“I just want to make great jazz that can be understood by everybody, great songs.” This is what Robert Glasper was determined to have the fifty-strong audience of Southbank’s Blue Room understand. As part of the London Jazz Festival, Masterclass Sessions are forums where artists speak to an intimate audience about their journey and their art, a rare treat for music lovers. On November 19th, looking sheepishly tired after having arrived from doing a show in Lithuania, Robert Glasper spoke for an hour and a half about music, the erosion of Jazz from the public’s consciousness, and why old perceptions of Jazz need shifting.
He spoke at length about learning piano as a child, when his mother played organ in church in his hometown of Texas, applying for Art school and deciding to head to New York instead of California.
His learning at The New School – a regime of standards and restrictions – left him feeling creatively unchallenged. “If Charlie Parker was alive, he would ask people: This is what you’re doing? Playing my standards and not even as well as me?” His dwindling enthusiasm for formal studying led him to explore the musical plains of New York, playing shows with various bands and learning that creativity and a deviation from the expected can be a great thing. “You have to be okay with making mistakes. When you’re safe, you don’t discover anything cool, or new.”
Chemistry and relationships between musicians is of paramount importance to him when playing, confessing that he just plays and never rehearses. “We know what songs we are going to play, but rehearsal – I mean what is rehearsing? Even when we recorded ‘Double-Booked’ (his last studio album) we recorded all the songs in one take.” Such freedom and a belief in the importance of ‘the moment’ embody the spirit of Jazz, a spirit that he adamantly believes makes it “The Father of Hip-Hop.”
Robert Glasper is a pivotal artist, responsible for seducing a younger and hipper audience into the world of Jazz through his love of it and his fusion with Hip-Hop, working with some of Soul and Hip-Hop’s most creative figures. “Jazz over intellectualised is just Jazz for Jazz fans. No one really listens to Jazz except the old Jazz fanatics. There is no Jazz radio – we have no presence in mainstream media.” Robert seemed saddened when making this declaration, very much aware that Jazz is perceived ‘historical’ rather than ‘present’, but he plans to lure people to his sound. “My next record is a lot more contemporary and will hopefully bring more people to the show. There, whether they like it or not, they will get some Jazz!”