Bruce Hornsby on Spike Lee, Tupac and inspiring what’s next

Megan Holmes

While you may or may not be familiar with Bruce Hornsby, you’ve definitely heard his work weaved through the cultural landscape of the past few decades. From creating timeless music that’s been sampled again and again by hip hop greats to scoring films for the iconic director, Spike Lee, Hornsby is an icon himself — always exploring, pushing boundaries and inspiring future generations. Winning a Grammy for best new artist in 1987 is only the tip of the iceberg of his eclectic musical journey, which you can experience for yourself on March 4, when he performs with chamber-pop ensemble yMusic at the Kimmel Center.

“In spite of being slightly shackled by the printed page [yMusic plays arrangements from sheet music], locals can hopefully expect a loose, spontaneous concert that involves an attempt at deep musicianship, and some gorgeous Rob Moose arrangements of several of my songs,” Hornsby says.

Included in the lineup are selections from Hornsby’s latest album, “Absolute Zero,” which was initially inspired by 230 pieces of music he had written for Spike Lee films.

“My goal on this new record was to find a new way to compose songs based on some film score music I’ve been writing for the last 11 years,” Hornsby says. “There were several that felt special to me [and I] felt that they needed to be developed into songs.”

Bruce Hornsby has been described as “insatiable” in his musical journey.Sarah Walor 

Hornsby has been collaborating with Spike Lee since 1992, when Lee directed a music video for him.

“He would ask me every few years to write and perform a song for one of his films — “Clockers” in ‘95 and “Bamboozled” in ‘01,” Hornsby recalls. “A few years later he started asking me to score films for him, a way more involved and comprehensive assignment. So from 2008 until right now I’ve been writing film music, scores for him — a long, fruitful, very creative partnership.”

Bringing new life to preexisting creative work is nothing new to Hornsby, having had many of his songs sampled by other artists throughout the years, most notably his 1986 hit “The Way It Is,” which was sampled by Tupac Shakur for the song, “Changes.”

“A year after he was assassinated, I got a cassette in the mail from the Shakur Foundation, saying, ‘We found this song, it’s going to be the single on his Greatest Hits album coming out,” Hornsby recalls. “Of all the different hip-hop and rap versions of the song, and there have been many [notably E-40, Wyclef Jean, Snoop Dogg and Akon], ‘Changes’ by Tupac Shakur is my favorite. I liked the message, I like the groove, and I like the checks.”

And Hornsby continues to inspire new generations of artists, including Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, who appears on “Absolute Zero.”

“I kept getting these Google Alerts where he shouted me out in the press,” Hornsby says. “The work with Justin has been a dear gift to me, and it means a great deal. Upcoming is a collaboration with the great James Mercer of The Shins — one of which I’m extremely proud.”

Hornsby’s hit, “The Way It Is,” has been sampled by a number of hip hop artists, including Tupac Shakur.Kat Fisher

For aspiring artists out there, Hornsby offers some sage advice.

“Try to find your own voice, your own style that sets you apart from the rest. Be a tough self-critic. Emulate others to learn how to play, write, sing, whatever is your interest, but at a certain point one must try to trade imitation for innovation,” he says. “Then you will have a chance to arrive at a musical place that is unique to you, to create your own stylistic niche. That is the most satisfying and fulfilling place to be.”

If you go: An Evening with Bruce Hornsby and yMusic, Wednesday, March 4; 8 p.m., The Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St., kimmelcenter.org

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