Interview: Robert Glasper (Pt. 1) - JazzWax

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March 07, 2012


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Bill Kirchner

Glasper was a student of mine at the New School a decade ago--around the same time as Marcus and E.J. Strickland, Mike Moreno, and other now-notables.

One day, I played my Jazz History class a recording of Art Tatum's version of "Willow, Weep For Me." At the next class, Glasper sat down at the piano and played me Tatum's intro verbatim.

He knows the future, but he knows the past, too.


Although I really love to play "My Funny Valentine", I always considered the today quite neglected "Where Or When" (also from "Babes In Arms") the more interesting song, regarding structure and melody.

And I agree wholeheartedly: With young folks who know their history, when played & promoted by talented musicians like Robert Glasper, jazz will never die. -- Even when you are only rephrasing (or reviewing) the tradition (I call it classic repertoire), instead of desperately trying to chum up with young audiences, you will find your audiences.

Tony Gifford

I first heard RG/Experiment at a Toronto concert sponsored by the Jazz Performance and Education Centre (JPEC). I was gobsmacked by the professionalism, the mash up, the trans-genre mix. Not a fan of gangsta rap, I learned what rap could add to the gumbo of jazz and I started to 're-listen' to my hackneyed, formulaic,2/4, 4/4 prejudices and saw the Experiment's as the 'thing to move to' among others --- I was creating my own filters. CAsey Benjamin's vocoder/sax helped to rekindle for me 'vocalese'. 'Black Radio' IMHO is the recording so far of 2012,


Old joke: How many singers does it take to do "My Funny Valentine?" All of them. Yet, no matter how screechy and histrionic, these renditions always get an enthusiastic reaction from the audiences. While some may be applauding because they like screechy and histrionic, I think it's mostly because people recognize the tune. Younger people, of course, won't recognize it or anything else from the Great American Songbook. They aren't likely to appreciate jazz because they haven't been exposed to it and thus have no frame of reference. Hip-hop is familiar and thus easier to relate to. For older audiences '70s R&B may be easier to relate to. But I'm not convinced that any of this makes tradition-based jazz irrelevant in the modern age. I hear plenty of artists making compelling personal statements in this genre, many of them profiled here in jazz wax. If a musical genre with roots in the 20th century is already obsolete, what are we to do with, say, vocal groups specializing in music from the 14th, 15th, or 16th centuries? Those aren't mass-market music, but for people who appreciate them, they might be the perfect antidote to the noise of the modern world. And if Tierney Sutton, Roberta Gambarini, Tony Bennett, or maybe even Paul McCartney, wants to sing "My Funny Valentine," I'm willing to listen.

Pamela Oberman

Wow Robert, many thanks for making the younger jazz audience feel just like I did way back in the 1960's - listening to all the way kool jazz greats who have obviously ifluenced you - along with your way kool parents. Hope like crazy you get to come to Australia one time soon.


I can't give up the piano trio. Even have all of Robert Glasper's trio recordings. They are excellent. There are a lot of things from the past I can do without, like for example, "Bitches Brew." But not the piano trio, not after 75 years of being addicted to that format.

Pamela Oberman

Roll on November roll on, this is good news and solves many problems for the most hip Xmas gift.... I hope fame and fortune
follows you but when you are working within the industry of teaching people how to love cool music, me thinks this ain't gunna happen.

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of 55 More Songs," "Anatomy of a Song," "Rock Concert: An Oral History" and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax has won three Jazz Journalists Association awards.
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