This afternoon, I was perusing A Blog Supreme and I came across an interview between Patrick Jarenwattananon (A Blog Supreme editor) and Robert Glasper (fabulous pianist).
You can find the interview here:
I have never seen Robert Glasper live, but I've admired him and his music for a while, his ability to gracefully combine hip-hop and jazz, to comfortably reference J. Dilla and Thelonious Monk in the same sentence. But then again, why shouldn't he be comfortable?
As he says in the interview:
"For me, I'm not really married to the craft of jazz — I'm married to me, and my style, and whatever I produce. So if you don't want to call it jazz at the end of the day, what do you want to call it? 'Cause maybe I made up something new. [laughs] I don't know, you know what I'm saying? I started out playing traditional jazz, and I still do: I love standards, I love the music.
"But it must move on, and it must live and breathe, and continue to grow, and continue to change, and continue to mesh with other music — all that kind of stuff. Jazz can be on the playground too, you know.
"...It's just in my soul [jazz] — I love it. I don't think I could go without it at all. People get the wrong idea when I'm like, 'Yea, we've got to move on, the music's got to move on.' That doesn't mean totally abandon jazz at all — it just means, 'Hey, also do something else.' ... I love the music — but I also love this kind of music, and I also love this kind of music, and I also love this kind of music, you know? I'm a musical mutt, so I have a lot of desires, musically, that I want to accomplish."
And then, because I study political theory here at McGill, I thought of the great liberal thinker Isaiah Berlin, who, for his writings on value pluralism, has informed my view of the world for the better.
Here's a quote from an essay he wrote:
"I came to the conclusion that there is a plurality of ideals, as there is a plurality of cultures and of temperaments. I am not a relativist; I do not say 'I like my coffee with milk and you like it without; I am in favor of kindness and you prefer concentration camps' -- each of us with his own values, which cannot be overcome or integrated. This I believe to be false. But I do believe that there is a plurality of values which men can and do seek, and that these values differ. There is not an infinity of them: the number of human values, of values that I can pursue while maintaining my human semblance, my human character, is finite -- let us say 74, or perhaps 122, or 26, but finite, whatever it may be. And the difference it makes is that if a man pursues one of these values, I, who do not, am able to understand why he pursues it or what it would be like, in his circumstances, for me to be induced to pursue it. Hence the possibility of human understanding." (1)
What Berlin is saying here, as I understand it for the purposes of this entry, is that there are so many competing values in the world, it is impossible to hold them all. But you should still be able to understand why someone would pursue paleontology when you have chosen botany, for example. You can like a lot of things, and they don't have to clash. People can like a lot of things, and their interests need not be at odds. This is a salient point in the post-Coltrane period of jazz.
In the quote I drew from the interview, Mr. Glasper is not prioritizing his musical desires. He seems to be treating himself as though he is many people with competing interests and goals, whose desires he must satify, whose interests he must pursue. In the process, he is appealing to a wide range of people who might not think much of jazz, but love hip-hop; who might not like Monk, but idolize J. Dilla. It doesn't seem to matter, as Mr. Glasper says, if you call his music jazz. He's not going to quibble over words.
I think, ultimately, Berlin's thought was about truth to oneself. And if anything, that is the truth Mr. Glasper pursues.
(1) Berlin, Isaiah. New York Review of Books, Vol. XLV, Number 8 (1998).