Robert Glasper: Top 5 Jazz Records, Hip Hop Records, and More

Robert Glasper at Newport
Robert Glasper came to Harvard today to give an open talk moderated by 9th Wonder. The event was partially sponsored by Red Bull, which explains why there was a strange illuminated case of Red Bull cans sitting conspicuously behind Glasper and 9th Wonder during the conversation.

They covered a lot of ground; Glasper dropped plenty of great lines in concise CliffNotes form about his thoughts on jazz, the creative process, and things that have been on his mind lately. 

Glasper's probably been asked about his top five records a million times, but his answers seem really consistent with his playing, since they're records that personally affected him the most. 

His top five jazz records were:
  • Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, Chick Corea
  • Live at the Blue Note, Oscar Peterson ("The one with 'Billie's Bounce' on it,' he said)
  • Speak No Evil, Wayne Shorter
  • Still Life, Keith Jarrett
  • A Love Supreme, John Coltrane
For top five hip hop records, he listed these:
  • Fan-Tas-Tic, Vol. 1 and 2, Slum Village
  • Like Water for Chocolate, Common (I think that was the name of the record)
  • Midnight Marauders, A Tribe Called Quest
  • Muddy Waters, Redman
  • And one more, whose name I didn't catch
When asked about how he goes about writing music, Glasper answered that his phone accounted for 75 percent of his music. As Jason Moran told me and a couple other students in rehearsal last week, Glasper said he recorded everything, just in case it'd ever come in handy a week, month, or year later. And he was really serious about this: he said if he was at a loud basketball game and an idea came to him, he'd run to the bathroom just to sing the idea into his phone so he'd have it later. 

About the internet and its effects on music today, he said something really similar to Kelly Slater on surfing and technology:

"Everything's too accessible now, so people don't work as hard," giving an extreme example that you might play a gig one night and if you're working out new stuff, 100 people might have picked up on what you were doing by the next day. His big point was that people don't have the opportunity as often today as they did in the past to work things out and create a personal style—the experimenting and refinement of new ideas doesn't have enough time to gestate and evolve into something united with depth. In summing up how many young jazz musicians play today, he said, "You get the end result faster, but without the same depth." By end result, he meant the kind of technically advanced music that older musicians play; but that these young musicians can't do much in between the fundamentals and the newest music, wherein there lies something meaningful and undiscovered.

These few things stuck out to me the most; the rest of the notes I took are mostly Twitter-friendly bits and lines, which I'll leave here for anyone who might get something out of them:

A line from Russell Malone that stuck with Glasper when he moved to New York looking to play with musicians better than him: "Being the best in your hometown is like being the tallest midget in the room" ("No offense, if there are any real short people here," Glasper added).

How he defines jazz, which is, not surprisingly, a standard but concise progressive statement: "Jazz is the reflection of society at that point in time," whichever point in time you're playing, that is.

The requisite food analogy: just because you play an instrument doesn't mean that you're a musician: "I can make a hell of a turkey burger, but I'm not a chef!" (Glasper + turkey burger = ??)

Oh, and that "Cherish the Day" from Black Radio wasn't an official take at the time, but was
the soundcheck, which explains why Glasper faded the track in on the record. Record everything.


  1. Wait, when Glasper said "Jazz is the reflection of society at that point in time," he definitely meant a very specific point in time, namely (in the context of his example), Coltrane's time. Only when taken out of context does this quote have the general resonance you're granting it here. This is an important distinction, because what Glasper was saying is that, just like his music, jazz took the form that it did because of the moment in which it originated. It's not like Coltrane was thinking, "I'm going to make jazz now," and then he did. Rather, he was making the music that came to him, and that music just so happened to be jazz. Similarly, Glasper's claiming that he didn't just wake up one day and decide to bring together jazz and hip-hop in his music. Rather, he grew up listening to a lot of jazz and a lot of hip-hop, so this mixed style comes to him naturally. Just thought this was worth putting straight. Fine post otherwise.

    1. That's interesting—I don't remember exactly the question he was responding to at the time when I took that quote down. Do you have access to a transcript or recording of the masterclass? And thanks for the clarification there; I definitely wouldn't have picked up on that otherwise. I'm a little confused though: do you mean that Glasper doesn't think that jazz at other points throughout history reflects society at their respective points in time? It seemed to me that Glasper was trying to make a general point when he said that, even if he was giving a specific example in Coltrane's music.

    2. The question Glasper was responding to was something like, "Why combine jazz and hip-hop?" Therefore, his point was that he didn't have a particular reason to give, at least not a deliberate one: he's simply being as honest as he can be in his music, and the style that emerges is incidental. Similarly (and this was his example), when Coltrane turned "My Favorite Things" into a jazz tune, he wasn't deliberately trying to combine jazz with showtunes (of course). He simply saw a tune with potential and turned it into precisely the kind of tune he happened to play and compose. Though I can see how you could interpret this as a general statement about jazz across history, I think it's a much more historically specific claim, considering the fact that Glasper also acknowledged that stylistic choices are often made far too deliberately. Some people play jazz simply because it's a genre or an interesting historical phenomenon, not because it's a music that particularly resonates with their place, time, and character. Therefore, jazz isn't necessarily the expression of its time for Glasper: often, it's intended (or even unintended) as an expression of a distinctly different time than one's own, that is, the time of Coltrane, Miles, or whomever (although perhaps that is its own reflection of the society from which it originates).

    3. Ah, okay. I think your observation that in the past, "jazz" or what people call jazz—specifically referring to examples like Coltrane's interpretation of "My Favorite Things"—has often been incidental, rather than a calculated, deliberate act of playing "within a style" is spot-on. I think we're arguing about two different things though: if you take "jazz" as a genre or as a descriptor of music that was happening in the late '50s and '60s, including Coltrane playing "My Favorite Things," I think you're right that Glasper's claim was historically specific and not a general one. I thought Glasper was using jazz in a more general sense to refer to an approach to playing music, which comes with a tradition and a history but doesn't specifically define what people should play so much as how they should conceptualize and interpret music. It also seems that the reason Glasper was making that point was to illustrate the extent to which jazz has turned into itself in the academy and even in conservative venues and cliques of musicians—that it often isn't the reflection of the current day, but would probably benefit from trying to be or at least giving acknowledgment to a 2012 context.


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