Esperanza Spalding: Drawn to Greatness

Esperanza Spalding’s eyes sparkle when she says she’s “drawn to greatness” in other musicians, greatness meaning the charisma of boldness in the interval between solid tradition and scary experimentalism. Listeners of all sorts can see and hear Esperanza at thirty-four, now coming into her own greatness. She’s a songwriter and singer who also dances, a go-to jazz bass master veering out of jazz, with a voice that embraces three languages and musics (plural) beyond category. There’s laughter and political edge in her conversation. She’s a self-made intellectual who says people should read more than they do, and should think more than they read.

My conversation here with Esperanza is the sort of thing we dream about: You’re on an airplane, just buckled in, and you turn and realize – wow, I’ll be sitting all the way to Chicago with the Mona Lisa, or somebody, and you say: Can we talk? And Esperanza Spalding does talk! With effervescence, about jazz and not-jazz, about sounds that woke her up, from Rimsky-Korsakov and Wayne Shorter and the poems of William Blake; about the Harvard students she’s teaching, the music therapy she’s studying, the love that holds the music together, about mothers who let artistic children happen, not least by standing back. We’re getting to know Esperanza. Fast, riffing, improvising, trying to keep up, dropping names of other prodigies in their early 30s, her age: Marcus Gilmore, the jazz drummer and Cory Henry, the Gospel keyboardist… We met Esperanza (of four Grammy awards so far) not on an airplane but in the lobby of the Berklee Performance Center in Boston on the afternoon of an evening show, and the gab took over, like a song.

Music from the show

“12 Little Spells” by Esperanza Spalding, from the album 12 Little Spells (Concord 2018)
“Herbie’s Hand’s Cocked,” Spring Quartet, The Spring Quartet – Jazzwoche Burghausen 2014 (YouTube)*
“To Tide Us Over (mouth,)” Esperanza Spalding, 12 Little Spells (Concord 2018)
“Little Fly,” Esperanza Spalding, Chamber Music Society (Heads Up/Telarc 2010)
“All Limbs Are,” Esperanza Spalding, 12 Little Spells (Concord 2018)
“Rest In Pleasure,” Esperanza Spalding, Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord 2016)
“The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship,” Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra, Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade Op.35 (Onyx Classics 2014)
“I Got Rhythm,” Don Byas and “Slam” Stewart, live at Town Hall NYC 1945 (Spotify)
“Change Of The Guard,” Kamasi Washington, The Epic (Brainfeeder 2015)
“5 Star,” Lil Wayne ft. Nicki Minaj, Dedication 6 (mixtape 2018)
“What A Friend,” Esperanza Spalding, Chamber Music Society (Heads Up/Telarc 2010)
“Dancing The Animal (mind,)” Esperanza Spalding, 12 Little Spells (Concord 2018)
“Black Gold,” Esperanza Spalding, Radio Music Society (Heads Up/Concord 2012)
“Farewell Dolly,” Esperanza Spalding, Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord 2016)
“Funk The Fear,” Esperanza Spalding, Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord 2016)
“You Have To Dance (feet,)” Esperanza Spalding, 12 Little Spells (Concord 2018)
“Starry Night – Live In Europe/2011,” Wayne Shorter, Without A Net (Blue Note/EMI 2013)
“The Girl From Ipanema,” Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto (Verve 1964)
“Ponte De Areia,” Esperanza Spalding, Esperanza (Heads Up/Universal 2008)
“If That’s True,” Esperanza Spalding, Esperanza (Heads Up/Universal 2008)
*not available on Spotify
Guest List
Esperanza Spalding
Bassist, Singer and Composer

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