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Stars Of Today: Esperanza Spalding

Stars Of Today: Esperanza Spalding

Stars of Today: Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding

I’d like to introduce you to Esperanza Spalding, a very gifted bassist,
vocalist, and composer. Born in 1984, she’s accomplished quite a bit despite her
relatively young age. Esperanza grew up in Portland, Oregon. When she was the age of
four, she saw the cellist Yo-Yo Ma on television and decided to be a musician then.
Esperanza went to the well-known Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she earned
a Bachelor of Music degree a year earlier than normal students in 2005. She was
appointed as a faculty member at Berklee the same year, which was a testament to her
remarkable abilities.
Esperanza set the music world on its ear when she won the Grammy Award for Best New
Artist in 2011. Not the “best new jazz artist,” but the best new artist overall. This was a
big surprise, and Esperanza is the first and only jazz artist to win the award. She was
selected ahead of the pop singer Justin Bieber. And this set off a lot of controversy,
especially from the many supporters of Bieber. Many people did not know who
Esperanza Spalding was before this.
Her work created a surge in recognition for jazz, and, of course, for her own music.
Esperanza’s music combines elements of classical, jazz, rock and world music. Much of it
features the vivid contrast between her high singing voice and the sound of her bass.
We’re going to listen to two short excerpts from the album that earned her the Best New
Artist Grammy. It was titled Chamber Music Society, recorded in 2010.
The song we’re listening to is titled “Winter Sun.” The ensemble for Chamber Music
Society featured three string players, along with piano, keyboards, drums, bass, and
vocals. An interesting combination of instruments from jazz and classical and rock music.

One of the things that’s amazing to me about Esperanza is how her voice can float very
flexibly in time and she can play the bass at the same time with a very strong groove. It’s
really an amazing ability. This particular composition was just a snapshot of the wide
pallet of her music, which has complex harmony and melody. Let’s hear some of her
acoustic bass improvisation next. There’s no doubt that she’s an excellent improviser. By
the way, she also plays electric bass. In this excerpt, listen for her playing the bass in the
upper register. There’s a nice contrast between her phrases, as some are longer groups of
fast notes, while others are short accented phrases.
Now we’ll listen to another song from Chamber Music Society. This one’s called “Little
Fly.” It’s the setting of a Walt Whitman poem. We can hear the strings very clearly in this
section that features bass, voice, and strings.
A beautiful violin and cello playing there, and it makes a great match with her voice.
Esperanza was also selected by President Obama to perform at the 2009 Nobel Peace
Prize concert in Oslo, Norway.
Esperanza’s latest album, Radio Music Society, recorded in 2012, contains a variety of
selections that include everything from big band sounds, to funk, to classical strings. It
has more vocals and less improvisation on that album than the earlier album Chamber
Music Society.
So I mentioned earlier, she’s accomplished a great deal at her young age, and many
believe she’s a hopeful indicator of the future of jazz.
Our “stars of today” segment has provided us a glimpse of some of the great jazz artists
of the early 21st century. The musicians we looked at are examples of the versatile artists
and composers of recent times.
Each combines the elements from the past that are most meaningful to them with their
own creativity to arrive at a unique voice. More voices will emerge as the art form
progresses. I believe that the future of jazz is in very good hands.
This brings us to the end of our survey of jazz. I hope that you have enjoyed the journey
as much as I’ve enjoyed bringing jazz to you. I’ll have some closing thoughts in our
upcoming final segment. See you then.


  • Esperanza Spalding is a bassist, vocalist and composer who won the Grammy award for Best New Artist across all genres of music in 2011
  • Spalding’s music combines elements of classical, jazz, rock, and world music; and features the vivid contrast between her singing voice and the sound of her bass
  • The album Chamber Music Society helped Spalding garner the Grammy award, and includes the selections “Winter Sun” and “Little Fly,” which are discussed in this video

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