ACE OF BASS

Esper­anza Spald­ing may just be the hottest thing in jazz right now, writes An­dra Jack­son

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile -

As the glit­terati at the 53rd Grammy Awards in Los An­ge­les in 2011 sat ready to ap­plaud the pro­nounce­ment of the best new artist, there was an air of an­tic­i­pa­tion. After all, the con­tenders in­cluded Cana­dian teenager and ris­ing pop star Justin Bieber, whose first stu­dio al­bum, My World, had gone triple plat­inum in the US. He was favoured to win. An­other strong con­tender was fel­low Cana­dian singer and rap­per Drake, whose first stu­dio al­bum, Thank Me Later, de­buted at No 1 in the US Bill­board top 200 charts that year. Other nom­i­nees were Florence and the Ma­chine, Mum­ford and Sons and Esper­anza Spald­ing, a 26-year-old jazz bassist, singer and com­poser.

Spald­ing had been hailed as one of the promis­ing new tal­ents on the jazz front. Her cred­its in­cluded a 2006 al­bum re­lease, Junjo, and tours with well-re­garded jazz artists such as sax­o­phon­ist Joe Lo­vano, gui­tarist Pat Metheny and R&B jazz singer Patti Austin. Then there was that small mat­ter of having US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama per­son­ally choose her to per­form at the No­bel Peace Prize con­cert in Oslo when he was named the 2009 lau­re­ate. A jazz mu­si­cian had never won the best new artist Grammy, and the pun­dits rated Spald­ing an out­side chance.

The mu­si­cian re­counts how, as her name was read out, “one big hush fell over the theatre”. The si­lence was bro­ken when one of five friends who had ac­com­pa­nied her to the gala event let out a re­sound­ing whoop. But back­stage after the pre­sen­ta­tion the fo­cus was else­where. The scene that awaited her was one that “en­cap­su­lates the re­al­ity of the com­mer­cial world”, she says.

“Even though I won the Grammy, Justin Bieber was in front of me having all the pic­tures taken on the red car­pet, which is usu­ally where the Grammy win­ners take pic­tures with the Grammy,” she says, the in­dig­na­tion still present in her voice. “So it didn’t f..king mat­ter in his world. You know what I mean, like, I won the Grammy but all ev­ery­body cared about was Justin Bieber.”

Did he con­grat­u­late her? “Of course,” Spald­ing re­counts. “He was fine, he didn’t seem at all per­turbed. Ev­ery­one in his camp knew he was go­ing to be fine whether or not he won that Grammy. It was like it was no big deal for him.”

For spite­ful Bieber fans, it was a big deal. They van­dalised Spald­ing’s Wikipedia page and sent her death threats. One wrote: “Justin Bieber de­served it, go die in a hole and who the heck are you any­way?”

If that ex­pe­ri­ence af­fected Spald­ing, she doesn’t show it. The singer, now 31, who has since picked up an­other three Gram­mys and toured with Prince, is speak­ing to Re­view be­fore her first Aus­tralian per­for­mances next month at the Mel­bourne In­ter­na­tional Jazz Fes­ti­val and Syd­ney Opera House.

Speak­ing from San Fran­cisco, where she is res­i­dent creative direc­tor at the SF Jazz Cen­tre, Spald­ing ad­mits that first Grammy win was a boon to her ca­reer. “Peo­ple pay at­ten­tion when you win a Grammy like that,’’ she says. The singer went on to scoop up the 2013 Grammy awards for the best jazz vo­cal al­bum for Ra­dio Mu­sic So­ci­ety and best in­stru­men­tal ar­range­ment ac­com­pa­ny­ing vo­cal­ist award for the track City of Roses.

She took out that award again the fol­low­ing year for the track Swing Low. The list of big­name mu­si­cians she has played with led to her ap­pear­ing in two films, Spike Lee’s Michael Jack­son’s Jour­ney from Mo­town to Off the Wall and Miles Ahead, di­rected by and star­ring Don Chea­dle.

Spald­ing, who plays acous­tic and fret­less elec­tric bass, swapped from play­ing the vi­o­lin to the bass at high school. “I knew (the bass) ex­isted but I had never touched one and then one day in the mu­sic room I picked it up and it was just like…’’ She hes­i­tates. “It sounds ridicu­lous be­cause it prob­a­bly doesn’t hap­pen, but if love at first sight hap­pens the way it should hap­pen then that is the love of your life for the rest of your life. That is what hap­pened. I just couldn’t be­lieve the feel in my body. It felt so good, just the vi­bra­tion of it, the tone of it, the way the strings moved, ev­ery­thing about it. I just loved it and I still feel that way.”

When pur­su­ing new ar­eas of her prac­tice, the mu­si­cian is of­ten re­minded of that ini­tial ex­pe­ri­ence. “I am in love with the sound and I love what it does in the band. It was my gate­way to im­pro­vised mu­sic.’’ It gave her a taste for play­ing jazz and play­ing walk­ing bass lines, she says. Play­ing the bass in­flu­ences her ap­proach to singing, she ob­serves. “When I am solo­ing singing, I should re­ally do melodic shifts be­cause, with my voice, it is easy to do that. But I do tend to build up from the roots and re­ally out­line the har­mony and out­line the sound like what I do as a bass player.’’

Raised in Portland, Ore­gon, Spald­ing was a mu­si­cal prodigy. She taught her­self the vi­o­lin and, from the age of five, per­formed with the Cham­ber Mu­sic So­ci­ety of Ore­gon. By the time she left at 15, she was its con­cert­mas­ter. At high school she took up the bass and won a scholar- ship to the pres­ti­gious Berklee Col­lege of Mu­sic in Bos­ton. On grad­u­at­ing, at 20, she was asked to join its staff, the youngest per­son to teach at Berklee dur­ing its long his­tory.

In con­ver­sa­tion, Spald­ing is ex­u­ber­ant. Zany, even. Long-time Berklee teacher and vi­bra­phon­ist Gary Bur­ton has de­scribed her as having an “up­beat per­son­al­ity’’. These qual­i­ties as well as artis­tic vi­sion are re­flected on her lat­est al­bum, Emily’s D+Evo­lu­tion, a rad­i­cal de­par­ture from her pre­vi­ous record­ings with its in­fu­sion of

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.