This conversation was originally published in the October 2005 issue of State of Mind - Glasper just released his Blue Note debut Canvas.
Mike McKinley: You have a lot of great things happening right now. Congratulations on your new record, Canvas, your debut on Blue Note Records. What was the approach to making this album, and how do you feel about it?
Robert Glasper: What I was going for was basically to make a good album that I'm proud of with my music on it --original compositions -- and do it and not be nervous [laughter]. You know, your first major CD that everyone's going to hear, it's like, "Oh God!" No solo is good enough; you record one thing and you're saying to yourself, "Oh, it's not good enough." But actually, when I recorded, most of the songs were one take. I didn't even do two takes. It really came out better than I expected as far as the process of it.
You must have been feeling good and not feeling too nervous.
I made sure we had some gigs lined up before we went into the studio, so we were feeling it and there wasn't any rehearsing. We just hit it. I didn't do it in the morning either. My first record [Mood], I did on a smaller label, and I recorded it at ten in the morning. That's just horrible [laughter]. This record I treated like I was going to a gig. I did it later in the day. Have a little drink, you know what I'm saying, got a little loose and chilled out. I tried to treat it like a club and not a studio, and that helps. I'm used to playing in a jazz club, so the closer I can get to that environment the better and more natural it feels.
Right, it's spontaneous. Well, you have the hip-hop influence in your music, but at the same time, you grew up playing music in church, playing gospel. So you grew up being rooted in the old traditions of where a lot of music comes from, but then there's everything that you take in as a kid.
Yeah, right…
You and I are roughly the same age. Growing up we saw the birth of hip-hop, so it's interesting to see that, especially in your music, take place as part of the evolution of jazz.
That's the vibe. I grew up with all of those influences and that's the way the music is moving. Each passing decade some new music would come along that people would embark on and it would turn into a big snowball, which is the way music is supposed to be. If not, there would be no bebop era; there would be no soul music. You know what I mean? You have to fuse things together to make some new shit for people to listen to. That's the vibe. It's like sex. You can't populate if you don't have sex, so you have to make the music [laughter]. I just made that up; that was nice.
[laughing] Yeah, not bad. Not bad.
You can't wear musical condoms, baby!
That's no fun anyway.
Of course, of course. It feels so much better with no musical condom. It's dangerous and it might reproduce something.
Exactly, it's not natural. So another big thing you have going on is you're doing your first run of shows at the Village Vanguard with your trio. I had the opportunity to speak with Jason Moran and also McCoy Tyner, both who spend a lot of time playing in the piano trio format. It was interesting to hear their perspective on what makes that environment so enticing for making music. What's yours?
It fucking sucks! [laughter] I'm joking… it's like home cooking. I think every piano player wants to have a piano trio. It's an intimate setting. You don't have to worry about any horns or anything like that. You can do a lot more spontaneous stuff to take the music to all different places. You can explore harmonies, and as a pianist you're out in front leading it. That's some of the aspects that are really cool about it.
Yeah, the freedom. You can be quiet or you can do bigger-sounding stuff and make a lot of noise if it feels right.
Exactly. We can do it in the spur of the moment, where you don't have to communicate to six horn players or whoever else may be out front.
That relates a lot to the way you compose as well. You like to keep things really loose within the compositions, right?
Yeah, definitely. You give the musicians a chance to play. A lot of people write really tightly composed pieces, with fixed bass lines, where they want this groove here and that groove there, and it's to the point where the people can put themselves in the music. I hired Damion [Reid] and he brings everything to the table with his drumming, especially with the bass player [Vicente Archer]. If I was going to write everything out and tell them what I want them to play, I might as well get somebody else. I'm not letting him be him. You don't give the ball to Michael Jordan and tell him exactly where to run and how to jump. There has to be a medium for me. I'm not saying I don't write things out, but that's why I don't make my stuff too intricately composed. I write something and I give it to them, and I kind of let them interpret it. Sometimes I have something in mind, but for the most part, I let them interpret it, and then you sound like a trio. You don't sound like two people backing up a piano player. That's the vibe. That's why Jason's [Moran] trio sounds so good, because that's exactly how it is. That's the difference between a Jason Moran trio and a Benny Green trio. Nothing against Benny Green -- an amazing piano player, but his style is basically you-all-play-behind-me, here's-my-song, back-me-on-my-shit [laughter]. I like the other thing.