ACL Interview: Robert Glasper Brings Buoyant Manifesto Black Radio III to Zilker

Grammy-studded Houstonian discusses third jazz installment


Photo by Mancy Gant

Calling last month, Robert Glasper had recently finished playing with Dave Matthews Band for the first time in L.A. “They hit me up and asked, ‘Hey, do you want to sit in?’” recalls the multi-time Grammy winner. Not a brag, but his matter-of-factness conveys this isn’t the first time a major artist has asked the Houston-born jazz pianist onstage.

“They sent me a YouTube clip of the song, and I learned it.”

Given his impressive résumé, spanning Kendrick Lamar and Herbie Hancock collaborations, Hollywood Bowl-sized requests come as no surprise. From playing Brooklyn nightclubs with the Roots, Common, and Erykah Badu to winning a 2017 Emmy (for “A Letter to the Free” in Ava Duvernay’s 13th), Glasper’s musicianship speaks for itself. But Black Radio, his Grammy-winning 2012 crossover album, came well after his 2005 debut, Canvas, by strategy.

“If Herbie Hancock released Headhunters first, he wouldn’t have the same respect,” mused the Texas native. “My first records were to solidify myself as a jazz musician so [that] there’s no question.”

Fast-forward and this year’s Black Radio III, like his two former installments, continues to pave a seamless crossroads of Black music forms through prolific collaboration. Amir Sulaiman’s solemn prose complements brooding keys (“In Tune”), while H.E.R.’s airy intimacy blankets longing piano (“Better Than I Imagined”). Rhodes funk intermingles with Esperanza Spalding’s French wordplay (“Why We Speak”), and watercolor improvisation bleeds into Musiq Soulchild’s R&B (“Everybody Love”) on the pandemic effort.

“It was my way of being a first responder,” recalls Glasper. “I built a studio in the back of my house and we all took COVID tests to record. Some artists were even too uninspired or depressed, but those who made it on the record are those that could.”

Buoyant manifesto “Black Superhero” attributes the everyday community member as champion – a creed signed by hip-hop trifecta Killer Mike, BJ the Chicago Kid, and Big K.R.I.T.

“For me, it was the lunch lady. In the seventh grade, I wasn’t zoned in the school that I was going to, but she drove me everyday to school,” says Glasper. “Because of that, I was able to go to [Houston’s Kinder High School for the Performing Arts] … Perhaps I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it weren’t for what she did for me.”


Robert Glasper

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

ACL Fest 2022, Robert Glasper, Dave Matthews Band, Ava Duvernay, High School for the Performing Arts

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