Jazz pianist Robert Glasper couldn’t care less about conventional musical boundaries. With a career ranging from R&B sideman to music director for hip hop icon Mos Def to leader of his own jazz trio, Glasper commands a multitude of styles. But he’s found his greatest success with the Robert Glasper Experiment, a free-ranging exploration of the intersections between jazz, R&B, and hip hop.

On 2012’s GRAMMY-winning album Black Radio, Glasper enlisted an array of musical guests—including Erykah Badu, yasiin bey (formerly Mos Def), and Me’Shell Ndegéocello— to signal a soulful, edgy new take on jazz. And the broadcast continues with his recently released, chart-topping follow-up, Black Radio 2, which features such musical accomplices as Norah Jones, Jill Scott, Brandy, Snoop Dogg, and Macy Gray.

“I like jazz, but I also like a whole lot of other stuff,” Glasper says. “Since when do you have to only like one kind of music? I always knew that I loved mixing genres and making things jazzy, or making jazzy stuff have more of a hip hop or R&B edge. When you hear as much different music as I did growing up, it just becomes one thing.”
For some artists, simply being onstage is a goal in itself. For others, like keyboardist David Appelbaum of Los Angeles-based alternative band The Mowgli’s, it’s a chance to help make the world a slightly better place.

“Most people on this planet don’t have the opportunity to perform in front of thousands of people who are wide-eyed and hoping to hear something positive,” Appelbaum says. “We’re all different people in the band, but our message is simply peace and love. We’re just trying to have fun, and put smiles on people’s faces, and create some positivity in a world that’s not always like that.”

The Mowgli’s infectious songs—like their hits “San Francisco” and “Say It, Just Say It”—feature gang vocals that invite participation and blur the lines between band and audience. The intent, David says, is to create an inclusive sound that doesn’t rely on a single star performer commanding the spotlight.
Jazz drumming, with its loose, evolving rhythms, can sometimes seem a world apart from the samples and beats of hip hop. But when Mark Colenburg sits behind the kit, it’s easy to forget such distinctions.

The St. Louis native doesn’t just excel at both styles—he cross-pollinates them, blending virtuosic jazz technique with a deconstructed cut-and-paste approach influenced by hip hop beat makers. His credits include sessions with leading jazz players (Kenny Garrett, George Coleman, Chico Freeman, Kurt Rosenwinkel), R&B vocalists (Macy Gray, Lizz Wright, Lalah Hathaway), and hip hop’s innovators (Q-Tip, Common, Mos Def). And all those worlds collide when Colenberg gigs with the Robert Glasper Experiment, a jazz/R&B/hip hop fusion group currently riding high on their hit Black Radio 2 album.
Listening to singer/songwriter Marc Cohn’s music is easy: You’re clearly in the hands of a master storyteller. From his self-titled, GRAMMY-winning 1991 debut—which featured the hit “Walking in Memphis”—to 2010’s Listening Booth: 1970, a collection of covers ranging from Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” to the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie,” Cohn’s distinctive voice and nuanced delivery capture and hold your attention until the last note fades away.

But for the teller of the tales, the process is a little more demanding.

“I feel like I’m constantly in the process of trying to start a new record,” Cohn says. “It really involves a lot of patience and absorption. Often I’m just waiting for the right frame to put a certain picture in. And I never know how or when that’s going to happen.”
It’s been just 13 years since Josh Groban catapulted into fame with his self-titled debut album, but he’s already achieved a lifetime’s worth of success. With more than 25 million records sold to date, the Los Angeles native quickly became one of the world’s best-loved vocalists, merging pop, rock, and classical styles into his own inimitable sound. Josh recently spoke to us at the end of a yearlong tour supporting his sixth studio album, 2013’s All That Echoes, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200. Even after performing more than 60 shows around the globe, the 32-year-old Groban was as gracious as ever— and looking forward to a new year of musical adventures.

You did so many shows this year, including a series of In the Round shows.

Yes—doing those In the Round shows was really exciting, and it was a great way to end the tour. It’s not an easy thing to do, and you need to have a very special connection with your audience. I feel like that’s something I’ve really developed with my fans over the past few years, as my shows have become a little bit looser, with a little bit more audience involvement. It provided a very spontaneous, creative atmosphere for myself and my band. Because suddenly they aren’t behind me anymore—they’re just as front-and-center as I am!
As singer/songwriter Matt Nathanson’s touring bassist for the past three years, Shiben Bhattacharya has performed in renowned venues across the country, appeared on major televised concerts and talk shows, and opened for stadium-sized artists like Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5. But he still remembers his earliest forays into music.

“I grew up in a very sports-oriented town in Texas,” he says, “and I thought if I went out for all the sports teams the girls would talk to me. But I wasn’t any good. Then I found my mom’s old Yamaha classical guitar in the closet and learned a few songs. And people responded a lot more to that. So I was like, ‘OK, this is much easier!’”

Bhattacharya began guitar lessons and started a high-school band. After a stint in art school, he moved to Austin and immersed himself in music. “I really dove into playing bass, mainly hip hop and salsa,” he says. “A friend and I ran this regular Wednesday night gig, kind of a Roots and Black Eyed Peas vibe. I met all these great rappers that would come through, and I ended up playing in a big salsa orchestra.”
Bassist Nathan East is one of the most acclaimed sidemen of all time. He’s accompanied Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Beyoncé, Elton John, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Dolly Parton, Diana Ross, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Peter Gabriel, Frank Sinatra, Sting, Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, B.B. King, and many other leading lights of jazz, rock, pop, and R&B. He’s also a member of Fourplay, whose albums have topped the jazz charts for decades.

But only now, after 35 years of hit-making, has the Philly-born, L.A.-based bassist recorded an album under his own name. Nathan East is co-produced by Nathan and Chris Gero, founder of Yamaha Entertainment Group, the label behind the release. The partnership makes sense, given that East has been a Yamaha artist for nearly his entire career.

We caught up with Nathan in Nashville, where he was putting the finishing touches on the project, which combines instrumental tracks with vocal numbers featuring such guests as Stevie Wonder, Sarah Bareilles, and Michael McDonald.
For 30 plus years, bassist Bobby Dall has subsisted on a steady diet of Poison—but he’s doing just fine.

In fact, Poison is positively thriving. The pop-metal quartet still fills major venues worldwide. Often times sharing the stage with other great acts, including, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Kiss & Aerosmith. And Poison’s lineup is the same as when they rocked the world with such smash albums as “Look What the Cat Dragged In”, “Open Up and Say…Ahh!” and “Flesh & Blood”.

Dall, drummer Rikki Rocket, singer Bret Michaels, and guitarist Matthew Smith founded the band, initially called Paris, in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, while still in their teens. “We sold everything we owned, pooled our money, and packed up the ambulance we used as our equipment van,” recalls Dall. “It was New York or Los Angeles. New York was too easy to run home from. Los Angeles was a larger commitment, and the bands we looked up to were there— Quiet Riot, RATT, Mötley Crüe.”
Jason “Slim” Gambill never thought he’d play in a country band, let alone an incredibly successful one like Lady Antebellum. “Never in a million years did I imagine this,” says the Omaha-born, Nashville-based picker. “I never saw myself being a sideman, especially in country. But this isn’t a traditional sideman gig, because all the people in the band are really close friends. A couple of members have been friends since junior high school. Our drummer is [vocalist] Hillary Scott’s husband. It’s not like one of those situations where some guys pass an audition and then get locked into a tour bus together for a couple of years. The members of Lady Antebellum have been in each others’ weddings!”

Before moving to Nashville in 2007, Slim lived in L.A. for years. (“Everyone calls me that,” he says. “Even people who insist they’re going to call me Jason are calling me Slim after 20 minutes.”)

“My forte has always been classic rock, soul, and R&B,” he explains. “I was always in rock-and-roll bands, and since I wasn’t around country artists, this direction never occurred to me.”
Some of rock and roll’s most beloved piano parts have flowed from the fingers of Chuck Leavell.

After cutting his teeth as a teen in the legendary Muscle Shoals, Alabama, studio scene, Leavell helped revive the Allman Brothers band after the death of guitarist Duane Allman, and he contributed to some of the band’s most enduring tracks. He displayed his chops and stylistic range as leader of the rock-fusion band Sea Level. He’s worked with Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Aretha Franklin, John Mayer, and other artists, and has recorded several fine solo albums (including the recent Back to the Woods, a tribute to the pioneers of blues piano).

And for 30, years he’s been the keyboardist for the Rolling Stones.