When Robert Glasper’s Trio hit London town for a sold-out gig towards the end of last year, we were wowed. Now that he’s due back next month to play keys for Q-Tip’s show at The Roundhouse (March 14th – tickets here), we just had to catch up with the high-spirited 30-year-old jazz pianist.

[Have a listen to this classic Robert Glasper track “F.T.B”]
[audio: F.T.B..mp3]

Born in Texas and now based in Brooklyn, Glasper started playing the piano at around the age of 12. Music is in his blood and courses through his veins via the influence of his mother, who was a pianist and gospel singer, and his granddad, who sang in a doo-wop band.

“It’s funny,” he says, “when I first met Tweet we were talking and it turned out our family knows each other very well. My family’s from Rochester, New York and she’s from Rochester, New York. So her dad and my granddad were in a group together – four guys – and they grew up singing together. It was a doo-wop group, I forgot [the name]. But I saw them sing one time when I was small. Gladys Knight’s my second cousin but I’ve never met her.”

Then there was the allure of the piano that sat in the house. His occasional tinkering turned into a serious hobby, and by his early teens he was getting paid for playing at church. In developing his craft, the church was “extremely crucial. That’s the most crucial point for most black young musicians because it’s the only place you can play when you were 10 or eight, the only place you can play and get a cheque when you’re that young.”

When he turned 15, the young professional enrolled at a performing arts high school to ‘buckle down and hone [his] craft for jazz.’ Whilst there, Beyonce was busy honing her craft at the very same high school (“Yeah, we were there at the same time. She was a freshman when I was a senior.”) and the Destiny’s Child links don’t stop there; Glasper’s cousin is former group member LeToya Luckett. On the subject of destiny, Glasper feels that playing the keys is something he was born to do. “It came natural,” he nods.

Having gone to college in New York with Bilal – they met on the first day and have “been best friends ever since” – Glasper got to know Mos Def through his work on Bilal’s debut album, 1st Born Second, and has since worked with the likes of Q-Tip, Talib Kweli, Slum Village, Jay-Z, J Dilla, Common, Erykah Badu and The Roots.

Their London gig was enthralling – and how often can you say that about a show, really. With their blend of drums, keys and bass, merging jazz and hip hop with… goodness knows what [I think it’s called music], the trio elicited a continuous cycle from the audience of palpitations and stunned/attentive silence, followed by rapturous applause.

Whether you were an informed fan, a musician, or just a casual listener – the appreciation flowed deep. This is where musicianship transcends borders. Someone behind me loudly declared, “This Is MUSIC!” – and that seemed to be the passionate consensus of the sold-out show’s crowd.

“My proudest achievement is getting to the point where I have regular people who aren’t musicians reach out to me and tell me how much I’ve inspired them or changed their life,” he tells us. “I’ve had people MySpace me telling me they’ve delivered their babies to my music. Just reaching people through a spiritual level…that I’m inspiring people, is the best thing ever.

“Some musicians play just for musicians, but I wanna play for people. I have a little bit for everybody; I have some abstract shit for the musicians who love it and some other stuff for people who aren’t musicians, which is very important. I wanna be like Stevie Wonder – no matter what kind of music you’re playing, he’s on everybody’s iPod.”

Inspired by “anything from Barack Obama getting presidency to [Hurricane] Katrina”, melodies enter his head via his happiest and saddest emotions. “It’s an amazing time in history, we’re living in it now. It’s like wow,” he gushes. “Sometimes I forget and I wake up like ‘oh shit, we have a black president, that’s amazing.’ He inspired the world, it’s so… I can’t even think of words to express, but it’s really amazing.

“The impact that he has is inspiring because it does let people know that you can be black and be anything. Because that’s one thing people would say when you were small – “I wanna be president” – and everybody would always make a joke. “There ain’t never gonna be no black president.” You know what I’m saying? You can look at that and see that the sky’s the limit. It just makes you want to do what you do better.

“It makes me want to do what I do better. History is so hard to overcome. You can be black and be a musician, that was never a thing, but being black and being president… It’s like, yo, this cat did that. And seeing how many people worked for him and helped him out and believed in him, is great.”

Keep an eye out for the forthcoming new album from Robert Glasper this Spring, which is possibly going to be titled Double Booked.