The homie Layne Weiss–an emerging journalist whose bylines include LA Weekly, Mass Appeal and others– was gracious enough to pen this recent piece on jazz pianist/producer/fusionist, Robert Glasper. Read a bit of Ms. Weiss’ coverage on Glasper and his latest release, a Miles Davis remix project, Everything’s Beautiful. – DM
By Layne Weiss
When Robert Glasper was asked to remix Miles Davis’ music, he knew it’d be no easy feat. Other artists have remixed the jazz icon’s music in the past, but for him it was different. “I thought I could do it as long as I did it my way,” Glasper reflects. “I felt it was cool as long as I didn’t pattern it after anybody else.”
Everything’s Beautiful, Glasper’s tribute to Miles Davis, features a diverse and eclectic mix of artists– Phonte, Erykah Badu, Stevie Wonder and more whom, according to Glasper, all had a genuine love for Davis. “I didn’t wanna just get random artists just because they’re artists and they can sell albums or anything like that,” he explains. “I really wanted to make this a labor of love because he’s royal to the music world, he’s jazz royalty first. And so I really wanted it to be a real honest project.”
Glasper has spent the majority of his career fusing jazz, hip-hop and r&b together in a way that has made jazz relevant and enjoyable to hip-hop fans. “I’ve made jazz sound like it was made today,” he says. “Every other genre has a representative of today. R&B music right now, they’re not caught up on Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye, at all. They’re all about Rihanna and Chris Brown. But the jazz world is caught up on John Coltrane and Miles Davis. They’re not caught up on any new people out there right now. They’re not caught up on us, on me.”
For Glasper, mixing genres of music is like mixing flavors to create a new recipe. He takes the music that has influenced him throughout his life and career and creates a sound that is truly unique and special. As a kid, he listened to r&b. “My mother was an r&b singer,” he reflects. “Then I got into jazz, and then hip-hop.” Fusing together all these different styles and genres of music have helped him become the artist he is today.
On Everything’s Beautiful, the mixing of flavors reflects not only Glasper’s personal style, but it celebrates the diversity of Miles Davis himself. “Miles’ career was so long and he had so many different styles of music,” he muses. Davis’ raspy voice is heard throughout the album. “The cool thing about the process is they actually allowed me to go into the [Sony] vault and get the actual recordings,” he explains. “So I was able to hear all these different things that normally people don’t get to hear when you hear a record. I was hearing him talk to the band.” Putting this audio into the project really makes the audience feel like they’re sitting in a studio session with Miles himself.
At one point on the record, you hear Miles telling his drummer, Joe Chamber, to play some kind of “pulse that goes on all the time, but it’s not a ting-ta-ting.” What Miles was describing was hip-hop. He just didn’t have a word for it. Of course, Miles would go on to make a hip-hop record (Doo-Bop) later in his career with famed producer Easy Mo Bee, but when he tried to explain the idea to Joe Chamber in the 70s, he didn’t know exactly what it was.
Glasper’s sense for mixology is also celebrated in drink form at the Gibson in Washington, DC. The cocktail, aptly named “The Glasper,” includes vodka, ginger liquor, lemon, and lavender bitters, and is a testament to his unique fusion of genres and flavors.
Everything’s Beautiful has charted on four different Billboard genres, a true reflection of the way he’s bridged hip-hop, jazz, and r&b together. It’s #1 in jazz. It’s #5 on the r&b charts. It’s #10 on the hip-hop/r&b charts and it’s #17 on the tastemaker charts.
“That one album has charted on four different genres on Billboard,” he says proudly. It happened on my last two Black Radio albums, which is the vibe of this album. But that’s not a normal thing for one album to chart on jazz and hip-hop and r&b.” These are the genres that Glasper has made a career out of fusing. “They said that this is the first time Miles has ever been high in the charts in these additional categories, so I think he would have been excited,” he says with a laugh.
In addition to remixing Miles Davis on Everything’s Beautiful, Robert Glasper also scored the Miles’ Davis biopic Miles Ahead. “It was hard. It was amazing. It was a blessing,” he says of the process. “It was all these different things. It really opened to my eyes to all that comes into scoring a film. I’m so grateful that Don Cheadle asked me to do it and believed in me to do it.”
While the process proved challenging, it wasn’t all that new and different for Glasper. Instead, it was very natural and familiar. In a way, he’s scoring the movie of his life everyday. “When I’m walking down the street or I’m in a car or on a subway or doing anything, music is going through my brain all the time. “I’m always writing some sort of song,” he muses. That’s where my inspiration comes from, just day to day stuff. So I’m used to scoring a movie in my head because my life becomes a movie and I’m always scoring everything I’m doing.”
Scoring movies parallels Glasper’s real life. “It’s just putting music to soundtrack to motion, motion to soundtrack,” he says. “And it’s putting music to my life, basically. So that’s like a jumpstart. I have a leg up on that.”
Everything’s Beautiful is available now.