Unfortunately, the entire concert industry was brought to a terrifying halt by the pandemic. The performances were canceled at the last minute, even after Nu Deco artistic director Sam Hyken had written an extensive new composition specifically for those shows.
“This was going on for everybody, so it was not like we were in unique situations. But it was definitely new ground for us," Hyken told New Times during a July 2020 interview. “We were leading up to this very momentous collaboration. Once the dust settled slightly, we just had to re-evaluate where everything was.”
(With concerts no longer in his schedule for the foreseeable future and air travel on pause, Glasper found himself stuck in Miami for the two weeks following the cancellation of the Nu Deco shows.)
Now, 15 months later, Glasper will return to South Florida for a pair of outdoor performances at the North Beach Bandshell on June 12. Presented by New York City's iconic Blue Note Jazz Club in partnership with the Rhythm Foundation, the two-show gig (the first at 5 p.m. followed by an evening performance at 9 p.m.) will be Glasper’s first shows back in front of fans as the concert industry cautiously reopens as it heads into the summer months.
Despite his inability to generate income from touring and performing in front of fans, Glasper managed to make the most out of the past 15 months on the recording side of his career. The pianist formed a jazz-fusion supergroup with Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, and 9th Wonder under the moniker Dinner Party; the group released an acclaimed self-titled debut album in July 2020. This past February, Blue Note Records/Capitol released seven stand-out live recordings of Glasper alongside the R+R=Now collective, originally recorded during his monthlong residency at Blue Note Jazz Club back in October 2018.
Glasper also continued his upward momentum to start the new year by winning his fourth Grammy Award for his soulful "Better Than I Imagined" collaboration with H.E.R. and Meshell Ndegeocello in the “Best R&B Song” category. The track, which dropped in August 2020, is the lead single to Glasper's yet-to-be-released Black Radio 3, the highly anticipated follow-up album to 2013’s Black Radio 2.
With nothing but recording projects to keep him busy throughout the pandemic, Glasper now joins the rest of the live music community in optimistically looking forward to the return of in-person concerts.
New Times recently connected with Glasper to discuss his return to Miami, his COVID-era successes, collaborating with the next generation of talented black artists, and more.
New Times: You’ve got some shows coming up in Miami and New York City in June, which will be your first performances with fans since spring 2020. What is your mindset like right now as you prepare to return to public concerts?
Glasper: Relief [laughs]. I’ve been waiting to play in front of people. You don’t realize how much the audience really means to you until you’ve done a bunch of streaming shows with no audience, and you realize that the fans have just as much importance for performance as the musicians do. I’m really looking forward to sharing that experience with them.
New Times: In a way, you’re picking up right where you left off with your Miami fans since you weren’t able to perform with the Nu Deco Ensemble last March.
Glasper: We did one rehearsal, and then the next day it was canceled. It was like, ‘Ugh, man!’ I stayed in Miami for two weeks right after that because they told us we couldn’t fly to New York or Los Angeles. That’s so funny; I didn’t even think about that, I didn’t realize that was the last show I was going to do, and now I’m picking up where I left off and playing a show there. I was really looking forward to playing in Miami, so I’m really happy that now we get the chance to try it again.
I hope we can do that [Nu Deco] show with the orchestra. The rehearsal was amazing, so I really hope we get to actually do [the show] for real.
New Times: Did theR+R=Now and Dinner Party projects help keep you focused creatively in spite of what was going on in the world?
Glasper: Absolutely. Putting out the R+R record was great because it was a live album, and I felt like it gave people a live experience even when they were at home. It was live in the club. You can hear the glasses clinking, people talking. I think we gave people a little bit of the spirit of being there. The Dinner Party album was also great because, as you said, the political and social issues that were happening, we were able to tap into some of those situations in the music. I also did “Better Than I Imagined” with H.E.R., and we ended up winning a Grammy for that. So all those things have definitely made the pandemic go smoother. I’ve been doing a lot of film scoring and scoring [television] series and things of that nature, so I’ve been staying busy.
New Times: Do you feel like you’ll always have a unique connection to those album projects considering they were released at such an extraordinary time?
Glasper: Yeah, for sure. When you put an album out during COVID, I think you are somebody who is helping people cope. Music is medicine for a lot of people — it’s like you’re just giving the world some medicine. I think it’s our duty as artists to do that in these times when people need music the most. As a matter of fact, [output of] instrumental music has actually gone up since COVID. I think this a great time for music in the sense of being able to put something out and people who really want music.
New Times: You've played alongside several phenomenal up-and-coming performers over the years. Now that you have collaborated with H.E.R, Leon Bridges, and Anderson .Paak, what have you taken away from your experiences collaborating with this next generation of artists?
Glasper: It’s great. I’m happy that I can get people younger who are keeping real music alive. Music has taken a shift, and with that shift, people don’t have to work that hard or practice as much – or don’t have to be necessarily as good – and have a hit song out. [Laughs] So in this day of that, I’m glad there are young artists who take pride in their craft, practice, and want to be great at their craft.
New Times: Fans have waited eight years for the followup to Black Radio 2. Is Black Radio 3 due out sometime this year?
Glasper: Sometime this year. That’s all I can say, though. I can’t speak of anything else. Everything hasn’t been legally closed yet, so I can’t speak on who is on it or give any details, but definitely look out for Black Radio 3 this year for sure.
Robert Glasper. 5 and 9 p.m. Saturday, June 12, at North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-453-2897; northbeachbandshell.com. Tickets cost $45 to $65.