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People, Places and Things: An Interview with Band Leader, Jazz Pianist Robert Glasper

Special to Informer | , John Richards | 4/2/2012, 3:08 p.m.

"Radio, suckas never play me".

The immortal words of Chuck D often come to my mind when I turn the radio on and scan up and down the dial looking for something to listen to, only to be treated to the same five songs every hour. If variety is supposed to be the spice of life, radio has been feeding us the same leftovers from a bland, tasteless, boring microwave dinner for a very long time now. It's not like there's a shortage of talented, relevant artists out there; radio has fallen victim to its homogeneous, cookie cutter, one-size-fits all programming. Robert Glasper is here to shake things up. Glasper developed his genre bending sound in church, where he would mix gospel harmonies with jazz harmonies. Although Glasper's early albums leaned more towards traditional jazz, Glasper has collaborated with several notable Hip-Hop and R&B artist including Bilal, Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), Q-Tip, Erykah Badu, Jay-Z and Maxwell. Glaspor's 2009 album Double-Booked, which was split between his acoustic jazz Robert Glasper Trio and the hip-hop/R&B Robert Glasper Experiment, led directly to his latest chart-topping project, Black Radio. Black Radio explores all the sounds that Glasper has worked in: jazz, hip-hop, soul, R&B, rock and blends them into one seamless sound.

The Washington Informer spoke with Robert Glasper before his upcoming show at the Warner Theatre to discuss the importance of arts education in schools, the current state of music and why nice guys get called for gigs first.

Washington Informer: You grew up in Houston, TX. How did growing up there influence you musically?

Robert Glasper: I grew up playing in church in Houston; the Houston Baptist Church influenced me. So I grew up playing in church and I started playing literally with one finger when I was, like 11, 12 years old. My Mother was the music director at the church and the pianist. They had a broke organ that kind of played and kind of didn't, and I practiced on that. After a few years, I got better and better and they bought a new organ. From there, I went to a performing arts high school. That's where I really learned how to play jazz; they had a jazz band and a jazz combo. You know, it was one of those "Fame" schools, where they had dancing and singing and acting, and all that kinda stuff. So, and I learned a lot from the students there. I would say, church, and going to the high school that I went to, HSPVA, had a lot to do with it.

Washington Informer: You attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) in Houston. In your opinion, how important is arts education in schools?

Robert Glasper: It's very important. Music wouldn't be where it was today, especially jazz, if it wasn't for arts high schools, you know? At my arts high school alone - I went there; Jason Moran was there, Kendrick Scott, Eric Harland, Chris Dave, Jamire Williams, Walter Smith, and Alan Hampton. These are some of the premiere jazz musicians out there that are pushing the music and keeping it afloat. So without that, without us, there would be less cats looking up to us, which means less young people playing the music. I also went to high school with Beyonce. You know what I'm saying? So I think, without that school, without the camaraderie of the students that are doing the same things you're doing and pushing you. It's kind of a competition but in a good way, I think it's extremely important. That's the only reason that I had moved to New York really was because I got a full scholarship to school. If there was no way for me to get a full scholarship playing music I wouldn't have been able to move to New York. Nobody would be able to move to New York, unless you were rich. You know, that's the reason for a lot of great musicians out right now. That's the reason why jazz is still afloat and still has some sort of relevancy right now, because of all the high school and college kids that come out of it loving the music and went to school for it.