One would be hard-pressed to find two people in the jazz world with more polar-opposite views as to what jazz is and should be than Wynton Marsalis and Robert Glasper.  Marsalis is the figurehead of the traditionalist movement; his mission is to preserve the music of the past.  Glasper is the figurehead of the Hip-Hop/Jazz movement, and believes we must move on from the jazz of past decades.  

On Hip-Hop

Marsalis has little to no respect for Hip-Hop.  In fact, he often compares it to minstrelsy.  In a recent interview, this is what he had to say on the subject: 

“Hip-hop for me is a throwback to the minstrelsy. After the Civil War, white folks were offered minstrel shows that offered ‘real coons from the real plantation’, and to me that’s like rappers today, with their talk of keeping it real, giving themselves a minstrel name, boasting about how they can degrade their women.”

You can read the full interview here: Wynton Marsalis Interview

His disdain for Hip-Hop goes beyond its social and moral implications.  He simply does not think Hip-Hop is music.  He often talks about “high” music and “low” music; Hip-Hop is a very low form of music to him.  He speaks of the lack of skill of its musicians; they don’t play real instruments and do not know much about music.  To Wynton, traditional jazz music is a much higher art form.  He doesn’t think combining jazz with Hip-Hop or anything else is needed for the music to stay relevant.  Marsalis believes that to gain an audience for jazz, the public must be educated about it.  He compares jazz music to sports, posing the question that if we didn’t have commentators telling us what was happening in a game, would we be interested in it at all?  He has done a number of things to attempt to educate the public, such as the Essentially Ellington Jazz Competition.  In this competition, high school bands across the country come together to play the music of Duke Ellington, and are judged based on their interpretations.  The competition allows these young people to be steeped in Ellington’s music, therefore (hopefully) creating educated jazz fans for the future.  To find out more about Wynton, check out his website,  Pay special attention to the Education page to see exactly what he is doing to educate the American people on jazz.

Glasper, certainly a legitimate jazz pianist, uses Hip-Hop as the basis of his music.  He thinks it is important for jazz to stay relevant, and to him, the way to do that is to use influences from today’s music.  He argues that the jazz innovators of the past weren’t trying to replicate the music of decades before, so why should he?  To Glasper, the system of jazz education in the US is hurting young musicians’ creativity with its over-emphasis on learning old standards.  Glasper wants young musicians to write their own music based on what they like, not what they are told they should play by an institution.  He believes trying to learn the entire history of jazz is a detriment to the creativity these young people have inside of them.  He fears that jazz is becoming a museum piece, and soon enough it will die if people only associate jazz with the past.  Robert Glasper delves deep into the subject with this interview from, which I encourage you to check out in it’s entirety. 

Robert Glasper Interview