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Robert Glasper on ‘Robtober,’ his monthlong residency at The Blue Note

Robert Glasper, performing with his trio on the Blue Note at Sea Cruise in 2023
John Abbott
Jazz Cruises
Robert Glasper, performing with his trio on the Blue Note at Sea Cruise in 2023

When Robert Glasper started his residency at the Blue Note in New York City in 2018, it was for two weeks and came with a "we'll see." Five years later, the residency is now an entire month long, appropriately named "Robtober" and "We'll see" is still a theme but that’s because the audience, and many times even Robert himself, doesn't know what A-list celebrities and musicians will "stop by." But you can guarantee every night will be pretty darn special. I spoke with Rob about what the audience can look forward to this "Robtober" and the friends that will be joining him.

Listen to our conversation, above.

Interview transcript:

Nicole Sweeney: I feel like it's been so long. There were times I feel like we used to always run into each other in New York.  You got big and busy, too busy for me.

Robert Glasper: When we were running into each other and stuff, I was living in New York. I moved from New York and I live in LA now. I changed it up. So I'm not on the New York scene as much, but I'm making my visit.

That's exactly what you're going to be doing in October, making a visit to The Blue Note in New York City. My last time seeing you live was at The Blue Note. You were with Damion Reed and Vicente Archer. Classic trio stuff going on. I want to say this had to be 2017 because it was before your official monthly residency, which is now in its fifth year. It started in 2018, but you're no stranger to the Blue Note label, somewhat of a home to you. Your first official first album was on Blue Note.

Absolutely. Most people don't realize and don't know that The Blue Note Records label is different from the club. They have nothing to do with each other at all. They just have the same name. You can imagine they had a bunch of lawsuits years ago, figuring things out, but they're two different things. People are like, “I thought you were not on Blue Note no more, but you're at The Blue Note coming up.” I'm like, “Yeah, those are two different things.”

My true coming out record was on Blue Note Records in 2005 with Canvas. And I did that all the way through Black Radio 2 on Blue Note. I got off of the Blue Note label in 2016. The crazy part is that I pretty much auditioned there for Bruce Lundvall, who was the president of Blue Note at the time. Him seeing me play happened at The Blue Note Club. We booked the gig on purpose so he could come and check out my truth.

Do you remember your very first time at The Blue Note? Who was playing with you?

That was Damion Reed, but it was Brandon Owens on bass on that one. I think that was my first official gig there at The Blue Note.

How did the convo with Bruce go? I know I'd probably be a little intimidated by Bruce and Blue Note

Actually it was easier than I thought. He’s the one who called me to say, “Hey, you want to be on Blue Note?” And I was like, Yeah!” He said, “All right, let's do this.” Then I went into the office and we talked. I had all these ideas that I wrote down. I was going to explain all the stuff. He said, “Robert, stop, stop. You're the artist, you do what you do. It's our job to sell it.”

Isn't that the history though of that label? One, they could recognize some great talent, but two, they let the talent do them and be them. And that's what makes those albums so classic to this day. Let's bring it back to 2023. It’s called Robtober. I think all calendars should just change October to Robtober. How did that get started? Was that a planned thing to start this? It's pretty epic now.

First, I did of course a few days, then I started doing a week here, a week there, a week here, and then I started doing two weeks at a time. They were like, “Hey, you want to try to do a month?” I was like, “Let’s see where it takes us.” Then that month went great. We were like, “Let's try it again.” It just kept going and going. Every year it gets funner and so many people hear about it and follow through. A lot of it is about the pop-ups too, who you don't know are coming. New York is a hub. A lot of artists come to New York throughout the month. It gets interesting and exciting, because you never know who’s going to be there. I never know. People be like, “Who's going to be there next week?” I'm like, “I don't even know who's going to be there the night of.” People hit me up in between sets while I'm on stage. They’ll be like, “Yo, I’m following through.” So it's always fun and spontaneous.

Who’s the first biggest artist to stop through one of these monthly residencies that made you even go, “Whoa, he's in the building or she's in the building?”

Dave Chappelle. That’s pretty much where the Napa festival came from. Dave would just start popping up at The Blue Note every year. Not just one time, he would pop up for a whole two weeks, just randomly, sporadically. I never know when it's going to happen. And he brings all kinds of amazing, cool people with him. The last time he popped up on me, he brought the Foo Fighters with him to the Blue Note. The Foo Fighters were at Madison Square Garden. I remember people on the break, we saw him on IG on stage with the Foo Fighters at MSG. Then I started my set. As I was about to end the set, my assistant ran over to me, like, “Dave's five minutes away and he's bringing the Foo Fighters, he wants you to keep playing.” So we played more. That was literally a few months before Taylor, the drummer, passed away. I got to meet Taylor and he brought his son with him. It was an amazing whole thing. Dave just brings culture with him when he comes through, to see what we're doing.

That's also a nod to you because Dave not just going to show up anywhere for anybody, but that's your energy, Rob. That's always been your energy. It's musical, but it's so personal. You make somebody feel like, “That's my cousin, Rob.” It's just always been that connection with you. The residency starts on October 4, with the trio.

We're going to do some tributes to some piano giants, to some of my favorite piano players.

Give me one of your favorite piano players and it can't be Herbie.

Kenny Kirkland. My son Riley, his middle name is Kirkland, because of Kenny. Kenny Kirkland is the first famous person I met when I came to New York to go to The New School. I was walking to school on the first day of school. Kenny Kirkland's Lexus pulled up on the side of the road and he walked across the street. I just watched him walk across the street with his cane. And I waited outside for him and he came back out and I talked to him and he gave me his card. I said, “Try to come to the Zinc Bar if you can.” He said, “I’m really busy. I'm on the road with Sting, but I'm also doing The Tonight Show, but if I can, we’ll try to link up.” Very nice. He's always been one of my favorites.

You're also going to have people like Norah Jones, who I feel like is a good friend of yours. You seem to go way back.

We went to jazz camp together. We're both from Texas. She's from Dallas. I'm from Houston. We went to jazz camp at North Texas University. We were in 11th grade. You go to this camp and you’re there for maybe two weeks or so. You play with other students that you don't know. You get together and you play. They put you in these ensembles. There are teachers there and they teach you things. So it's just one of those things. It's really cool. So I met her there in 11th grade.

The next time I saw her, she was at The New School in the practice room playing. I was like, “What are you doing here, Norah?” She's like, “My friend let me in here. I'm rehearsing to make a demo for Blue Note.” Then I saw her on the Grammys. It’s cool to have full circle moments like that. Now she's going to be with me at The Blue Note.

You’ve also got my girl Amber from Moonchild. Her voice, her musical spirit.

Jill Scott introduced me to Amber. I didn't know who Amber was years ago. I didn't know Moonchild and Jill Scott was like, “Do you know Moonchild?” I was like, “No.” She’s like, “Boy, let me play you some stuff.” I was like, “Oh, snap.” A lot of people love them. They're a great band. And she's just so magical. She has a thing and she plays saxophone and flute and arranges. She's awesome.

Will she be doing some of that at The Blue Note?  A little sax?

Hopefully. We'll see. I told her I'm open to everything.

That’s what makes these residencies so special is that you don't really know what you're going to get, but you're going to get something that your friends are going to wish they were there for. Dinner Party is going to be in the house. Talk to me about your relationship with Terrace and even Kamasi, because those are some amazing cats.

I met Terrace in a jazz camp as well, a different jazz camp in 11th grade in Denver. That's also where I met Keyon Harrold. I met him at the same camp. We've known each other since we were like 15 years old. And Terrace has been doing his thing on the West Coast for a long time with Snoop Dogg and Kendrick Lamar and all these different people.

We kept in touch through the years. I always fly out to LA and work with Terrace. That's how I got on the Pimp the Butterfly album with Terrace. We've been collaborators forever, so we decided to make this Dinner Party album actually during COVID. Like, “Let's make something that we can record but not be in the same room.” So we were all in different rooms, different places during COVID making the first Dinner Party album. I met Kamasi through Terrace and I've been rocking with him for a few years. It’s just great. And we’re all fans of 9th Wonder. I have worked with 9th on different things, so it just made sense. It’s a great feeling.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers on October 25-26. Give us a sneak peek of what's going to happen on that one.

Oh man, I don't even know. We're still trying to figure out what tunes to do. There are so many tunes with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. I took a course on them when I was in college with Charles Tolliver and we ran through all those tunes. So many great musicians came through Art Blakey, like all of them. So I don’t even know. I'm still trying to figure out what songs we're going to play and what we're doing, but I will have some of my friends for sure. I know I'm gonna have Jaleel Shaw on alto sax and Marcus Strickland on tenor sax. I'm gonna have Burniss Travis on bass and Justin Faulkner on drums. It’s gonna be fun.

Last but not least, Yasiin Bey, Mos Def.

He's a staple. He was at the very first Robtoberfest. And I just try to keep him there because I've been rocking with Mo since 2004. He's on a couple of my albums so he's just kind of a staple. When I can get him, I just try to have him there and just kind of brings it all around. I'm always glad to have him, you know. Rest in peace to his mom, Umi. She passed earlier this year or late last year.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Nicole Sweeney is a Queens-born, Long Island-raised music lover. Growing up in New York with West Indian parents, she was surrounded by all types of music every day and the influence of jazz was constant.