: esperanza spalding

Esperanza Spalding, "Crayola", 2009.

The New Yorker
John Colapinto

PROFILE of musician Esperanza Spalding. Not long ago, Esperanza Spalding, the prodigiously gifted bassist, singer, and composer, performed at Yoshi’s, a sushi restaurant and jazz club in Oakland, California. Spalding, twenty-five years old, was playing bass with the pianist McCoy Tyner, who, as part of the John Coltrane Quartet in the early sixties, helped create some of history’s most influential jazz music. Also performing with them were Ravi Coltrane and Francisco Mela. Female instrumentalists have been a rarity in jazz. Spalding, a slender, light-skinned black woman with a natural Afro, produced bursts of booming fragmented notes that drew gasps from the crowd. After the concert, she said, the performance “kind of reaffirmed my understanding of the music... Idol worship doesn’t help this music in any way.” In 2008, Spalding released her major-label début, “Esperanza,” which she recorded as a twenty-three-year-old instructor at the Berklee College of Music, in Boston. While the music was indisputably jazz, it suggested an almost bewildering array of influences—fusion, funk, soul, R. & B., Brazilian samba and Cuban son, pop balladry, chanted vocalese—with lyrics sung in Spalding’s three languages, English, Portuguese, and Spanish. It was jazz for the iPod age, and it rose quickly to No. 3 on the Billboard jazz chart, and stayed on the chart for sixty-two weeks. The freshness and excitement of her approach has led to her being called the “new hope for jazz.” Certainly, she arrives on the scene after a long period of conservatism and stagnation. Mentions Wynton Marsalis and the Young Lions movement. Spalding is passionate about trying to push the music into the future, to bring in fresh influences and voices, to prevent jazz from becoming merely a “museum piece.” She was born in 1984 in Portland, Oregon, to a single mother who worked a number of jobs. Spalding was removed from public school in the middle of fifth grade and homeschooled before attending Northwest Academy, a private arts high school. By fifteen, she was the concertmaster of the Chamber Music Society of Oregon. Mentions Brian Rose and Thara Memory. Spalding moved to Austin, Texas, last fall, and the writer observed her working on a new record, “Chamber Music Society,” to be released this summer. Mentions Noise for Pretend. Spalding recorded her first album, “Junjo,” at the age of twenty and she was later signed to Heads Up; in late 2007, she began recording “Esperanza.” From the opening seconds of the album, it’s clear that it is the product of an omnivorous sensibility. Describes a recording session with Spalding and the jazz arranger Gil Goldstein at Bennett Studios, in New Jersey. At the end of January, Spalding played a show with her band at the Grand Opera House, in Wilmington, Delaware. Wynton Marsalis’s manager attended the show.