We catch up with the Hull Jazz Festival headliner who’s leading a new era in urban jazz music.
“You can expect a musical journey you’ve never been on before … I hope,” laughs Robert Glasper.
Fans of genre-defying music are in for a rare treat when the award-winning musician and his band land in Hull to headline the city’s twice-yearly jazz festival. The Robert Glasper Experiment plays Hull Truck on Friday 18 November, 2016, fresh from two sold-out shows at London’s jazz fest. They’ll be playing tracks from the new album ArtScience, as well as from previous LPs Black Radio and Black Radio 2.
It’s a hot ticket. Glasper has collaborated with some of the biggest music stars on the globe, from Stevie Wonder to Jay Z, and picked up a Best R&B Album Grammy for the 2012 album Black Radio. He’s also played inside the White House.
Speaking on the line from Italy, Robert Glasper is chilling in his Milan hotel room, and preparing for the band’s concert at Teatro Dell Arte. Looking at the response online from fans it would appear the current tour, and the new sounds, are really hitting the spot.
“It is so great to travel to see many people from different parts of the world, who love the music,” he says. “You get to see first-hand how it affects people.”
Glasper feels strongly about not conforming to any pre-conceived notions and old ideas of what jazz music can be. When asked what the single most important message that people should take away with them was, when listening to his music, he said two words: “Never. Stereotype.”
He adds: “Myself and my band, we are an eclectic group of musicians, so we don’t stereotype when it comes to music. We don’t think this genre is okay and this other genre is not okay, it’s not like that.”
Robert Glasper grew up in a musical household in Missouri City, Texas. His mother was the jazz and blues singer Kim Yvette Glasper, and he describes a love for singing and music in his home that has led to him collaborating with some of the biggest voices in the current era.
The roll call of artists reads like a who’s who of urban, soul and R&B music: Stevie Wonder; Mos Def; Jay-Z; Faith Evans; Brandy; Emelie Sande; Erykah Badu; and Bilal to name just a handful.
I love singers. I like taking singers who are known for what they do and bringing them into my world.
Working together puts a fresh twist on both of our musical experiences, it’s a chilled open experiment, working stuff out.”
Out of all those incredible artists he has collaborated with and written for, it is his long-term friend Bilal who Glasper really loves working with.
“I’ve been working with Bilal since we were in college, he says. “I was in his band for almost ten years. We shared a whole lot of music together.”
In October, Glasper teamed up with rap artist Common and Bilal again, for an exclusive performance inside the White House, for the inaugural SXSW South by South Lawn event.
“That was awesome, really awesome,” he says. “I co-produced Common’s new record – the re-released Black America Again – and NPR have a thing called Tiny Desk Concert where artists do different versions of their songs in someone’s office. It was the first time it had been done inside the White House.”
President Obama allowed us to do a show inside his library. That was really awesome.
Glasper is responsible for leading a new wave of urban jazz music along with artists like Kamasi Washington and Kendrick Lamar. He has been described as a flag-bearer for a new jazz age.
“‘I feel we are bringing urban music into 2016 and putting a fresh approach on it, especially when it comes to mixing jazz into the equation,” he says.
The new album ArtScience by the Robert Glasper Experiment showcases all the different genres and influences the band incorporate into their sound.
“If you listen to the first track, it starts with free-form jazz and then it changes into hip-hop, a lot of the songs we do kind of do that,” says Glasper. “I just wanted to show as many of our musical influences as possible, without it sounding random. Free-form and flowing as much as possible, but at the same time changing it up as much as we wanted.”
Glasper is also known for taking modern pop and rock songs and working his creative magic on them – he memorably reworked Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit – and also covered David Bowie’s Letter To Hermione, which featured Bilal on vocals, for Black Radio.
After receiving the Grammy for Best R&B Album for Black Radio in 2012, Glasper said, “I won that Grammy for everyone else”, encouraging everyone to be honest about who they were musically. He also said that he wanted to create a fresh approach to black pop music, so where is he today in achieving that ambition?
“I think I’m on the money,” he says, smartly. “That’s what the fans say. The fans say we put a fresh spin on urban music, especially with the new record we just put out, ArtScience.”
With the 2016 tour selling out venues all over Europe and here in the UK, the latest Robert Glasper Experiment, taking the new music, to new places and to new audiences is proving a great success.