If “esperanza” is the Spanish word for hope, then bassist, vocalist and composer Esperanza Spalding
could not have been given a more fitting name at birth. Blessed with uncanny instrumental chops, a multi-lingual voice that is part angel and part siren, and a natural beauty that borders on the hypnotic, the prodigy-turned-pro might well be the hope for the future of jazz and instrumental music.
The one pursuit that made sense to Spalding from a very early age was music. At age four, after watching classical cellist Yo Yo Ma perform on an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
, the roadmap was suddenly very clear. “That was when I realized that I wanted to do something musical,” she says. “It was definitely the thing that hipped me to the whole idea of music as a creative pursuit.”
Within a year, she had essentially taught herself to play the violin well enough to land a spot in The Chamber Music Society of Oregon, a community orchestra that was open to both children and adult musicians. She stayed with the group for ten years, and by age 15, she had been elevated to a concertmaster position.
But by then, she had also discovered the bass, and all of the non-classical avenues that the instrument could open for her. Suddenly, playing classical music in a community orchestra wasn’t enough for this young teenager anymore. Before long she was playing blues, funk, hip-hop and a variety of other styles on the local club circuit. “The funny thing was, I was the songwriter, but I had never experienced love before. Being the lyricist and the lead singer, I was making up songs about red wagons, toys and other childish interests. No one knew what I was singing about, but they liked the sound of it and they just ate it up.”
At 16, 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, 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 the youngest faculty member in the history of the college. She was the 2005 recipient of the prestigious Boston Jazz Society scholarship for outstanding musicianship.
Spalding’s journey as a solo artist began with the May 2008 release of Esperanza
, her debut recording, which went on to become the best-selling album by a new jazz artist internationally in 2008. The highly acclaimed release was the first opportunity for a worldwide audience to witness her mesmerizing talents as an instrumentalist, vocalist and composer. The New York Times
has got a lot: accomplished jazz improvisation, funk, scat singing, Brazilian vernacular rhythm and vocals in English, Portuguese and Spanish. At its center is a female bassist, singer and bandleader, one whose talent is beyond question.”
marked a brilliant beginning for this gifted young artist, then Spalding’s August 2010 release, Chamber Music Society
, sets her on an upward trajectory to prominence. Inspired by the classical training of her younger years, Spalding has created a modern chamber music group that combines the spontaneity and intrigue of improvisation with sweet and angular string trio arrangements. The result is a sound that weaves the innovative elements of jazz, folk and world music into the enduring foundations of classical chamber music traditions.
On Februrary 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, Esperanza received one of the music industry’s most prestigious prizes, the Grammy® for Best New Artist
. As Esperanza later said, she was surprised and also grateful to receive this award. It had been a very special day, as earlier on Esperanza has cohosted the pre-telecast with Bobby McFerrin and also performed with the Grammy Jazz Ensemble.
Esperanza’s most recent album, Radio Music Society
, was released in March 2012. She describes this new recording as funkier and more up-to-date than its predecessor. NPR
says, “It's cheery and earnest and the slightest bit cheesy in an endearing way. And it's hard to begrudge that sort of happiness.” Hear Esperanza play tracks from this new project during her September 28 performance at the Holland
For tickets to Esperanza Spalding September 28 at the Holland, call Ticket Omaha at 402.345.0606 or visit TicketOmaha.com
. Ticket Omaha is the official retailer for performances at the Orpheum Theater and the Holland Performing Arts Center. Tickets purchased from other retailers may not be valid.