Grammy-winning pianist Robert Glasper is known for his genre bending hip hop and jazz inspired music, as well as big name collaborations with artists like Kendrick Lamar and Mac Miller.
His path to the piano was more meandering than some other professional pianists, he said.
“I actually started playing drums when I was around five, six years old. I played drums for a minute, and then I got into sports,” said Glasper, who is performing Tuesday and Wednesday at the City Winery in Boston. “I didn't really sit behind the piano in a real way, like at least learn how to play, until I was 11. ... Literally, I started playing 'Happy Birthday' with one finger.”
But once he started, his love for the piano “took off,” he said.
“I couldn't get enough of the piano,” he said. “I didn't even really know the kids in my neighborhood because I just played piano. When they were out playing basketball, I was playing the piano.”
Glasper, then in middle school, was listening to jazz musicians Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson and Keith Jarrett. He was also playing the clarinet in a stage band, holding it with the side of his mouth like Kenny G.
“My dad used to get so mad at me. But Kenny G was also a bridge for me for jazz. He was kind of in my progression of understanding how to ride the line between popular music and jazz,” Glasper said.
Glasper has since won five Grammy awards, and been nominated 12 times in 11 categories. He also won an Emmy and a Peabody Award.
“I would love an Oscar and a Tony,” he said, laughing — a PEGOT. “It worked out for me because my gift ended up being my passion, and I realized that early. … I just love playing piano so much, and I love composing, and I love music so much that it was just who I am, it became a part of me.”
That’s what he tells students now, he said: Their path will not be the same as the paths of their peers, or of the people who came before them. So they should do what they love, and what they feel is right for them.
“Don't feel like you have to do exactly what they're doing,” he said. “Don't feel like you have to go to that party. If you want to stay home and do whatever it is you love doing, do that. Don't feel like you have to go play basketball. If you want to practice, do that.”