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The genre-busting world of keyboardist Robert Glasper

todayDecember 12, 2023

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Lara Downes speaks with Robert Glasper.
Credit: NPR

Just a few days before we filmed this conversation with Robert Glasper at New York’s legendary Blue Note jazz club, I went to hear him on the opening night of his month-long residency there, an annual event now in its fifth year and so beloved that it’s become known as “Robtober.”

The place was packed. There was a mood — happy and buzzy and a little sweaty, given how full the club was. And it was remarkable how impossible it was to define the crowd. Show me a concert audience and I can usually call it at a glance: symphony, jazz, folk, new music. But this was a room of all ages, all colors, many languages and styles. It was beautiful.

As musicians, we talk a lot about genre — how to redefine it, reshape it, even escape it altogether. How to create work that is, in Duke Ellington‘s words, “beyond category.” We’re informed and shaped by legacies of history and tradition, but also inspired to push at their boundaries. And that’s hard to do within the confines of a music industry that is, in many ways, held up by the walls we’re trying to break through. Genre and category still define and constrain us, like it or not.

Rob has managed to tear down the walls, or at least to carve massive doorways between what he calls the many rooms of his musical house. He moves easily and comfortably among spaces that resonate with the various histories of jazz and hip-hop, classic and contemporary, and the vibrations of his musical ideas reshape traditional structures into fluid, freeform designs.

In our conversation, Rob and I talk about the potential of building a strong foundation and then having the courage to build on it something new and unexpected, a house that you keep expanding and reconfiguring to welcome and shelter multitudes.

Copyright 2023 Classical California. To see more, visit Classical California.

Written by: NPR

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