Robert Glasper, photo by Don Q. Hannah
This weekend marks the New York and Los Angeles release of Miles Ahead, a new motion picture about jazz trumpet titan Miles Davis, directed and co-written by and starring actor Don Cheadle as Miles enduring a 24-hour whirlwind encounter with a journalist played by Ewan McGregor. The film notably toys with the facts a little, concentrating on Miles the quick-tongued, vibrant character as much as Miles the historical figure. Miles Ahead is scored by noted Texas jazz pianist Robert Glasper, who recently teamed up with Davis’ label and estate for another exciting project. For the forthcoming Everything’s Beautiful, Glasper was given full reign to sample, rework, and reinterpret anything in the Sony Miles Davis catalog that he pleased. He came away with a warm, life-affirming album of eleven revamped Miles classics assisted by a cast of collaborators including Bilal, Erykah Badu, John Scofield, Stevie Wonder, and more. Today we present one of Everything’s Beautiful’s finest, “Violets,” a collaboration with North Carolina hip-hop veterans Phonte of the hip-hop soul outfit the Foreign Exchange and producer 9th Wonder.
The song was birthed when Glasper sent a swatch of “Blue in Green” from Davis’ landmark 1959 album Kind of Blue off to 9th to work his sampling magic. What came back was a reflective cut with thoughtful rhymes from Glasper and 9th Wonder collaborator Phonte Coleman and a breezy chorus from singer Bianca Rodriguez. “I wanted it to be something like ‘13th Floor (Growing Old)’ Outkast,” Phonte said of his introspective verses. “To see the credit: ‘Violets, written by Phonte Coleman and Miles Davis…’ That was a credit I’d never imagine I would see in my life. It really was a touch myself, ‘Am I still here?’ moment.” Stream “Violets” below, and keep reading for a quick chat with Robert Glasper about the creation of both song and album and the joy of creeping through the Sony Miles Davis vaults. Pre-order Everything’s Beautiful, out May 27, and the Miles Ahead soundtrack, which hits alongside the movie on April 1, on iTunes here and here.
NOISEY: How did Everything’s Beautiful come together? Was it an extension of work you did piecing together the Miles Ahead soundtrack?
Robert Glasper: About ten years ago they did a remix album for Miles. And so for the ten year anniversary of that, they asked me to do a remix album. It just so happened that it was around the same time as the movie.
What was the process for choosing the pieces that got reworked?
Mostly I tried to let the artists choose what song they wanted and from what album. Because most of the artists on this record are actually real lovers of Miles Davis, and they all have their own story to tell about Miles. So my main thing was to allow everyone to pick their own theme that they wanted to do or pick what sample they wanted to use. Some people redid songs, and sometimes I let people write new songs over instrumentals that I’d give them.
Were there any songs you workshopped that didn't make the cut?
Oh yeah. There were so many things. Some of these tracks were songs that are Miles Davis tunes, and we kind of just reworked them. But some of it, they let me in the vault at Sony and they allowed me to take multitracks from different Miles albums, and pieces here and there. And so with that, they allowed me to make new compositions. So yeah, there were new things that didn’t make it. I’d still be in there right now in the lab trying to make some stuff up.
How did you end up linking up with Phonte and 9th Wonder for “Violets”?
Phonte and 9th Wonder, those are my brothers. I worked with them on another project that I did—my remix project that I did for my album Black Radio. And so Phonte is super creative and he’s a Miles Davis lover. He sings and he raps, and he’s just one of my favorite cats to work with. So I knew for a fact that I wanted somebody to use the piano from “Blue and Green.” And I thought of 9th Wonder because he’s the best when it comes to chopping up anything. So I just hit him up. You know, “I’m doing this Miles Davis project. I have this piano sample I want you to use.” And I knew that Phonte and 9th Wonder could do it justice.