Robert Glasper, Kenny Garrett
January 1, 1970Just the usual two pieces this week. Robert Glasper is the column profilee, and the rising piano star talks about how his jazz does — and mostly doesn't — incorporate his interest in hip hop. There's also some talk of his first musical influence, his mother, who was murdered two years ago in her home outside Houston, a fact that previous profiles of Glasper haven't mentioned. Her voice is heard on one track of Glasper's album "Canvas."
Alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett was the pick for Calendar. My review of his opening set tonight should appear in next week's newsletter. My review of Glasper's Thursday set, too. See you then.
(I just noticed that a previous newsletter went out inadvertently due to a technical glitch. Sorry about that.)
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The melody maker
Pianist Robert Glasper may be known for his hip-hop stylings, but he's jazzed about his new CD
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | January 13, 2006
Robert Glasper would like to clear up something about "Canvas," his debut CD for Blue Note Records. Hip-hop music has a place on the pianist's palette, but very little of it made it onto "Canvas."
"That's the misconception," Glasper explains by phone from Brooklyn. "See, what happened was, I do play with hip-hop guys — with Mos Def, with Q-Tip, with Bilal [Oliver], whatever. But this is a jazz record. I have, like, a hip-hop interlude on there, randomly, after [the song] 'Chant,' that's not even listed. It goes on for like 30 seconds. But the album is a jazz album. For some reason, it just grew from 'Robert plays with hip-hop guys' to 'Robert made a hip-hop jazz album.'"
It's true that the 27-year-old Glasper and his trio mates, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reid (Alan Hampton will be subbing for Archer at Scullers on Thursday), all listen to hip-hop. True, too, that Glasper's best friend, the genre-blending neo-soul vocalist Bilal, sings on a couple of tracks on "Canvas." (Mark Turner plays tenor saxophone on a pair of tracks as well.) And Glasper concedes there could be some hip-hop overtones that seep into his music as a result.
But, he says, they're "minute."
What dominates his music instead is a fluid, jazz-grounded lyricism that's both sophisticated and accessible. Two obvious forebears are Chick Corea, whose Akoustic Band's album "Alive" mesmerized Glasper in the ninth grade, and Herbie Hancock, whose tunes Glasper has covered twice on CD, almost by accident. The first time was "Maiden Voyage," which Glasper melded together with Radiohead's "Everything in Its Right Place" on his 2004 CD "Mood," for the Spanish label Fresh Sound. And Hancock's "Riot" made it onto "Canvas" after Archer suggested it during a Regattabar soundcheck last spring; the trio played it at the Cambridge club that night, then again in the recording studio the following week, with Glasper switching to Fender Rhodes electric piano for the CD version.
"I love Herbie, but I'm not one of them cats that rushes home to put on a Herbie record," says Glasper. "He's one of my favorite composers, though. He's a killer composer."
Glasper's formal music training is in jazz. He followed Blue Note label mate Jason Moran from Houston's High School for the Performing Arts to a full-ride music scholarship in Manhattan, in Glasper's case at New School University. By his junior year, Glasper was working steadily in bands led by jazz standouts Christian McBride and Russell Malone.
But Glasper's earliest musical influence was his mother, Kim Yvette, a well-known singer around Houston. Her specialty was gospel, but she also sang R&B, jazz, and the blues. She had Glasper playing piano in church by the time he was 12, and she often snuck him into nightclubs to hear her perform. Her bands also came by the house regularly to rehearse.
"The first jazz stuff I ever learned was from one of the piano players that played in her band," Glasper recalls. "He used to come over all the time, and after rehearsal he would show me hip voicings for the chords and show me jazz tunes and stuff like that."
Yvette was found murdered in April 2004, along with her husband, Brian Dobbs, at their home outside Houston. She was 43. The final track of "Canvas" is a tribute to her, titled "I Remember," most of which Glasper composed within a month of her death. It's a pretty, meditative piece that segues into ethereal wordless vocalizing by Bilal, and it's introduced with a recorded snippet of Yvette belting out a blues.
"I've always said I wanted to have my mom on one of my CDs," says Glasper. "Whenever I played in Houston, she would come sit in with me. We used to jam at home together and stuff."
Bilal's presence on the track was a natural fit, too. He'd sung at Yvette's funeral, and he improvised his CD homage to her after listening to what Glasper had written to conclude the piece.
"I knew his mom well," says Bilal. "The music had so much emotion in it already, I just basically opened up my mouth and sang. I didn't want to get in the way of what was already there."
Bilal and Glasper had met at the New School, and it was their occasional collaborations around town that led to Glasper's work on hip-hop projects, though doing so wasn't such a stretch for Glasper. He'd followed the music closely since high school. And, he notes, hip-hop has always sampled jazz recordings. What's new is hip-hop artists actually hiring jazz musicians as sidemen.
"Bill Evans and Ron Carter are the most sampled cats," Glasper says. "People would just take a piece of something they played on a jazz record and put it in a machine, called an MPC, and loop it for like four bars, and then put a hard hip-hop beat to it and rap over it. Now people are skipping the whole sample part and just hiring bands."
So far, bringing jazzmen to hip-hop has worked more successfully than attempts to bring hip-hop to jazz, he says. Which isn't to say Glasper won't someday try traveling the opposite direction.
"I've been tempted to do some hip-hop stuff," he admits. "But I kind of try to wait, and when I do it, do it in a good fashion. Because so many people that do it, it's wack — you know, just for the sake of doing it, like, 'Ha, I'm doing something different in jazz.' So I'm just waiting. I'll wait till it really comes to me."
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Kenny Garrett Quartet
Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 and 10 p.m. $24. Repeats Sunday at 4 & 7 p.m.
Kenny Garrett is a throwback, if only in the sense of having paid more sideman dues than is customary for jazzmen his age (45). By the time he began his five-year run with Miles Davis in 1986, Garrett had already passed through the Duke Ellington Orchestra (then led by Duke's son, Mercer), the Mel Lewis Orchestra, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and groups led by Dannie Richmond, Woody Shaw, and Freddie Hubbard. What emerged from all that was an extraordinarily gifted and burning alto saxophonist (Garrett consistently challenges Phil Woods for the No. 1 ranking in the Down Beat and JazzTimes readers' polls) and a first-rate composer who, like Davis, isn't shy about exploring hip-hop and other forms of pop. (Garrett has also logged a little sideman work with Peter Gabriel and Sting, and is also a bandleader in his own right.) The younger guys now making up Garrett's quartet include Carlos McKinney on piano, who's previously paid some dues of his own with Elvin Jones, Buster Williams, Wallace Roney, and sometime Garrett sideman Charnett Moffett; Kris Dunn on bass; and Ronald Burner Jr. on drums, whose other employers include Lee Ritenour, Marcus Miller, and the thrash metal group Suicidal Tendencies.
Fri 1-13 Pandelis Karayorgis/ Ken Vandermark Duo Vandermark is a Boston native — long since transplanted to Chicago — a MacArthur Foundation "genius," and a blistering saxophonist. Karayorgis is an Athens-born pianist whose work draws comparisons to Thelonious Monk, Lennie Tristano, Cecil Taylor, and Andrew Hill. This set is a tune-up for their recording session the next day. Should be interesting. Zeitgeist Gallery, 1353 Cambridge St., Cambridge. 617-876-6060. 9:30 p.m. $12.