Jazz lessons on life

St. Louis Promise Zone students enjoy a private mini-concert and conversation with three-time Grammy award-winning jazz artist 

By Charlotte Beard

On Dec. 14, more than 200 St. Louis Promise Zone students enjoyed a private lunch, mini-concert and conversation with three-time Grammy award-winning jazz artist Robert Glasper at Jazz St. Louis on Washington Avenue. The NAACP – St. Louis County Branch, Emerson, and the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership are responsible for helping make the event possible. 

“We know that arts are important to the overall academic success and career pathway planning for young people,” said Erica Henderson Executive Director of the St. Louis Promise Zone. “This event is part of our youth engagement strategy to increase arts and literacy access throughout the zone.”

The St. Louis Promise Zone comprises school districts in the areas of: Pagedale, Pine Lawn, Jennings, Normandy, Ferguson, Berkeley and Hazelwood.

Glasper, a native of Houston, Texas, shared with students the extensiveness of his tours which are not limited to Asia and Europe, and the role that many former St. Louisans, who are now musicians or who have become his manager, now have in what he does. 

“There is a lot of great music and great musicians that come from this area in case you all didn’t know,” he said.

The pianist, who has worked with a variety of artists such as Carly Simon, was able to musically relate to the youth by focusing on some of his work that intersects with today’s generation of music. 

“Just because you play jazz music doesn’t mean you can’t play other styles of music,” shared Glasper.

One student asked what it was like to work with rapper Kendrick Lamar, 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner. 

“He has a record called ‘To Pimp a Butterfly,’” stated Glasper. “I worked on that record; I’m on nine songs on that record. It was amazing working with Kendrick. He’s a really cool, down-to-earth person. I like working with people who are good people. Sometimes you can be really good at something and not a good person. And then nobody wants to work with you because you’re not a good person. So, if you can be a good person and be really good at something that’s the best combination you can ever have.”

One of the other questions asked by a student was in reference to classes in which he enrolled in school to get to where he is today. 

“I went to a performing arts high school,” stated Glasper, “like a magnet high school which focuses on dance, visual art, music, singing… I actually went to school with Beyonce; when I was a senior in high school Beyonce was a freshman.”

He went on to share that LeToya Luckett, one of the original Destiny’s Child members, is his cousin. 

“I took a lot of theory courses – music theory classes – and jazz band classes. School had a big hand in what I am doing for sure,” he said.

Glasper and members of his music trio also shared various disciplines and techniques with the students not limited to how to practice music and what it means to improvise in music.

Students also had the opportunity to experience the talent of a local visual artist. Cbabi (pronounced Kuh-bob-bi) Bayoc is the South St. Louis artist responsible for the artwork on the T-shirts students received and presented to Glasper to commemorate the event. Bayoc became involved in the event when Henderson asked if he would be interested in doing a T-shirt design for the event.

“I wanted to do something fun for the kids and especially for those who might for the first time be introduced to who (Glasper) was,” Bayoc said of the design. “When I looked at some videos it seemed a lot of the drummers used the same cymbal that had holes in it. I think the percussion on his songs really play a key role in his music, so I put the cymbal around his neck. I also have his hand above his head to think of him as a composer; he is holding a (baton). I have the hand playing the piano and it has multiple fingers just to play on the fact that one – it’s a painting and two – just the sound…what he can do with his hands…seems like his hands are unreal. So, he has more fingers than normal. Then I have part of a bass drum just to give the guy jazz. You have a high-rise to give a feel of him (being) from the city like most of the kids (who would) see him.”

Bayoc went on to share that the design against the green in the background was an element he took from a design shown in the YouTube music video of Robert Glasper with Erykah Badu for the song “Maiysha (So Long)” to add a bit of funk.

“I’m fortunate to be doing what I am doing,” stated Bayoc. “I keep getting cool opportunities like this to work with some cool people and hopefully inspire some youth.”

St. Louis Promise Zone’s mission is to catalyze a more equitable and thriving region through collaboration, alignment, and intentional, strategic investment in St. Louis’s disinvested communities. The Promise Zone’s vision is to create strong, sustainable, and healthy mixed-income communities where all residents have access to equal opportunity.

CUTLINE: Photos by Charlotte Beard 

Cover-Jazz1 More than 200 St. Louis Promise Zone students enjoyed a private lunch, mini-concert and conversation with three-time Grammy award-winning jazz artist Robert Glasper at Jazz St. Louis on Washington Avenue.

Cover-Jazz2 (From left) Robert Glasper, Cbabi Bayoc and Erica Henderson stand with a painting by Bayoc at a St. Louis Promise Zone, mini-concert at Jazz St. Louis on Washington Avenue.