Robert Glasper

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY MATHIEU BITTON

Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist Robert Glasper visits Baton Rouge next week to perform in concert and host a master class for students at Baton Rouge Magnet High School.

Glasper performs with his band at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Manship Theatre. Tickets range from $25-$45. His master class, open only to students, will be held Thursday.

Glasper is known best for his experimental projects that fuse hip-hop and rhythm and blues to traditional jazz. He first began performing in churches around his hometown of Houston. As a teenager, he moved to New York to study jazz performance at The New School. His music became an amalgamation of all that surrounded him, including the R&B and hip-hop sounds he loved. 

Glasper said he didn’t intentionally set out to make a dent as a cross-sectional artist, but when he saw his music creating new, diverse audiences, he embraced the opportunity to help redefine jazz in the new century.

“(My inspiration) was mainly just what’s been in my life experiences,” Glasper said. “Then once I saw it was making a change and blurring lines, bringing different ages and types of people into one show, at that point, it was deliberate.”

His first albums were more traditional, technical jazz recordings. He began to work with more hip-hop and R&B artists, notably, J Dilla, Bilal and Erykah Badu. By the time “Black Radio” won him the Grammy for best R&B album in 2013, pinning his work to a specific genre was not easy.

“It depends on what album it is,” Glasper said. “Each record has a different vibe and sound — ‘Black Radio’ is more R&B, with jazz elements.”

Glasper has been lauded for reimagining jazz in a modern context and opening the genre to new audiences. He said he doesn’t create with audience in mind, though.

“Not so much,” Glasper said. “The style of music I do is just new. I realize what I do naturally is working, so I just keep doing it.”

Glasper sees a new generation of jazz musicians that is shying away from the traditions that purists once insisted on.

“I feel like there are a lot of younger people that are realizing it’s OK to be themselves within jazz,” Glasper said. “I feel like the music is getting broader, the whole jazz spectrum. People are allowing other elements to come into the whole question of ‘What is jazz?’ ”

To many, Glasper’s work has helped define what 21st-century jazz is. Glasper takes an interest in passing on that expertise to the upcoming generation. He teaches master classes, like the one scheduled next week at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, whenever he has the chance. Students at the class will play their own arrangements of his songs, and he will offer criticism and rehearse along with them.

“I love giving advice and seeing what I can contribute. I’m always honest with them,” Glasper said with a laugh.

Glasper’s most recent release, 2016’s “Everything’s Beautiful,” is built on the compositions of Miles Davis. Accustomed to redesigning the music that inspired him when he began to play, Glasper said it is especially meaningful to hear young musicians do the same with his work.

“It keeps me going and lets me know I’m influencing people," he said. "If it’s changing them or inspiring them, or helping them through things in their lives, then that’s what I do it for.”

Glasper said the audience at Manship can expect a taste of all his musical styles from the past 15 years.

“I would say about music that it’s a house with many rooms,” Glasper said. “That’s my take on what I do, and we go to many rooms.”


The Robert Glasper Experiment 

Part of the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge's River City Jazz Masters Series 

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday 

WHERE: Manship Theatre, 100 Lafayette St., Baton Rouge 

COST: $25-$45 

INFO: manshiptheatre.org