven meanings. You know what I mean? And that’s one of them. You know, “Black Radio” today holds our people in a light that’s not too good.

Tavis: Does that trouble you? I ask that because, to my mind – and you may feel differently about this – but to my mind, the loyal following, and I do mean loyal following that you developed and the nominations and the awards and the accolade, all that you’ve received in the collaborations and all the folk who want to collaborate with you and all the live performances that you continue to play building this fan base, ain’t because of “Black Radio.” You are not on this show because I heard you on “Black Radio.”

Glasper: Right, exactly, yes. It’s pretty much because of a lot of touring and a lot of Twitter, you know. Media is crazy, like Twitter, Facebooking, all that kind of stuff, it just went through so fast and a lot of support. I mean, the artists that I have on here are just artist’s artists. You know what I mean? Everybody on here is a trailblazer in their own right, and I really respect these people. So I think that’s also what made this so great.

Tavis: The other side of that argument about “Black Radio” is that, you’re right, the good stuff always endures, but I sometimes get troubled by – this is just me talking, not you, but I want your take on it – I sometimes get troubled by the fact that because the new stuff ain’t holding up that there’s so many stations now that are playing all the old stuff.

So because you hear the old stuff so many times, I can tell you right now, I can get in my car when I leave the studio and just start flipping stations in L.A. and hear Marvin Gaye 10 times, Smokey Robinson 10 times, between here and my house. Now I appreciate the music, I appreciate the gift, but I wonder whether or not going back to that well so many times, it ain’t even an oldie but goodie now, it’s just a goodie. It ain’t even an oldie no more because you play it all day in rotation.

Glasper: Exactly. I mean, I think there’s good music out there. I just think that radio stations don’t play it. This record is one of the trailblazers for bringing that back, you know, bringing good music back, people with a live band playing. You know what I mean?

Tavis: The good news is, you have, as I said a moment ago, a loyal following now. The bad news, if I could put it that way, is that you have a loyal following now [laugh], which is to say they know you, they know what they like, they know what to expect and you can’t ever act like they didn’t help make you.

Glasper: Right.

Tavis: What kind of pressure or box does that put you in?

Glasper: I think with my fan base, they know that they can expect to not expect a certain thing because I jump so much. I go from piano trio to this, to “Black Radio,” to the Remix EP. You know what I mean? So they kind of know I’m kind of musically ADD, kind of all over the place [laugh], so I think they’re like waiting to see. Most fans around here are like, “We’re waiting to see what you think of next.” So I think that’s a good thing because they know they can’t really put me in a box of where I’m gonna go.

Tavis: Is there a profile of your fan and, if so, what would that profile look like? I ask that because I can tell you a whole bunch of artists right now who wish they had a fan base like that as opposed to the typical fan base which is “I want to hear that song again. I don’t care how many times you played it, play it again and play it like you played it on the record. I don’t want you changing that. You missed the interlude. That ain’t the note you hit on the record. That’s not the key on the records.”

Glasper: Exactly, exactly.

Tavis: My point is, there is a freedom, I would think. There’s a liberation in having a fan base that is cultivated and smart enough and sophisticated enough to let you be you and to look for that, but most artists don’t have that in their fan base.

Glasper: Right. My fan base is extremely random. It’s the 14-year-old white kid sitting next to your auntie from St. Luke’s Baptist Church [laugh], you know, to the 20-year-old Black girl who probably would go to a Rihanna concert, but she’s coming to my show. It’s really random. I make a joke all the time. One of the gigs we had maybe this summer, I looked over and there was this, she might have been a 70-year-old Caucasian lady next to like a 16-year-old little Black dude and they were both bobbing to this.

I mean, literally, she was like her head was swinging, you know, and I was like, wow, where do you see this? This is great. You know what I mean? In our set, if you’re a hip-hop head, we’re gonna play something that you like. But at the same time, you’re casually gonna get a lesson because we’re throwing some jazz in there that you probably wouldn’t be sitting in front of and vice versa. It’s like a little gumbo thing.

Tavis: You’ve also done some covers that have been very well received. Sade comes to mind immediately.

Glasper: Yes, yes. I chose that cover, first of all, Lalah’s singing it and I chose that for Lalah because she can sing anything. I love her.

Tavis: You can’t go wrong with Lalah.

Glasper: She could sing “Jingle Bells” and you’d be crying.

Tavis: Yeah [laugh].

Glasper: But I chose that song because everybody loves Sade. I don’t know anybody that doesn’t like Sade. It’s like Sade. So I chose that song because it’s like a perfect cover and I don’t know too many people that covered it. So that’s why I just chose that for her specifically.

Tavis: So this six-track EP is out now. What’s next on the agenda?

Glasper: Next on the agenda, I think I’m gonna do a “Black Radio, Volume 2.”

Tavis: Oh, cool.

Glasper: Yes. You know, featuring a whole slew of other guests, new guests, other artists that I didn’t have room on this one for, you know, and some people I’ve never worked with. Some people I have worked with, some people I’ve never worked with. So I’m still getting that roster together. So if you can sing or do anything like that, please email me [laugh].

Tavis: You’re in Los Angeles. They are lined up outside the building [laugh] right now. They’re jumping in their cars all over the city.

Glasper: Right. Let me change that. If you already have a platinum record, you call me [laugh].

Tavis: All right, the line just shortened tremendously [laugh]. If you’re just now coming to know this brilliant named Robert Glasper as a result of this show, congratulations. You now know the name and now you need to hear his stuff. You should add it to your collection. He’s getting a lot of play, a lot of respect in the business in this country and around the world, so I’m glad I could introduce him to those of you who don’t know him. If you already know him, then you’re already in love with him anyway.

The project that started this EP project is called “Black Radio.” So there you have the “Black Radio” project. I highly recommend that and then the new project is out and it’s called “Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP.” So get that as well. Robert, your first time on the show, I pray not your last.

Glasper: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Tavis: Good to have you here, man.

Glasper: Thank you.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Until next time, thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

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Last modified: November 19, 2012 at 1:44 pm