Glasper is a bonafide virtuoso. He is one the most widely known Jazz artists of our day. Much in the vein of composers and piano greats who preceded him like Thelonius Monk, Nina Simone, Count Basie, Art Tatum, James Weldon Johnson, Prince, Miles Davis to name a few—the Jazzman has played to a diversity of audiences and ears but undoubtedly composes music in the spirit of Blackness and invites Black folks on a listening journey. Glasper, who is native Texan from Houston, began his career in the early 2000s. He went on to release several Jazz albums that intersected with neo-soul, hip hop and R&B genres, winning four Grammy awards and creating Glasper magic with a plethora of musicians including Bilal, Music SoulChild, Jill Scott, Yasiin Bey, Kendrick Lamar, and Mary J. Blige. You’d be hard pressed to identify which one of your favs Glasper hasn’t worked with.
Glasper recently performed at American Express’ Savor & Soul: Essence Festival Edition on Sunday, July 3. Currently, Glasper is covering an eight-city European tour that kicks off in Vienne, France and concludes in Porto, Portugal. It’s safe to say Robert Glasper is back outside. The multi-hyphenate musician took a moment from tickling the ivories and sat down with MADAMENOIRE to catch us up with what he’s been up to as of late and since the COVID-19 pandemic.
MADAMENOIRE: Hi. Nice to be sitting with you.
ROBERT GLASPER: Nice to be sitting with you, too.
It’s been a rough two years.
Yes, it has.
Let’s start there.
Your ability to perform in front of a live audience was kinda cut short due to the pandemic. How was that for you?
Actually, in a weird twist, it was good for me because what happens is musicians get in a hamster wheel and they just go on tour. On tour-on tour-on tour and they never do anything that has longevity to it.
They never venture out and do other things because the other things, they get a back seat to touring all the time.
Right. I can see that.
You know what I mean? And touring is for the moment. That’s the moment. That’s a check, you know what I mean? But I had to dive in. Luckily, before the pandemic got started, I dived into film scoring. I did it right before the Pandemic hit. A month before I scored this movie called The Photograph. It came out in the theaters a month before the pandemic.
I moved to L.A. Right after that, like, literally in February, I moved L.A. and I started scoring more films. —And it just kept coming and kept coming. I started scoring this series called Run the World. Yeah, for Starz. The Fresh Prince. I did the music for that; Winning Time, the Lakers documentary. I did that. I’m doing The Best Man. So, it’s just like it’s an ongoing thing. It got me out of the mentality where I used to say, ‘Oh, I can’t score something’ because I got to go on tour. That made me sit down and do it, you know what I mean? Now, I have another area I can monetize my gift.
So, was that your first time scoring The Photograph? Was this your first venture into scoring?
The Photograph was my first major movie. Before that, I had done documentaries and I did a movie with Don Cheadle; he was the director. It was about Miles Davis, but it didn’t go anywhere. The Photograph was more like first.
So, obviously scoring is different. It’s a different form, anyway. How is it different for you? I mean, I know you know your way around music, but were there some challenges doing scores?
As an arranger, a composer, how was that different?
Scoring was different on many levels. It’s very much a humbling experience because you have to tell somebody else’s story. So, it’s not about what you like, it’s about what they like and you have to be OK with hearing, “No” and “That’s not it.”
I imagine those critiques might be hard for a creator, right?
I created my own thing, and I did it for the world on my own time. Now, you’re on somebody else’s time. You need to get things down fast.
You got deadlines.
You have a deadline. You have all these things.
You got revisions.
Revisions. It might be one queue that’s 10 seconds long and you might revise that 25 times, but it’s your job to tell the story the director wants to tell. That’s the main difference.
I’m hearing this story and I’m thinking about one of my favorite songs by you—the collab you did with Jill Scott. I’m imagining what you did with that music and the cinematography [of that video]. Scoring triggered that memory.
People told me my whole career that my music is very cinematic. It is. Before I even scored anything or started getting into it. People were like “Why aren’t you scoring stuff?”
Tell me about this partnership with Amex?
Yeah, it’s been great. I did something with them in L.A. Maybe a few months ago, and it was amazing because it had all these African American vendors and curators and thinkers, and it was all in one place. You can go from thing-to-thing and chefs and artists. It was just such an amazing event to be at. And I met so many people, you know what I mean? So many entrepreneurs and people, who are doing things, I can collaborate with. So, it’s a really great opportunity.
New Orleans is not your home, but I feel like it’s your second home. How does it feel coming back home after being in L.A?
Great. Just on some regular, like, going to eat, you know what I mean? Having somebody call you baby at the restaurant. All those little things remind me of home so much. And my manager lives here, so I’ve come here, over the years, a lot. New Orleans just really reminds me of home. It’s like a family reunion, right? Just walking around, I feel like I’m around my cousins.
That’s what I was thinking. It’s a family vibe.
Yeah, exactly. Here, it’s like if I walk out on the street, I am going to see my uncle.
We back outside. How are you back outside?
I’m back outside, literally, and I’m actually going on tour for the first time, a European tour. From here, I go to Montreal, and then I go to Europe. I go straight to France, and then I’m in Europe for two weeks: France, Germany, Spain. I haven’t done that in two and a half years. It’s going to be fun playing for my fans over there. They haven’t seen me in a minute. I love to reconnect with people to the music, you know what I mean? I’m a people person. I don’t like to be disconnected. It was really hard for me to do streaming shows in a room with a camera guy during COVID.
I think now, more than any other time, musicians and artists know the true value of the audience members
I mean we feed off each other, right? It’s an exchange, it’s a conversation, it’s a dialogue.
Thank you for your music. Thank you for your contribution. We’re looking for that next score.
I started The Best Man a few days ago.
Comes out in December, right?