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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And now we're going to spend sometime with a relative newcomer in the world of jazz, 28-year-old pianist Robert Glasper.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: If you ask Glasper about his influences, don't expect an answer. He won't say because he worries his audience might start listening for Monk or Keith Jarrett. The focus, he says, should be on his sound, the complicated melodies and chaotic rhythms that reflect his broad musical taste.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Glasper has recorded with artists ranging from Roy Hargrove to Carly Simon, and he often collaborates with hip-hop stars including Mos Def, Q-Tip and the late producer J Dilla. His new CD is called "In My Element."

Mr. ROBERT GLASPER (Jazz Musician): "In My Element" basically means where I'm comfortable, not what I'm supposed to be doing but what I really want to do. That's the vibe. So if - on this CD you'll hear like different sides of me that I'm just really comfortable with, like the jazz side and you'll hear some hip-hop stuff. You'll hear some gospel stuff, and you'll even hear a little bit of like, alternative rock stuff.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: And since you do, sort of, span two worlds - jazz and hip-hop. I wonder in some ways if you feel like you're a young ambassador for jazz, in trying to bring a new audience to this. I wonder what it takes to bring a hip-hop audience over to jazz so that they listen to it, they appreciate it, they support it.

Mr. GLASPER: Right. I do feel a responsibility, because most people like me, that are my age or younger - they don't quite make it over to the jazz side. They flirt with it, but they don't quite marry it, so that - yes, it's one of them things were I like to bring the hip-hop side to my music and alternative rock style - all kinds of stuff to my music, so I could have a wider variety of audience.

Because, like luckily, if my mom listened to jazz - so when I walked the house, I was asking her about Ella Fitzgerald. But now a days, the listener is getting younger and their parents are getting younger. So you have the teenager's mom and the teenager listening to the same music. So, you know, like they're both listening to Ludacris, you know, so a lot of the kids growing up don't have the same encouragement to listen to jazz like I did.

A lot of the music that they know, is just hip-hop music. So I'm trying to bring everything together and hopefully help extend the life of jazz.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: You talk about your early influences and your mother's broad appetite for music. She was in two bands when you were growing up, playing in church, and also playing in a - was it a jazz or a swing band?

Mr. GLASPER: Everything. My mom played in like nine bands.

NORRIS: Oh, I thought it was just two, so.

Mr. GLASPER: No, she was the Jamaican (Unintelligible). No, she played for church in Saturdays. She played for a church on Sundays. And every night, she's on at different clubs like what different kind of bands - R&B bands, she did Broadway-type stuff, she did plays, she did, you know, just - piano-jazz, like all kinds of stuff - anything you can think of. She sung it. I listened to it and loved it. So that is kind where I get my appetite from.

NORRIS: And when you were growing up in Houston, she would work the Houston club circuit, and as I understand it she would bring you along on gigs.

Mr. GLASPER: Oh, yeah, because she didn't like anybody to keep me, like I'm an only child.

NORRIS: She didn't trust the baby sitter.

Mr. GLASPER: She didn't trust the baby sitter. That's right. So, pretty much, I was in the back of the club and waitresses would be checking on me. I'll be like five.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: What did you absorb from that very early experience that you carry with you as an artist today?

Mr. GLASPER: I know real artistry when I see it. You know, I mean, I've seen people struggle for what they really, really want to do, so I can separate the stuff that doesn't count that people praise nowadays.

You know, seeing my mom, like, you know, struggle - doing all the, I mean she did all these gigs, of course, to feed me as well - but you know, just seeing her have that kind of love and passion for it. I know what that is now, and I can see when people don't have that passion, and they're just in it for a certain thing. So that's why I tell people like, hey, I don't have a tolerance for bad music.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GLASPER: I'll try - I love music like I love my family, so like I tell people, you know, if you disrespect my family, I'm going to be mad. So, the same way with music - I don't take it lightly.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: People seem to struggle to try to describe your technique. No one seems to be able to put a label on it, so I'm not even going to try. I'm just going to ask you…

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: How you would describe it?

Mr. GLASPER: It's just one of them things you have to hear because you can't really pinpoint it. Luckily, people really can't put a label on it because that means I'm doing something good. So that means, 20 years from now, people will be like yes, play this like Glasper style.

Kind of like how people, when they want a McCoy kind of stuff, I would like yeah, give me the McCoy vibe. You know, or give me a Trane vibe. Give me a Monkish vibe, Thelonious Monk vibe.

But back then, when it was actually happening, people probably didn't know how to describe it either. So it's one of them things where later on, it will be described as Glasper style.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: When you listen to your music, there is something that is very mellow, very easy, sort of a light touch throughout much of your music.

Mr. GLASPER: Yeah, definitely. Well, I have a little bit for everything, you know - there's like this song, G&B - it's like after work. Hey, I'm driving home, a little tired. Let me put on this CD, because I want people to want to play my CD. You know, how you have a craving for a Whopper or something? You know…

NORRIS: If you say so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GLASPER: You know, you might have a craving for anything, you might like… You know what? I really want some cabbage, or whatever it is. You have a craving for it and then you want to go get it. So I want there different flavors on this album so people could have a craving for - different things in the album and always want to listen to my album. I want the record to be essential to people. You know? I mean, I'm not really trying to prove anything, I just - I want to be essential to people's lives.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Robert Glasper, it has been a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks so much.

Mr. GLASPER: Thank you so much.

NORRIS: Robert Glasper's latest CD is called "In my element." And you can find more of his music at npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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