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Robert Glasper Reflects On Blue Note Fest, 'Black Radio' & His Dream Collabs
Robert Glasper

Photo: Mancy Gant

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Robert Glasper Reflects On Blue Note Fest, 'Black Radio' & His Dream Collabs

"When you open it up, more people are prone to walk through that door," Robert Glasper tells GRAMMY.com. The pianist and producer has been blurring the lines between jazz, hip-hop and R&B for decades, and shows no signs of slowing down.

GRAMMYs/Sep 1, 2022 - 04:12 pm

Robert Glasper has had a helluva summer. In addition to national and international tours with his jazz quartet, the keyboardist, producer and composer hosted a party like no other in California's Wine Country. But this was no simple wine and cheese affair where music was relegated to the background.

Glasper, a four-time GRAMMY winner, was the curator and artist-in-residence of the first-ever Blue Note Jazz Festival in the Napa Valley. The three-day festival hosted a rotating — and often collaborative — cast of performers including Snoop Dogg, Black Star, Chaka Khan, Kamasi Washington and Dave Chappelle at the intimate Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena. And amidst the hustle of the festival, Glasper's mind was racing.

"I had a lot of people mix-matching on stage, jamming together, that normally you probably wouldn't see," he tells GRAMMY.com, backstage at Outside Lands in San Francisco, where the festival's lineup of punk acts has started competing for auditory attention. "There were some things I saw where I'm like: Oh, that actually could be on a record."

While the multi-hyphenate schemes about new efforts, he is also touring Black Radio III — an expectedly dope meld of jazz, R&B and hip-hop featuring the likes of Eryka Badu and Yassin Bey, released 10 years after the initial Black Radio. The album will be re-released as a deluxe version in the fall, featuring songs, interludes and voicemail drops that couldn't fit on the original album. Ever the mad curator, Glasper's creative cup is overflowing.

With his massive summer (mostly) wrapped, it's back to business as usual — looking ahead toward his next projects. GRAMMY.com caught up with Robert Glasper to discuss curating versus playing a festival, lip reading, and what the luminary envisions for the future of jazz and hip-hop.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

You have been doing the most recently, and especially in the Bay, with Outside Lands and the Blue Note Festival. Do you have a special relationship with the Bay Area?

I've been coming to the Bay for many, many years, since I very first started with my piano trio. I used to come play at Yoshi's all the time — I'm talking 2005 — with my band.

I've been coming to Bay doing that, and then spreading out, doing other clubs and bigger venues, so I definitely have a good relationship with the Bay and the people in the Bay. The first Blue Note Napa [festival] was great. And seeing all my old friends from the Bay coming there, it was amazing.

I can only imagine. You must be dog tired.

I am super tired, but I'm full of energy at the same time. I'm stoked still. 

Is there a mindset change that has to happen between being the artist of residence and a curator, to being a performer on this stage?

Yeah, there is a certain mindset. When you're just an artist in residence, your only job, really, is to do shows. Other than your shows, you can kind of do what you want to do — see this, see that, see the other people perform.

When you're what I am, which was also a curator of it and a host as well, I had to be certain places all the time and do all these different things, so I didn't have time to really chill per se. There's so many people that were there that I didn't even get to see at all — not even see them physically. 

I had to introduce people, certain acts, and just be around, do all these other things. But it was cool being on that side of it at the same time.

At a show like Outside Lands, where you're performing with just  a quartet, what can folks expect from your performance?

I hope they expect ... well, I don't even know, because I like to make my set according to the audience's vibes. I generally know the first two songs. And then after that, I gauge what I'm going to do based on the crowd. 

Then, everybody's not getting the same show, and I don't get bored either. I go with the flow. I go with what the vibe is, and depending on who went before me, what they did. Certain things I just pay attention to.

Back to your Blue Note Fest: Not to drive this metaphor totally into the ground, but you invited a lot of people to your Dinner Party. What were some of your favorite moments?

Obviously one of my favorite moments was having Snoop there. That means so much because he's the OG, and to have him there was so dope. He's so open and so cool. 

One of my best friends, Terrace Martin, we have Dinner Party together. I've known Terrence since I was 15 and Terrace has known Snoop since he was 14, 15. He's been working with Snoop for that long, producing and being his music director and all those kinds of things, so it was just a cool experience being on stage with those guys. That was one of my favorite moments.

Having Madlib there was super dope. Everybody else was pretty much family. I've been to all their shows, we've collaborated before, and that's what made that festival so cool. I got to curate my own musical family reunion.

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

What's next for Dinner Party? Did you find much inspiration at Blue Note Jazz Fest?

We're definitely going to come out with a new album, probably later this year or maybe early next year.

The Blue Note Napa Festival really inspired me musically, inspired my thought process, [inspired] everyone. I'm getting so many texts saying, "Yo, I can't stop thinking about it. That festival was so inspiring." It was not hectic. It wasn't huge. We didn't want it to be too big. We wanted to feel like my residency that I do at the Blue Note every October. I'm there for six, seven weeks straight, every night except Monday nights.

And that's where the idea came from, to make the residency a festival. For a festival, it was intimate. And then when it's intimate like that, it's less hectic, more laid back. That's why so many people came just to hang out that weren't even performing. That's why you saw Dwyane Wade and Terry Crews and Nas and all these other people just coming just to be a part of the hang.

How did that inspire you creatively? Are you listening to anything new?

I'm still in the high of it. What was cool about the festival is I treated it like my residency, so I had a lot of people mix-matching on stage, jamming together, that normally you probably wouldn't see. 

A lot of times when you do a festival, it's like that band plays, then that band plays and everybody has their own thing. But I like to cross pollinate while we're all there together. There were some things I saw where I'm like, oh, that actually could be on a record. That should be on ... Exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Speaking of records, you're about to release a deluxe edition of Black Radio III. Can you tell me about what's special about that deluxe release?

For Black Radio III, I recorded so many songs. During the pandemic, I had nothing else to do. And, luckily, a lot of artists didn't have anything to do either, so it was kind of a good time and a bad time. And some artists were depressed and weren't really feeling like making anything. The inspiration was sucked out of a lot of people. But at the same time, a lot of people were looking for something to do so I ended up having too many songs.  

I had to curate [Black Radio III] in a way that made sense for a whole album, and there were a lot of songs that were cool and dope but didn't necessarily match.

So now I have this other record coming out, which is basically the extra songs. I have a lot of interludes…and even voicemails and all kinds of stuff that were part of Black Radio III.  I have a duet with Estelle on there where I'm singing. I got a bunch of cool stuff; I don't want to give it all away.

I thought "All Masks" was an interesting first song to release from the deluxe Black Radio III. It's really stripped down and kind of spooky to my ear.

Yeah, it was spooky. I was in that vibe when I wrote that song. I was listening to a lot of trap and Drake s—t in that particular time period. And I wanted to speak on the fact that all masks, that masks are scary. Everybody's walking around looking scary.

Now we're getting used to it, but … I just want to address that because the simple gesture of just a smile from someone [or how] somebody getting a joke depends a lot of times on your smile. If you're flirting with somebody, you’ve got to do it only with your eyes.

We're missing those cheese moments. Regular things that were so normal are gone because of that. And you realize how much you read lips.

I  can only imagine how difficult that is in the studio and on stage, especially at the level that you're communicating with all these different jazz and hip-hop artists...

When it got to the stage, I'm like, look, "Let's just take a test." I can't be on stage with a mask. It's terrible. And if you're singing something, you can't [wear one]. It's so weird. 

You've been this guiding light in jazz and hip hop and the intersection thereof for so many years. Where do you see those two genres going in the near future? And where would you like to see it go?

I just helped to open the lid a bit more on both of them, on all of them:  R&B, hip-hop and jazz. I feel like I just helped broaden the scope so they're not so boxed into what they are supposed to be. 

But when you open it up, more people are prone to walk through that door. So I think it was good for everyone, creatively too. Now in your mind, you're like, oh it's hip hop, but I can do that. It's jazz, but I can do this.

Is there anyone that you've been particularly proud to collaborate with?

Oh my, so many people. That's a whole 'nother interview.

On the most recent album, everyone. Everybody. But you know what? I've known Q-Tip for years; I've written songs with him. I played on his albums, and wrote songs on his albums and stuff. And that's my guy, went on tour with him and everything. But we never did a song for me.

So this was my first time having Q-Tip on my album. He did a voicemail drop for me once on my album as an interlude, but this is the first time we did the song together, so I would say that's one of the greatest moments.

You've done everything. What is on your bucket list?

There are a few artists that I would love to produce a whole album for, or I want to just collaborate with  them in some way. A lot of our legends are leaving us and I want to connect them with as many of the people that I revere as possible before they're gone or before I'm gone.

Who would be your top two?

Top two? Why are you doing this to me? [Laughs] Okay, just off the top of my head today, it might change tomorrow, Thom Yorke and Busta Rhymes. Maybe they're on the same track. I don't know.

Lastly, you did an episode of "Herbal Tea & White Sofas" for us, our series about what's on your backstage rider. What were some of the things that you provided for your artists backstage at Blue Note Jazz Napa?

Some of the things we did was, we made everybody a personal cannabis container with their name on it.

I also specifically asked for a basketball court, so we built a basketball court backstage so people could just shoot around. 

Snoop was back there shooting around. Yeah, cats were just shooting around, because that's something I knew a lot of the people that were coming to the festival would want to do. And people had brought kids too, so we had a big goal, then we had a little goal.

Did you play at all?

Hell yeah, I hooped a little bit. I didn't want to get too sweaty, exactly. Then I'll be forced to take off my shirt, and then you know what that does.

What does it do?

It becomes a thing. I'm a big deal with my shirt off these days. I have a IG thing, a GIF,  of me dancing with my shirt off. I was in Cuba and I put a post of me dancing, and so my IG person, Deshawn, she made a GIF of me, so everybody at the festival had that. And then it just goes out of control — everybody has it now.

Women And Gender-Expansive Jazz Musicians Face Constant Indignities. This Mentorship Organization Is Tackling The Problem From All Angles.

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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.

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.

Catching Up On Music News Powered By The Recording Academy Just Got Easier. Have A Google Home Device? "Talk To GRAMMYs"

Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Watch Robert Glasper Discuss Peculiar Fruits He Has Received Around The World
Robert Glasper

Photo: Mancy Gant

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Watch Robert Glasper Discuss Peculiar Fruits He Has Received Around The World

In this episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, watch keyboardist, producer and composer extraordinaire Robert Glasper reveal what's on his backstage rider — which often involves fruits of unknown origin and toxicity

GRAMMYs/Feb 28, 2022 - 06:09 pm

Robert Glasper has seen some strange things on backstage fruit platters. Depending on where he is in the world, he can either find something conventional or bafflingly exotic. 

"It's like, 'I'm supposed to eat this?' And they're like, 'Yeah, you do this!'" he says in the below video, pantomiming a chef performing some obscure preparation ritual.

Sometimes, this goes as far as removing a potentially lethal poison — which gives the keyboardist, producer and composer pause. "I don't want to eat anything where if you don't do it the right way, you could die," the four-time GRAMMY winner quips. 

In this episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, Glasper expounds on more than just strange botanical poisons. He compares his rider today with the chips and water he received in the past, and expresses his love for a well-composed paella.

Before we find out if Glasper will win another GRAMMY at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards for Best Progressive R&B Album (for Dinner Party: Dessert), check out the video above.

Keep checking back for more episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, where musicians reveal which goodies are in the green rooms of the world.

Press Play At Home: Watch Tubist Theon Cross Navigate Rhythmic Dimensions In Performance Of "Panda Village"

Robert Glasper Experiment In The GRAMMY Winner's Circle
Robert Glasper

Photo: Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic.com

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Robert Glasper Experiment In The GRAMMY Winner's Circle

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

(The Recording Academy asked a number of 55th GRAMMY Awards winners to share their thoughts on winning, performing and simply experiencing the excitement of the telecast.)

(Comprised of jazz pianist Robert Glasper, bassist Derrick Hodge, drummer Chris Dave, and multi-instrumentalist Casey Benjamin, the Robert Glasper Experiment earned a GRAMMY for Best R&B Album for their debut effort, 2012's Black Radio, which peaked at No. 15 on the Billboard 200. Glasper was previously nominated in 2009 as a solo artist for Best Urban/Alternative Performance for "All Matter.")