Does music have the power to save? The 2011 Grammy winner for Best New Artist will demonstrate the power of song and how it can influence our lives.
With her ample talent and beauty, singer, bassist, and composer Esperanza Spalding instantly found herself ranked among the darlings of jazz despite — or perhaps because of — her unusual background. At 15 she left high school and, armed with a GED, entered Portland State University to study music. By age 20, she was one of the youngest faculty members in the history of the Berklee College of Music. At 26, she captured the world’s attention when she was awarded the 2011 Grammy for Best New Artist, the first time the award had gone to a jazz musician in 35 years. After wowing us as a member of Joe Lovano’s “Us Five” Quintet in 2008, she returns with her new album, Radio Music Society, winner of 2012 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album, which explores song forms and melodies that are formatted as “pop” songs. “Whether exploding into vocalese or making her bass solo sound like a horn, she’s a spark plug who dances as she grooves through a funked-up and rocked-out repertoire.” (Billboard)
Program Book [PDF]
Esperanza Spalding website
After watching Yo-Yo Ma perform on an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a four-year-old, Esperanza Spalding knew she wanted to do something musical. “It was definitely the thing that hipped me to the whole idea of music as a creative pursuit.” She began to teach herself the violin and soon joined the Chamber Music Society of Portland. By the time she was a teenager, she had discovered the bass and the non-classical avenues available to her. At 15, Spalding left high school for good. Armed with her GED and aided by a generous scholarship, she enrolled in the music program at Portland State University. “I was definitely the youngest bass player in the program,” she says. “I was 16, and I had been playing the bass for about a year and a half. Most of the cats in the program had already had at least eight years of training under their belts, and I was trying to play in these orchestras and do these Bach cello suites. It wasn’t really flying through the material, but if nothing else, my teachers were saying, ‘Okay, she does have talent.’”
Berklee College of Music was the place where the pieces all came together and doors started opening. After a move to the opposite coast and three years of accelerated study, she not only earned a B.M., but also signed on as an instructor in 2005 at the age of 20 – an appointment that has made her one of the youngest faculty members in the history of the college.
In addition to studying and teaching at Berklee, Spalding also had a chance to perform with many jazz icons, including pianist Michel Camilo, singer Patti Austin, guitarist Adam Rogers, and saxophonists Donald Harrison and Joe Lovano.
Spalding has gone through several phases, which have been well documented during her brief recording career. Her journey as a solo artist began with the 2006 release of Junjo, on the Spanish label Ayva Music. She presented the many different sides of her writing on Esperanza, her 2008 international debut recording, which quickly topped Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart and became the year’s best selling album worldwide by a new jazz artist. Numerous awards and appearances followed, including an invitation by President Barack Obama to appear at both the White House and the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony, and an appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman” that found Letterman and bandleader Paul Shaffer proclaiming the young musician the “coolest” guest in the three-decade history of the program.
“The objective of Esperanza was to show many sides of my musical personality,” Spalding explains; “but I also imagined that my next records would be built around a more concrete project-concept.” What followed, Chamber Music Society from 2010 and her newly released Radio Music Society, made it clear that her initial triumphs were just the beginning.
Returning to her ever-expanding book of musical sketches, Spalding began with Chamber Music Society, the 2010 release on which the bassist was joined by longtime colleagues Leo Genovese (keyboards) and Terri Lyne Carrington (drums), plus percussionist Quintino Cinalli, vocalists (including the legendary Milton Nascimento) and a string trio (arranged by Gil Goldstein and Spalding).
Spalding’s latest release, Radio Music Society, is another unprecedented chapter in the Esperanza Spalding story, building on her past triumphs and achieving new heights that she will no doubt exceed in the future. “The main way in which the Grammy has changed my life is that I keep getting asked how the Grammy has changed my life,” she says.
This performance is Spalding’s second under UMS auspices. She made her UMS debut with Joe Lovano’s “Us Five” Quintet in 2008.