Whenever she performs on stage Esperanza Spalding is hard to miss. Her signature Afro hairstyle and big upright bass gets the attention every time and although it's not so common to see a female play bass, it is even less common when the bass is an upright. However, Esperanza Spalding would not have it any other way.
"People are so used to seeing big guys play it (the upright bass) but in the environment that I grew up in there were other women playing upright bass. Many perceive it as a difficult instrument but it is natural and logical to me; it doesn’t feel strange at all." Esperanza would be the first to admit that although she plays other instruments, there is an ongoing love affair with her upright bass. It is an instrument that she has played for many years.
"It really is like a partner. I spend so much time with it and, although it is a big responsibility, I feel a deep connection to it." At age 25, Esperanza has a musical wisdom that belies her years and this is evident on the CD ‘Chamber Music Society’ which will be released on August 17, 2010. The album is heavy with classical and chamber influences that have been interspersed with jazz, folk and world music. According to Esperanza, the music on ‘Chamber Music Society’ has been in the making for a very long time.
"This is a combination of music that is up to five or six years old. It didn't have a place before but when I thought about sharing this kind of music, in the context of the record some of the compositions worked perfectly. Some were inspiring too. I got deeper into each song and was impressed."
She went on to say that the songs for the CD materialized in a very fragmented way and she worked on them piece by piece as they came into her head. Esperanza has had a penchant for classical music from a very young age and it all started when she saw classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma performing on an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
His performance was confirmation that she wanted to do something musical although not necessarily to be restricted to just one genre. Within a year Esperanza had taught herself to play the violin to a standard that was good enough for her to gain entry to the Chamber Music Society of Oregon, an orchestra for both children and adults. She stayed with the orchestra for close to 10 years before enrolling into the music program at Portland State University. The next step was Berklee College of Music where Esperanza earned her BM and, at the age of 20, became one of its youngest ever faculty instructors.
Today she is hailed as one of the brightest upcoming musicians around. Even Downbeat Jazz Magazine's Critics Poll named Spalding as winner of the ‘rising star’ for acoustic bass.
For ‘Chamber Music Society’ Esperanza has worked closely with producer Gil Goldstein who she holds in high esteem. Together they work their magic on cuts such as the enchanting opening number ‘Little Fly’, the equally appealing ‘Rarely Very Small’ and the folk tinged ‘Apple Blossom’ which showcases the talents of famed vocalist Milton Nascimento. Also worthy of mention are tracks such as ‘Short and Sweet’ and ‘Inutial Paisagem’ which features both Spalding and Gretchen Parlato on vocals.
When it comes to the most intriguing tune of all, the prize must go to ‘Knowledge of Good and Evil’. It’s a track that Esperanza wrote several years ago and now Goldstein has added the finishing touches. She likens the song to "the story of the Garden of Eden" although adds that "its openness to different interpretations is what makes it so compelling."
So far, since her debut on the music scene, Spalding has produced and recorded the 2006 album ‘Junjo’ plus her critically acclaimed eponymous CD which was released in 2008 and stayed on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz charts for some 70 weeks. One performance that remains etched on Spalding's mind is that of playing for President Obama at the White House. "It was wonderful and very special for me. It is powerful that the Administration realizes the importance of music". She went on to explain that Stevie Wonder was the one who asked her to perform his song at the White House. Esperanza said that since the concert she has been invited back for different performances. "I felt honored to have been there. People liked it and this is a story that I can pass on forever."
Esperanza plans to release another CD in the spring of 2011 which will be titled ‘Radio Music Society’. The album is expected to include a repertoire of funk, hip-hop and rock elements all fused into songs that are free from genre.