Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding, a bassist, singer, and composer, is Spanish for “esperanza”, which means “hope”. The prodigy-turned-pro is a prodigy with amazing instrumental chops, a multilingual voice that is part angel, part siren and natural beauty that borders the hypnotic. She might be the hope for jazz and instrumental music’s future. Spalding was raised in Portland, Oregon in what she describes as “the other side” of the tracks. She was born in a multilingual family and neighborhood. She grew up in an economically difficult home with only one parent. Her mother was her role model, and she taught her early lessons about perseverance. Spalding was not a strong student, but she did have a solid role model. Spalding was blessed with an intuitive learning style that sometimes put her against the traditional educational system. She was also confined by a long-term illness as a child and was home-schooled for most of her elementary school years. She never got used to learning in a traditional school setting. She recalls that it was difficult for her to adapt to a school environment where she was expected to sit in one room and eat everything being served to me. “Once my homeschooling experience was over, and I was able to learn the basics of self-teaching, it was difficult for me to fit back in the traditional environment.” Spalding discovered music was the only pursuit that made sense from an early age. After watching Yo Yo Ma, a classical cellist, perform on an episode Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood at age 4, the road map became very clear. She says, “That was when it hit me that I wanted to be a musician.” It was the moment that opened my eyes to music as a creative pursuit. Within one year she had learned enough to play the violin and was able to get a place in The Chamber Music Society of Oregon. This was a community orchestra open to all musicians, including children. After a ten-year stay, she was promoted to the position of concertmaster at age 15. She had discovered the bass and all the other avenues the instrument offered. For this teenager, classical music was no longer enough. Soon, she was playing blues and funk on the local club circuit, as well as hip-hop. The funny thing is that I was the songwriter but had never experienced love. As the lyricist and lead singer, I created songs about toys, red wagons and other childish interests. Spalding, 16, left high school at 16 without knowing what she was singing about. With her GED and the help of a generous scholarship, Spalding enrolled at Portland State University’s music program. She says, “I was the youngest bass player in that program.” “I was 16 years old, and had been playing bass for approximately a year and half. The majority of the program’s cats had eight years of training. I was trying to be a part of these orchestras and perform these Bach cello suites. Although it wasn’t flying, my teachers said that she did have the talent. Berklee College of Music was where all the pieces came together and doors began to open. After three years of intensive study on the opposite coast, she earned a B.M. and was then appointed as an instructor at Berklee College of Music in 2005, which is the youngest ever faculty appointment in college history. In 2005, she was awarded the Boston Jazz Society scholarship for exceptional musicianship. The Berklee years provided many networking opportunities, not only with the music, but also with other notable musicians, such as pianist Michel Camilo and vibraphonist Dave Samuels. She recalls that it was scary working with Joe, but he is a very generous person. Although I wasn’t sure if I was up for the gig, he believed in me. It was an incredible learning experience.” Spalding began her solo career with Esperanza in May 2008. Esperanza was her debut recording for Heads Up International. This division of Concord Music Group went on to be the most successful album by a new jazz artist worldwide in 2008. This highly-acclaimed album was Spalding’s first chance to show the world her incredible talents as a composer, vocalist, and instrumentalist. The New York Times raved that Esperanza had “a lot”: Esperanza is an accomplished jazz improviser, funk singer, Brazilian vernacular rhythm master, and can sing in English, Portuguese, and Spanish. Its center is a female singer, bassist and bandleader, one of whose talents is unquestionable.” Esperanza rose quickly to the top Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz charts, where it remained for more than 70 weeks. Spalding appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel Live. She also featured on the CBS Saturday Early Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, CBS Saturday Evening Show, the Tavis Smiley Show as well as Austin City Limits. National Public Radio was also booked. Two appearances at the White House were also highlights, as was a Banana Republic commercial, the Jazz Journalists Association’s 2009 Jazz Award For Up and Coming Artist of the year, the 2009 JazzWeek Award Record of the Year and many high-profile tour dates including the Newport Jazz Festival and Central Park SummerStage in New York. The Nobel Prize Ceremony in Oslo (Norway), where the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded, and the Nobel Peace Prize Concert were the highlights of 2009. Esperanza, in addition to touring with her own band and performing with McCoy Tyner, has also been on the road with Joe Lovano. Spalding was the focus of an in-depth profile by The New Yorker in early 2010. She was also featured in the May 2010 anniversary issue of O, The Oprah Magazine’s “Women on the Rise”, a fashion spread featuring portraits of 10 women making a difference in different careers. The Jazz Journalists Association nominated her for the Jazz Award for Up and coming Artist of the Year in 2010. Spalding’s August 2010 release Chamber Music Society marks a great start for the gifted young artist. Spalding’s classical training has inspired her to create a modern chamber music ensemble that blends the spontaneity of improvisation and the sweetness of string trio arrangements. Spalding’s new sound combines the best of jazz, folk, and world music to create a unique sound that reflects the timeless foundations of classical chamber music. Chamber Music Society was co-produced by Gil Goldstein and Esperanza (with string arrangements provided both by both), and Esperanza is joined by a variety of musicians, including pianist Leo Genovese and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. Also, guitarist Ricardo Vogt and vocalists Gretchen Parlato, and Milton Nascimento. The string trio includes Entcho Todorov (violinist), Lois Martin (violist) and David Eggar (cellist). Esperanza presented the album on a variety of tours throughout the USA and Europe. She also traveled to Japan to perform at the Blue Note club in Tokyo, and down to Cape Town Jazz Festival in South Africa. Jay Leno and David Letterman have also supported the album with appearances on American late-night chat shows. Esperanza was awarded the Grammy for Best New Artist on February 13th 2011. Esperanza later stated that she was both surprised and grateful for the award. It was a special day for Esperanza, who cohosted the pretelecast with Bobby McFerrin earlier and performed with the Grammy Jazz Ensemble. Esperanza has been busy touring Europe and North America this spring and summer, and she is currently working on Radio Music Society, her new album. This new recording which she herself describes as funkier and more update than its predecessor, is planned to be released in the Spring 2012. from

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