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The Okayplayer Interview: Robert Glasper On Miles Davis + Radical Jazz

The Okayplayer Interview: Robert Glasper On Miles Davis + Radical Jazz

The Okayplayer Interview: Robert Glasper On Miles Davis, Everything's Beautiful + Radical Jazz

The Okayplayer Interview: Robert Glasper On Miles Davis, Everything's Beautiful + Radical Jazz

OKP: As a bandleader he was super loose. He would just give cues. Let the band do what they do, which is a very unique perspective on what it means to be a bandleader. Especially when you consider the borderline dictatorial approach of your James Browns, and your Princes.

RG: The difference is Miles, when he took to the band, unlike Prince, James Brown, and all of them, Miles actually had bonafide geniuses on those instruments.

OKP: Truth.

RG: Geniuses, innovators, and he knew it. He knew not to overly try to tell them what to do, because he knew they were special. He gave them some sort of direction, and then let them do what they do, because they’re that special.

OKP: You got to trust your talent man.

RG: You know what I mean? Every band leader can’t say on every instrument that we have a genius. I can say that shit. Miles’s band is fucking awesome. Everybody can’t say, a bonafide innovator. Really when you hear them, you hear them leading a generation. Everybody in the generation is trying to sound like that guy.

OKP:  Did you find yourself trying to embody that? Were you giving people more structure or guidelines about how to approach it? Or did you just let them do their thing?

RG: I was totally trying to embody the Miles Davis way of doing it, which is how I like to do things anyways. I think I learned that from Miles a long time ago. I’ve never been prone to try and dictate every single detail, especially when I know I have some artists in that chair that has a spectacular musical mind. I gave very light direction. Let pretty much everybody do what they do. Especially when it was a band on their own kind of vibe. Hiatus Kaiyote, they have their own thing. I love what they do. Kings of their own thing. I love what they do, so I even let them pick the song they wanted to do. Let them do it how they wanted to do it. We talked a little bit. I gave different people samples from different songs. Let them incorporate them into the mix how they wanted to. I tried to be as loose as possible. On some songs I had more say because I actually produce over half of it but for the most part, I let the artist be the artist.

OKP: That’s beautiful. Were you ever surprised by the selections that some of the artists made or what songs they were going to do?

RG: No, I loved it. These artists are actually true Miles Davis fans. I knew it wouldn’t be surface shit. I knew it wasn’t going to be like, “Really? So what? Really?” I wasn’t surprised when Erykah was like, Ooh, I love ‘Maiysha.’ Let’s do that, or Haitus Kaiyote was like, Ooh, I wanted to do ‘Little Church’, and then KING. It didn’t surprise me one bit.

OKP: Everybody was as well versed in Miles’s catalog?

RG: That’s why I chose the artists I chose. I wanted it to be a true labor of love. I didn’t want to get random artists that really didn’t know anything about Miles to be on this album, because of their name. If I did that I could have got bigger names if I wanted them, but that wasn’t the purpose of this. It’s a jazz label. There was no money. I had to get people who really loved Miles, because it was literally a labor of love. We’ll put it like that. Who says no to Miles?

OKP: What was it like working closely with Erin and Vince, the heirs? What was the extent of their input? How closely were they working with you on this record?

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RG: Man, they probably took a page out of Miles’ book too. They’re so cool. The great thing about them is they could have easily gotten anybody they wanted. They grew up with Miles. They know a lot of people. They know a lot of important A-list artists, and they totally trusted me and my vision on this. They would give a little bit of input here and there. Little thoughts like, “Hey, possibly this person maybe? What do you think about this?” They were okay with them. They were okay with me being like, “No. I want to do this.” They were really respectful of that. I take my hat off to them, because it could have easily been the opposite.

OKP: Why is Miles is still relevant today and for these generations of musicians and music lovers?

RG: Miles is a total poster child of what jazz is supposed to be, because a lot of jazz purists feel like jazz sounds a certain way. This is jazz. Now that’s not jazz. This is jazz. Then when you ask jazz purists another question, “Who’s your favorite jazz musician,” they will probably say Miles Davis.

OKP: Even though he got the same shit for going electric.

RG: Exactly. It’s funny. It’s a funny thing, because Miles made it okay to say, “Fuck you,” but still be honest and still honored the music. Some people say, “Fuck you,” to jazz, but they couldn’t play jazz from the very beginning. You were never really good. That’s why you’re so-called pushing the envelope, because you really couldn’t play this shit to begin with.

OKP: Not the way it sounds.

RG: Yeah, that’s why you skip over the part of learning the language. You’re like, “Fuck the language. I’m changing it.” You can’t change it if you didn’t know it. That’s the problem with a lot of cats now. They want to skip over the part of actually learning harmony, practice, and writing music. All that part. Miles had that down. He could play the music of every era and play it very well. Better than most. Bop, hard bop, fusion…you name it, he was into it. Then he said, “I want to push the envelope. The music has to keep changing.” That’s why we have those different eras, because somebody in that era said, “Fuck this. I want to do something else.” That’s why the eras have different names. That’s why you move from the bop, to the bebop, to the post bop, and to the hard bop, and to the cool. You have to put a name for all these different names, because people kept changing shit. The free jazz, the fusion. You need to have different names for it. Miles kept changing it. He said, “If it ain’t moving, it’s dead.” It’s so funny. It seems like every genre understood what Miles was saying except the fucking jazz genre. Except the very people he was talking to.

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