You’ve worked a lot with Bilal and you’ve definitely got a chemistry when you work together. What qualities does he have as a singer that you like?
He can do anything he wants to do vocally. Literally. He’s my favourite singer.
How did you two guys hook up in the first place?
In college in New York. We met up the first day there and ever since then we’ve been good buddies. So I’m on his albums and he’s on my albums.
Another track on the new album which might raise a few eyebrows is your version of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’
I’ve always loved that tune since the sixth grade. It’s so melodic – the melody’s so beautiful but you don’t think of that song being beautiful because it’s a hard-core rock tune. Kurt Cobain, he was really dope; a dope dude and songwriter and I’ve always liked that tune. I wanted to do that tune and urbanise it.
You’ve certainly done that: it works a treat. Does the kind of new material you’ve chosen reflect what you listen to and your taste in music?
Exactly, my taste is very vast. I listen to a lot of shit and I like a lot of stuff so, yes, without a doubt.
You’ve got Mint Condition’s Stokley Williams on ‘Black Radio’ as well. What made you want to work with him?
I’ve worked with him for years actually. We’ve been doing stuff together since 2003, playing shows and stuff and so it made sense that he’s on the record. I met him through Chris Dave, because Chris was the drummer with Mint Condition for years. So I have to credit Chris. Stokley is one of my favourite male vocalists as well. He can do anything he wants to do too and his range is crazy and harmonically he’s crazy and he can scat and do all that kind of stuff.
You got lots of brilliant vocalists on your album. Ledisi also makes an appearance.
I’ve been working with Ledisi for years. I was doing stuff with her probably around 2005 and I met her because her manager at the time was somebody that I went to high school with and she needed a pianist for a few gigs in New York. She called me, I went up and met her and did the gig and ever since then we’ve always done stuff together. She’s great. She’s like Bilal and Stokley: a jazz vocalist at heart. She studied it in high school and went to camps and all that shit so I love working with her.
You’ve got Mos Def on there too. You’ve worked a lot with him before. What’s the vibe like with him when you work together in the studio?
That’s my dude. Just cracking jokes – it’s normal, just like regular hanging out. I try to forget that we’re in the studio ‘cos that can put a dampener on the whole thing. It’s cold in the studio and you’ve got the headphones on and it’s not a good vibe so we just kick it, drink and hang out and we don’t rush. We never rush. I try to make the studio a place where we just chill and so when we’re really ready we just go in and do it. And nine times out of 10 we’ll do it in one take. When you do it when you’re ready, you do it in one take for the most part. When you’re not ready, that’s when you end up doing seven takes. And you tire yourself out and the rest of the songs come out not as good ‘cos you’ve played nine takes of another tune.
Can you imagine taking this album out on the road because you’ve got so many different singers on it?
Obviously, not the record on the road – I can’t take nine people on the road – but where ever I am I’m going to try to have a special guest who is available at the time because everybody tours and everybody has their own career. We’re just going to have to juggle where I am and who’s available for the dates here and there. For the most part we’ll be on our own, The Experiment. We can do the singer-songs, but obviously the hip-hop shit we can’t do really because I’m not going to rap. That would be strange.
At what age did you first show an interest in music?
At the age of 12. My mum was playing Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald around the house a lot.
Was it your mum’s records that made you turn to the piano?
Yeah, actually. That was one of the things and we had a piano in the house my whole life. It was just kind of there all the time.
Was your mother a musician?
Yeah, she played at a church on Sunday. She played at piano bars and sang, playing R&B and all kinds of music. So that’s kind where I get my vast music vocabulary from.
Did gospel music have a big impact on you?
That was the first thing I learned how to play and I played in church with my mother. I played in church for about 10 years. Even when I got to New York I had a job playing at a church.
How did you get into the music business then?
I got signed to Blue Note in 2005. Before that I actually did another record for a smaller label; the record was called ‘Mood.’ The A&R guy from Blue Note, Eli Wolf, got a hold of it from my manager, Nicole Hegeman. She gave him the record and he started coming and checking me out when I was in New York and he pretty much signed me. The rest is history.
Looking forward to the future, what do you want to accomplish?
I just want to be heard by more people and give them the option of liking me or not and hoping that they like me.
Regarding studio projects, have you got anything else lined up?
I’ve got some ideas but I’ve just finished this last record so I probably won’t be coming to any real conclusions until after I tour with this album. We’ll see how the world accepts this, and then I’ll go from there.
Robert Glasper’s new album ‘Black Radio’ is released on February 27th via Blue Note/EMI.
Read SJF’s verdict on ‘Black Radio’ here: http://www.soulandjazzandfunk.com/reviews/1670-robert-glasper-experiment-black-radio-blue-note-robert-glasper-experiment-black-radio-blue-note-.html