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Robert Glasper & Terrace Martin On Removing Their Egos And Creating Their GRAMMY-Nominated Collaboration 'Dinner Party: Dessert'
(L-R): Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, Kamasi Washington, 9th Wonder

Photos (L-R): Jim Dyson, Daniel Knighton, Dave Simpson, Richard Bord/WireImage (All Via Getty Images)

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Robert Glasper & Terrace Martin On Removing Their Egos And Creating Their GRAMMY-Nominated Collaboration 'Dinner Party: Dessert'

"No losing, just learning": Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, Kamasi Washington, and 9th Wonder have been nominated for Best Progressive R&B Album at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards. Glasper and Martin open up about how the experiences that formed their project.

GRAMMYs/Mar 10, 2022 - 08:08 pm

Dinner Party is a distinctly egoless organization, but it wasn't that way by default. Like stones smoothed by waves through the ages, Robert Glasper and Terrace Martin have been humbled time and time again. There was the time Martin got too big-headed on tour with Snoop Dogg and got the pink slip in his hotel room, losing almost his entire income in an instant. For Glasper, there are too many anecdotes to pick just one.

"I don't have an ego when it comes to creativity, because it'll prevent you from creating real estate for your family and for yourself," says Martin, a rapper, saxophonist, producer and four-time GRAMMY nominee. "To be closed-minded is not about just your mind being closed. Your health is closed; your relationships are closed; your finances are closed; everything is closed." 

"Oh, I've been taught a lesson," Glasper, a four-time GRAMMY-winning keyboardist and producer, tells GRAMMY.com. "And then you take that lesson and move on, because you realize: 'OK, that didn't work out for me. Let me change my whole thought process.'" Despite any number of setbacks along the way, Glasper has enjoyed a dynamite career on his own terms. He sums it all up in four words: "No losing. Just learning."

These decades of learning the hard way are why Dinner Party — a project between Glasper; Martin; saxophonist Kamasi Washington; and producer, DJ and MC 9th Wonder — is stress-free and stylistically borderless. In 2020, they released a self-titled EP to rave reviews; the following year, they upgraded it. 

Their remix album, Dinner Party: Dessert, has been nominated for Best Progressive R&B Album at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards. Dessert brings famous friends to the proverbial table, among them Herbie Hancock and Tank and the Bangas, and is narrated by Snoop Dogg. "I didn't know Snoop wanted to narrate it!" the man he fired, Martin, says astonishedly. "He was like, 'Keep the mic on.'" Circle closed, and lesson learned.

While you wait to see if the foursome will win the golden gramophone on April 3, read on for a revealing interview with Glasper and Martin about the forces that shaped them as artists — and enabled them to create together without a sliver of pomposity.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How did you guys react when you learned you'd been nominated?

Martin: "Baby, get the dress ready."

Glasper: "Whatcha wearin'?"

Martin: "I've only got one ticket, so you'd better make it right!" 

Glasper: It was cool because we've both been nominated many times separately, obviously. It's just dope to get nominated with your brother on a project that y'all worked on during COVID — you know what I mean? 

Martin: And literally, the idea came from Rob and me backstage at a show. So, from the idea to this has always been a warm thing. That s*** works.

Glasper: We've known each other since we were 15 at jazz camp! So, you go from talking about jazz camp to going to the GRAMMYs together! It makes it feel a little different.

The original Dinner Party album was suffused with camaraderie. What inspired you guys to bring more people into the picture?

Martin: Jimmy Iovine.

Glasper: Yep, Jimmy.

Martin: Robert and I went to Jimmy's house for dinner. Me, Rob, Dr. Dre, a few other cats. [Director] Allen Hughes was there. And Jimmy was so hyped about the first Dinner Party album that he called us for dinner. He was telling us how he loved it; he looked at us and was like, "Yo, you guys should do it again and get all your rapper friends. Get all your this; get all your that."

I was kind of like
 [Meekly] "OK, yeah, yeah, yeah." But then Rob was like, "Ay, let's do that s***." So, we just started going through the motions. We tapped back in with Jimmy a few times. Throughout the pandemic, we were getting a million COVID tests to go talk to Jimmy. We were hanging down here, but we were getting consulting from Jimmy Iovine!

Glasper: You have to get a COVID test to talk to Jimmy Iovine on the phone! [Laughs.] It was real, Jack!

Martin: Matter of fact, Jimmy was the first rapid test we did!

Glasper: He sent a mess to the house the first time!

Martin: Jimmy had that s***, bro, before anybody here heard about that s***! He had a nurse come with the whole s*** on!

Iovine is a music-biz legend. What’s he like to hang out with? 

Martin: Rich.

Glasper: [Laughs.] He just does things that aren't in your stratosphere. Just like, "Oh, really? Really?"

We were at his house, and we were talking about Nobu. We were eating Nobu food and we were like, "Oh, you got Nobu delivered to the house!" He's like, "Oh, no, no, no. They're here in my kitchen! I got the staff from Nobu to come to my kitchen and cook it! That's what we're eating!"

Martin: It's different. It's different. A lot of folks talk the talk, but Jimmy walks the walk — all the way from [being] a true student of the music and master of hearing things to putting deals together. 

When I hear Snoop and Dr. Dre and everybody talk about him, his whole thing is "His ideas work." If you listen, his ideas work. We don't have any business with him — we're not signed to Jimmy — but he's a friend now, and he offered information that we took. And now, we're GRAMMY-nominated.

Read More: Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show Recap: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar & More Blow The Roof Off SoFi Stadium

It seems like Iovine has uncanny decision-making abilities.

Martin: He's been in front of a change in music four times. He has a pretty good idea — no matter what genre or whatever. The first thing that he said when Robert and I walked into the room… 

Glasper: "I hate jazz." 

Martin: Yes!

[Both laugh.]

Glasper: He was like, "I remember in the '70s, I used to work in a record store, and blah blah blah blah blah! I hated jazz music! I hated it! But Dinner Party… I love it! It's different!" He went on and on and on. We were like, "Oh, snap."

That's a wild thing to say.

Martin: No, no, no, no, no, no. I want to change that. It's not a wild thing to say. If you're not into jazz, like, I don't like green peas. I hate green peas. It's not wild to say I don't like green peas. I hate that s***. I don't like certain music; I hate that s***. So when he said that, I didn't take it offensively.

First of all, cats like me and Robert, we've been trained — and trained ourselves — to be such vast artists. We also work in hip-hop, where a lot of hip-hop motherf***ers don't like jazz. A lot of jazz guys don't like hip-hop.

I think that's what makes Robert and myself special in that light — to where you can say what you want to say, because we can relate to you in every kind of way. And I think that's why the Dinner Party record is like that.

It didn't bother us when he said that, because hate jazz sometimes. And not only do I play it, but I've lived what people read about the jazz life. I hate hip-hop sometimes! I don't like everything every day. So when he said that, that would have destroyed a lot of artists that I know…

Glasper: Right.

Martin: …but when he said that, I was like, "Well, shoot. Whatcha like?"

What led you two to be musically omnivorous?

Glasper: I think because African-Americans have given America so many different styles of music. It's in our blood. All the music comes from our bloodline, from rock to jazz to hip-hop to gospel to R&B. You can keep going on and on and on and on and on. It's not so far-fetched.

People have been like, "Why do you like rock music? Why do you mix rock and jazz? Why do you mix rock, jazz and R&B?" That's like asking, "Why are your brothers and sisters playing with each other?" 

We both come from musical households. My mom was a musician, and she loved all styles of music. His dad is a musician and loves all styles of music. So, we just came up under that like it was nothing. Blurred lines. 

Martin: Not only were our parents doing music, but they did it for a living as well. When your mom and dad are doing gigs, every gig ain't no jazz gig. It's clubs, bar mitzvahs…

Glasper: Survival gigs.

Martin: They're survival gigs. If you saw me in L.A. early in my life, you wouldn't believe I played saxophone. I was playing keyboards, playing Top 40; Frankie, Beverly and Maze; and the new Usher song that just came out.

Glasper: When I first met Kamasi [Washington], he was on keys with Chaka Khan in New York, at B.B. King's.

Martin: Working.

Glasper: I had no idea he played sax! I thought he was a keyboard player.

When you're coming up as a professional musician, you often have to know many different styles and change directions on a dime. So, perhaps that was passed down to you guys.

Martin: It was passed on to be an adult and survive before music. It was passed on to work.

Man, I asked Quincy Jones one time, "What's the difference between self-confidence and ego?" He said, "Ego prevents you from going to the bank."

I don't have an ego when it comes to creativity — and I know Rob doesn't either — because it'll prevent you from creating real estate for your family and for yourself. To be closed-minded is not about just your mind being closed. Your health is closed; your relationships are closed; your finances are closed; everything is closed.

I started noticing that in certain artists. The cats that did one thing, and one thing well. But when s*** changed up, it was bad. I don't like looking bad. I just don't. I don't like being uncomfortable. 

Rob and I love all kinds of music. That's the bottom line. I'm giving you the science to that. We've got to love it all.

The longer I'm in the music industry, the more I realize that nothing is off-limits. There's a kernel of value even in music you can't stand — if not for you, then for someone else.

Martin: Not to drop another name, but these are our friends: Herbie Hancock always said, "You can find beauty within every problem."

Glasper: You can hear something and say, "Oh, so that's why that doesn't work." No losing. Just learning.

How did you choose who you'd include on Dinner Party: Dessert?

Glasper: Terrace was like, "Yo, I have a young rapper friend who wants to get on. Can we please let him narrate the whole thing?" I was like, "Who?" He was like, "Snoop Dogg." I said, "Who the hell is that?"

Martin: [Laughs.] 

Glasper: This whole thing is about helping out Terrace's friends who are not known, really. I'm the keyboard player, and he wanted to bring in some guy named Herbie to play a song! 

Martin: It was easy because I always tell everybody: "Relationships are key in the music business." Everywhere, but in music especially.

One thing that Rob and I have done with artists is to walk into their records, no ego, and give them all of us — and leave asking for nothing. When you finally understand that and we're all on the same page, it's not that hard to do.

With managers and lawyers, it's always a thing — but with artists, it's very smooth. Everybody wanted to be part of it, though! I didn't know Snoop wanted to narrate it! He was like, "Keep the mic on." 

How do you engender an environment where nobody artistically butts heads?

Martin: Kill the ego.

Glasper: Absolutely. 

Martin: That's it. If you've got an ego, bring some good food, wine, weed. Laugh and talk. Ask people how their families are doing. No ego.

It's not like you're asking artists to be in a room with slappers as well, too. Everybody's at a certain level where that's not even a thought to even bring ego in. Everybody is at this high level, so there's no room for any ego. We're all on this plane where it's like, "Let's all coexist and be together."

Was it a process for you both to dismantle your egos, or is that something that comes naturally to you?

Glasper: Oh, I've been taught a lesson. [Laughs.] 

Martin: We all have. 

Glasper: And then you take that lesson and move on, because you realize: "OK, that didn't work out for me. Let me change my whole thought process."

Martin: I was taught a lesson. I was touring with Snoop for years — six, seven years. Snoop was one of my best friends, and he fired me — sent me home. My job was to do the letters and put them under the hotel door: "Thank you, your services are no more, here's a plane ticket."

One day, I was at my hotel, and my ego went crazy for the whole tour. And I heard something go [Mimics paper sliding] "Ftttp!" I was like, "I know that sound!" I went to the door, and it was the envelope I used to do! It took me 10 minutes to open that motherf***er.

Snoop taught me a big lesson because I thought I could never get fired from anything in my life. I thought I was just it. Snoop had hired a band, and I didn't like the way certain band members played. I was being mean and arrogant to them; my ego was out of control. I was being a spoiled f***ing person, and I lost everything. 

That time, Snoop Dogg was 95 percent of my income, if not 98 percent. The other two percent was breeding pit bulls and selling them, which was nothing. At that time, it got bad financially. I said, "Remember what Quincy Jones said? My ego kept me from the bank." 

So, I was like "Even if I have an ego, I'm going to hide that motherf***er. Hard.

Glasper: Not to bring him up again, but Herbie said one time, "Music is what you do. Everyone's a person first. And what you do is what you do after that, but you're a person first." At the end of the day, you can lose what you do. It can be no more, and then you're just left with who you are. 

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Jazz In The Present Tense

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

This year has been a stellar year for jazz music. The boundaries of jazz have been pushed ever since cornetist Charles Joseph "Buddy" Bolden laid down his first improvisational lick back in the late 1800s. So, who is continuing this trend today in the second decade of the new millennium?

Houston-born pianist Robert Glasper's star continued to rise this year with the release of Black Radio. The album made an indelible impression on young people (and the not so young) around the world. Over the years, Glasper has collaborated with the likes of Bilal, Terence Blanchard, Q-Tip, Meshell Ndegeocello, Jaleel Shaw, and Kanye West.

Best New Artist GRAMMY winner Esperanza Spalding continued to cast her spell on unsuspecting music fans this year with the release of Radio Music Society. Whether it is straight-ahead jazz or classical- and R&B-infused songs, Spalding delivered again in 2012.

Vijay Iyer's Accelerando, Christian Scott's Christian aTunde Adjuah, Tia Fuller's Angelic Warrior, Orrin Evans' Flip The Script, Euge Groove's House Of Groove, and Gregory Porter's Be Good are just a sample of the different styles and passions that made listening to jazz exciting for me this year.

On the digital home front, the venerable jazz label Blue Note Records broke new ground with an amazing Spotify app. Imagine being able to access the entire Blue Note catalog dating back to 1939. You can explore the label's music either through an interactive timeline or via an immersive experience within specific styles, artists, instruments and more. The coolest part of the app is called Blue Break Beats, where the app identifies the original source of all those samples you've heard but couldn't quite place.

On a somber note, the jazz community has lost legends and talented musicians such as Von Freeman, Bob French, David S. Ware, Byard Lancaster, Shimrit Shoshan, and Pete La Roca. Los Angeles-born pianist Austin Peralta, 22, died during the week of Thanksgiving. He was considered by many to be a talent beyond the "prodigy" label that was bestowed on him years ago.

But, to end the year in review on a high note, the 55th GRAMMY Awards will be the perfect place to see the very best in music — especially in jazz. I cannot wait to be in Los Angeles in February 2013 so I can share all of the excitement and surprises with everyone.

Stay for the ride — the best is yet to come.

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: How Illenium Went From An "Obsessed" Dance Music Fan To An Arena-Filling DJ & Producer
Illenium

Photo: Brian Ziff

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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: How Illenium Went From An "Obsessed" Dance Music Fan To An Arena-Filling DJ & Producer

With his fourth LP, 'Fallen Embers,' Illenium kicked off a new era that blends his love for electronic music and pop-punk. As he celebrates a GRAMMY nod, the producer looks back on his journey to stardom and shares how the dance genre changed his life.

GRAMMYs/Mar 21, 2022 - 07:37 pm

Growing up, Nick Miller never really listened to dance music. Now, he's one of the genre's most prolific stars, better known as Illenium — and is celebrating a GRAMMY nomination as a result.

Illenium's fourth album, 2021's Fallen Embers, is up for Best Dance/Electronic Music Album at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards. It's a pinnacle moment for Miller, who became "obsessed" with the electronic music world in 2009, launched his career with a self-released EP in 2013, then made his major-label debut in 2016.

Since then, Illenium has put out three more LPs and countless singles, teaming up with fellow dance titans like Gryffin and the Chainsmokers, as well as a variety of singers, from Georgia Ku to Jon Bellion. His versatility is perhaps most apparent on Fallen Embers, which features Tori Kelly, iann dior and Thirty Seconds to Mars, among others.

Though he's already teasing new music — which will debut during Illenium's set at Miami's Ultra Music Festival on March 26 — the producer/DJ feels the next chapter of his career truly began with Fallen Embers. With a GRAMMY nomination to validate his new direction, it may really just be the beginning.

GRAMMY.com sat down with Illenium to discuss the importance of Fallen Embers, how he transitioned from the crowd to the stage, and the role music played in changing — and saving — his life.

What initially made you realize that you were interested in producing — and that you were actually pretty good at it?

I started messing around in GarageBand in high school, and it introduced me to the idea of spending time creating something — even though that stuff back then was really bad. I moved to Colorado, and had some life-changing moments, and I started putting a lot of my time into it. A lot of the encouragement I got from friends, even though it was just mediocre music, was really exciting.

I was writing for music blogs, and I just loved the whole electronic music scene at that time. I would try to create what my idols were doing, and try to learn how they were doing it. I became obsessed, passionate and excited. I got addicted to trying to make songs. The feeling of doing it yourself, and being able to control every aspect of that, was really addicting.

I went to a Red Rocks show in 2012, and seeing that community, especially in Colorado — the Denver-based music scene is really tight-knit and communal, and it's really genuine. It was just really special. It was an experience that really drove me to want to succeed in it.

Was dance music your No. 1 genre growing up?

No, not at all. I didn't listen to much dance music until, like, 2009. I first got into it when I was living in San Francisco. I really liked a lot of the house stuff and trance, and then once I moved to Colorado, it turned into the bass music scene.

I grew up listening to a lot of pop-punk and rock, and my family listens to country a lot. A lot of hip-hop [too]. So I was all over the place in middle school and high school.

That's kind of all I listen to now. I listen to some pop, and a little bit of hip-hop, but it's almost all rock music and pop-punk.

Considering you were a teenager during the pop-punk explosion of the mid-2000s, that makes sense.

Totally. I feel like there's so much emotion and — it's not even aggression, but it's like, intensity, in that kind of music, where it can be really pretty melodically or lyrically, but the instrumental stuff behind it just like, hits. It hits me more than a lot of electronic music does nowadays. So I think that's why I'm transferring it into my type of thing.

Fallen Embers is the first album that doesn't start with "A," but its title still fits into the overall theme that Ashes, Awake and Ascend present. What's the story behind that?

My logo is a phoenix, [because] the imagery behind the phoenix really relates to me and the music that I make, and why I make music in the first place. So my first three albums were kind of this whole birth cycle of a phoenix. They all started with "A," it was a trilogy of that cycle. So Fallen Embers was kind of my take on what pieces were left — the embers fallen from the phoenix throughout that whole journey.

I made that album when I wasn't touring, and that's the first album I made in a long time [that] I wasn't touring, because I've been touring like crazy. It turned out much more calm and much more like a recharge album for me. Lyrically, it [details] the ebbs and flows of a relationship — it doesn't have to be a relationship, but just through finding yourself, and forgiving yourself for making mistakes and moving on.

Sonically, Fallen Embers has more rock elements. It's definitely calmer than Ascend. I love emotional music, so my music is always going to have an emotional aspect to it. That is not going to change. But I don't want to just keep repeating and chasing [the same sound], so now I'm moving very — like, totally — different, post-Fallen Embers. Fallen Embers, for me, was like a farewell, almost. I just wanted to be very clear that that was a trilogy, and now we're departed.

When you announced Fallen Embers, you said this is "the start of a new chapter." So is that kind of what you were talking about?

Yeah. I've been in LA five out of the past six months to start from scratch and write rock songs, and heavy aggressive s***, because I feel like I took a break and made music that's kind of calm. Now I'm [going] a little more aggressive and adding some metal aspects.

There's this middle ground of electronic, rock and metal that can be really cool. And I feel like there's a lot of people doing similar stuff, but the songs can be really authentic and healing to people — right now, especially.

You also said this album was "an incredibly personal journey for me." Since it was so personal for you, did you see an even more meaningful impact from these songs?

Yeah. I mean, these past two years have been really challenging for a lot of people, myself included. Especially since shows have come back, you can definitely see in people the excitement to get a release of some sort. And to [just] enjoy — it's hard after a long time of people just going through the motions.

Especially in the electronic music scene, a lot of these people use these shows and the music for their healing and their escape. And that's really important for 'em. So to be able to give them a show and also give them new music, and see how that music has been their kind of crutch this past year, has been really beautiful for me.

You had everyone from Tori Kelly to Angels and Airwaves on Fallen Embers. What goes into finding the right vocalist for a track?

It's a mix. A lot of it is availability-based. When I first am working on a song, especially if it's a demo, it'd be like, "Who would sound good on this?" The "Blame Myself" demo had Emily Warren, who has a really amazing voice, and a very unique tone. So it's hard to fill that.

You get this thing called "demoitis," where you're used to the demo so much, it's hard to separate. But you've got to just find the right vocalist that is gonna bring her own or his own whole attitude to it. And you just kind of have to sit with it for a second because you're so obsessed with the first version.

It's not about, necessarily, the skill of singing. It's a lot of tone. Sonically, how you make a whole song, and you have a vocal in there, you need someone that fits that exact same spot. And that can be really challenging.

For "Paper Thin" with Tom and Angels and Airwaves, that was just a bucket list [thing] for me, I've always wanted to work with him. When we sent it to him, we were like, "They're probably not going to do this." Same with Jared [Leto, Thirty Seconds to Mars' frontman]. I'm the biggest fan of all of the people I collaborated with, so it's really been special.

I feel like a lot of people who aren't as familiar with the dance music scene may assume that producers like you, who aren't on their tracks vocally, might not write them. But you, and people like Kygo and Zedd — all of these huge names in the producer world — have proven that wrong. Do you feel like that's a common misconception?

I think there's always gonna be a misconception of a DJ/producer type thing. I don't think there's any way to get around it, unfortunately. But at the end of the day, it's okay. People [who like] different music have a whole different perspective.

When people see "DJ," they're like, "Oh, like, Vegas DJ. Throw a party!" They have no idea the complexities that go behind that. There are some producers out there that can do insane stuff. It's hard to even start describing that. There's some songs where we start with a guitar, and we write from scratch. It's just about having an ear for what is going to be successful, and also just having an ear of what you enjoy.

In 2018, you shared a really personal story about how music changed your life. Was it a certain song, album or artist that did that for you? Or was it being able to use the music that you were creating as your outlet? Or a combination of both?

It's definitely a mixture of both. When I turned my life around from that time period, it was a mixture of getting so curious about music production, but I was also obsessed with music — I was like, "How do these producers create these things?"

That little thought sparked so much curiosity in me, and [I] wanted to figure out how to implement my love for music and love for different genres. For it to change my life, it had to have all of those aspects — being obsessed with music, loving other people's music, and wanting to create my own.

Doing an action in one of those phases every day is what got me going and got me into the scene, and into my career. But also [made me] confident with myself and feeling like I had some sort of purpose. It was a really healing process for me, because I was kind of a s***show before that. I needed something to put all of my energy into, and something that my family supported, and I had friends that supported me. So that was just really cool.

When I was so low, I had no faith in myself at all. You just have no confidence, and you're pretty broken. For you to even have an idea of "I might be good at something" or "I might get good at something if I work hard enough at it and I love it," then it's just full speed ahead.

What does 2012 Nick at Red Rocks think of 2022 Nick being a GRAMMY-nominated producer?

It's just mind-blowing. You know, I told myself when I saw the Red Rocks show in 2012, I was like, "Maybe in 10 years, I'll get to play at Red Rocks." I wasn't even saying headline or anything, just play at Red Rocks. I apparently set a very low goal for myself. [Laughs.]

Constantly having goals set and then reaching them throughout my whole career has been amazing, but it's crazy to think about being a GRAMMY-nominated artist. That is a whole different world that I never even thought — I just got into bass music and EDM, you know? To think of that transition, that's crazy.

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Jazz Alive! Inside Robert Glasper's October Residency At The Blue Note

Robert Glasper

Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images

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Jazz Alive! Inside Robert Glasper's October Residency At The Blue Note

Seven lineups of today's jazz talent to be on display in an NYC residency like no other

GRAMMYs/Aug 15, 2018 - 02:22 am

On Aug. 14 the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City announced contemporary jazz exemplar Robert Glasper will host an exceptional residency in October, bringing together seven combinations of today's outstanding jazz talents for 48 shows on 24 nights.

GRAMMY winners sitting in on the multiple configurations include Chris Dave and Derrick Hodge, who've played and won with Glasper's group the Robert Glasper Experiment, as well as Bilal, Christian McBride and Nicholas Payton. Exclusive details are at Billboard, and previous nominees in the lineups include Terrace Martin and Christian Scott. This ambitious residency not only shows Glasper's devotion to the genre, but reminds us jazz is very much alive!

"I came to New York tracking other people's footsteps, and now it's me and the musicians that I came up with who are making footprints for the next generation to follow," said Glasper. "New York is the reason everything popped off for me. It's the only place in the world with this heavy traffic of quintessential, true jazz and quintessential, true hip-hop, the only place I could have met these people and made this music … I'm taking over the Blue Note to tell that story, my music milestones, in the place it all began."

Just last year Glasper won his first Emmy Award, along with Common and Karriem Riggins, in Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for "Letter To The Free" from the Netflix documentary 13th. His most recent GRAMMY win was for Best Compilation Soundtrack For Visual Media for the movie Miles Ahead at the 59th GRAMMY Awards. He has said he wants to win a GRAMMY in every genre. With soundtrack composing in his wide range as well, he seeks to join Common in Emmy-GRAMMY-Oscar territory someday.

Regardless of awards, jazz's rewards are legendary, spontaneous and rooted in U.S. cultural history, so these fresh fruits in October should be a welcome addition to anyone's musical diet.

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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner On Self-Actualization, Grieving In Public And Her Nominations For 'Jubilee' At The 2022 GRAMMY Awards
Japanese Breakfast

Photo: Peter Ash Lee

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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner On Self-Actualization, Grieving In Public And Her Nominations For 'Jubilee' At The 2022 GRAMMY Awards

Japanese Breakfast is nominated for two GRAMMYs at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards. Their leader, Michelle Zauner, opened up to GRAMMY.com about how the nominations feel, and why personal and global crises just made her more motivated.

GRAMMYs/Mar 9, 2022 - 03:42 pm

When the pandemic first descended on humanity, countless millennials moved home, donned pajama pants and brooded at their parents' kitchen islands. In this sea of dejected Instagram posts, though, a few public figures stood out — those who decided to thrive during the age of demoralization. One conspicuous example was the singer, songwriter and debut author Michelle Zauner. 

Zauner hit two professional home runs during the pajama-pants era. In April 2020, she released her affecting memoir Crying in H Mart, and that June, her band Japanese Breakfast released a critically acclaimed album, Jubilee. Granted, the lion's share of both projects was completed before we started wiping down bags of Doritos — and Zauner wasn't immune to "being depressed and eating a lot." Still, the timing of her breakthroughs speaks to her character.

Read More: How Japanese Breakfast Found Joy On Her New Album Jubilee

"I've discovered through the past few years that I'm a surprisingly optimistic person — I'm a secret hopeful person!" she quips. "Because in any narrative or story I've told, it's been important for me to find some type of hope to cling to. I certainly am not one to dwell on the negative. It doesn't help me to have that be my end goal."

As such, accentuating the positive was something of an animating force while making Jubilee — and the result was a critically-acclaimed album on top of a New York Times bestseller.

Japanese Breakfast is nominated for two GRAMMYs at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards: one for Best New Artist, another for Best Alternative Music Album for Jubilee. In the above video, watch Zauner's recollection of drearily watching the nominations roll in, expecting nothing — and her very loud reaction at the results. 

That's her magic in microcosm, alchemizing the depressing into the sublime. And her mother (whose loss looms large in both Crying in H Mart and previous Japanese Breakfast music) would undoubtedly be proud. 

With the 2022 GRAMMY Awards on the immediate horizon (April 3), GRAMMY.com sat down with Zauner to discuss what motivates her during hard times, the palette of influences reflected on Jubilee, and the life-changing moments it produced— like watching Jeff Tweedy cover her Wilco-influenced song.

This interview has been edited for clarity

During the early pandemic, I felt drawn to people who rose above their circumstances and thrived, rather than sinking into a mire. Where did your motivation come from during a very demotivated time?

I will say that a majority of both Jubilee and Crying in H Mart were done prior to the pandemic, so I was kind of one of those people being depressed and eating a lot.

But I was able to work on the final, final draft of Crying in H Mart during a time I was supposed to be on tour. I do think that having the perspective of going into the final stages of this book, when I had a ton of time off for the first time, was actually kind of helpful for me to get some of the really good, final touches on this book.

Honestly, I feel like I became very motivated in general after a very dark time in my life. I became grounded by my work ethic and my ambition and sticking very close to routine after my mom passed away. So, after this dark limbo period, I recalled being a caretaker for six months and being stuck in the house in Eugene, Oregon. 

In a way, I feel like I've gone through this part of life before, and I felt prepared. I know what it feels like to be out of control of my life and watch a lot of darkness descend around me. I found that sticking close to a regimen or staying grounded through work is what helped me through that time. So, I think that's something I'm unfortunately used to at this point in my life. 

Some people view grievous loss as a moment where their life stops, and they just wander through the past after that. But it seems like you're more interested in moving forward and honoring your mom that way.

Yeah, I think I got there through working through it creatively, in a way. But it is really interesting; I think that happens really often. 

My father and I navigated our grief in totally different ways. I think that happens in families a lot — where one person goes on one path and another experiences it through another path. They can be at odds with one another.

But for me, personally, I was so worried about allowing myself to fall into a deep pit of depression about something very real for the first time — that I would struggle to ever pull out of it. I know my mom would want me to navigate my grief in this way, and that's what really helped me through that.

Another destabilizing factor for people in our age range can be a sense of futurelessness. Perhaps we share a drive to work around global traumas.

Yeah, I've discovered through the past few years that I'm a surprisingly optimistic person — I'm a secret hopeful person! Because in any narrative or story I've told, it's been important for me to find some type of hope to cling to. I certainly am not one to dwell on the negative. It doesn't help me to have that be my end goal.

Is it irritating to have to dredge up your personal adversities over and over and over in interviews?

Sometimes. Sometimes, it's honestly kind of therapeutic, which is, like, gross and weird. But there's this other stage of art making that I'm less prickly to than other artists. I learn a lot about what I've made through the press process. A lot of the themes and questions I navigate in the work get solidified with different perspectives through the press process. 

So, sometimes I don't mind it as much, because it can be kind of enlightening. But certainly, like everything, it can become exhausting.

What's your relationship with pop music, like making something that appeals to as many people as humanly possible? Do you feel like an odd duck on the GRAMMY nominees list?

Yes and no. I'm kind of a poptimist and I really admire great pop music. One of my favorite artists is, honestly, Ariana Grande. In some cases, there are top-tier composers, producers, arrangers, and mixing engineers working to create something with mass appeal, which is widely enjoyable.

Even in K-pop, it's like that. You have the greatest music video directors, the greatest production designers! The highest-paid costume [designers] and stylists and makeup artists! Watching a city come together to create a piece of art that can reach a lot of people is very inspiring to me.

As an indie artist, trying to reach beyond my means in a similar way, on a smaller scale, has always been something very fun for me. I don't like to make purposefully complicated music. I enjoy making what I think to be listenable, enjoyable music that a lot of people can get into.

So, I'm happy to be in this realm, and I think it's really exciting. It's an honor.

When making a record, I think of the canon almost as a buffet to pick from — a little Richard and Linda Thompson here, a little R.E.M. there. Who did you pick from the proverbial buffet for Jubilee?

I've never thought of it quite as a buffet, but I do really like that idea. One thing about Japanese Breakfast that I enjoy is that we have a pretty broad range of influences on all our records. There's a lot of range and diversity.

There was certainly a lot of Kate Bush in this buffet. A lot of Björk and Wilco. There was some Bill Withers and Randy Newman. Certainly, Fleetwood Mac. Alex G. Those were, I think, the main buffet trays.

I'm a Randy Newman fanatic — I love the Pixar soundtracks, the dark-humored stuff, the love songs. What's your Randy era or album?

It's either called Something New Under the Sun or it's self-titled.

Yeah, the debut.

It's the one with "Living Without You" on it. That was my introduction to Randy Newman. An ex-boyfriend had shown me that song and it just haunted me for years and years. He's just the master of a sweeping love song — a ballad. That was the inspiration for the piano and string arrangement on "Tactics." 

I was always trying to channel my inner Randy. I think he's timelessness incarnate.

Classic rockers are always thrown into court over "stealing," but I think that's part of the musical process. Do you ever hear a great lick and say "I'm going to place that right here"? 

I've never done that purposefully. But it's funny: When [Japanese Breakfast drummer and producer] Craig [Hendrix] and I were working on "Kokomo, IN" — I almost said "Kokomo, Etc." — we were definitely very inspired by the string arrangement on [Wilco's] "Jesus, Etc." The classic nature of that Beatles math that goes into a great pop song.

It was very funny, because Jeff Tweedy actually covered that song in one of his livestreams. I was super-inspired by "Jesus, Etc." for "Kokomo, IN," and I was also inspired by "At Least That's What You Said" — the solo — in the quiet acoustic section that leads to a big solo in "Posing for Cars."

It was amazing. I got to meet Wilco this year and see Jeff Tweedy cover my song! He's such a songwriting hero of mine.

I've never purposefully plopped a direct lick from anything. But there was a moment when we were doing "Kokomo" where we were like, "Are we biting 'Jesus, Etc.' a little too hard with the pizzacato strings?" But it's Jeff Tweedy-approved, so I don't think they'll be suing us anytime soon.

How do you see the musical landscape before you? What do you want your next few years to look like?

God, I have no idea. I feel like I'm just trying to roll with the punches here [with Omicron]. But I hope we just ride the wave of this record and get to play big festivals and travel again. I'm just going to try to do my best, as I always do.

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