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Young Pianist Ready to Be Jazz Ambassador

Composer and pianist Robert Glasper has recorded with artists ranging from Roy Hargrove to Carly Simon, and he often collaborates with hip-hop stars like Mos Def and Q-Tip.

But on his newest album, In My Element, 28-year-old Glasper delivers his own brand of jazz to a generation largely composed of listeners only exposed to hip-hop.

"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," he says. "They flirt with it, but they don't quite marry it."

But the music and technique can't be described simply as jazz. He says growing up listening to his mother sing in Houston, Texas, helped shape his appreciation for various musical forms such as jazz, rock, and hip-hop that he now incorporates into his own work.

On Saturdays and Sundays, Glasper's mother performed in church. But she put food on the table by singing piano jazz and Broadway tunes at night on Houston's club circuit. Not wanting to leave him at home with the baby sitter, Glasper's mother brought him along.

"Anything you can think of, she sung it and listened to it and loved it," says Glasper. "So that's kind of where I get my appetite from."

But Glasper doesn't consider the lack of a musical label to be a problem.

"That means I'm doing something good," he says. "So that means 20 years from now, people will be like, 'Yes, play this, like, Glasper style.'"

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