The sound

September 16, 2010


By Michael Swanger


Spalding’s upward trajectory toward prominence continues


It is reassuring to those who believe in the power of high art that exceedingly creative artists like jazz bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding can find success in an increasingly mainstream, corporate music world while transcending conventional wisdom both on stage and off.

Spalding, who was raised in a single-parent, multi-bilingual home (she sings in English, Portuguese and Spanish) in a poor neighborhood of Portland, Ore., burst onto the scene in 2008 with her self-titled debut album that spent more than 70 weeks on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart and became the year’s best selling album by a new jazz artist internationally. The success of her debut album triggered a landslide of publicity, including appearances on national television (“Late Show with David Letterman,” “Austin City Limits”) and radio (National Public Radio) shows; two appearances at the White House; and a fashion ad campaign.

But it was a hint of what was to come for Spalding, who left high school at age 16 with a GED and enrolled in a music program at Portland State University before transferring to the esteemed Berklee College of Music where she graduated in three years. In 2005, she became the youngest faculty member in the history of the college at age 20.

In 2009, Spalding won the Jazz Journalists Association’s Jazz Award for Up and Coming Artist of the Year as well as the JazzWeek Award for Record of the Year. That year, she also performed several high profile concerts, including the Newport Jazz Festival, and accepted an invitation from President Barack Obama to perform at the Nobel Prize Ceremony and Nobel Peace Prize Contest.

Not bad for a 25-year-old who was home-schooled during a lengthy childhood illness and was inspired to play music after watching Yo Yo Ma perform on an episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Earlier this year, Spalding was featured in the “Women on the Rise” issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. She currently graces the cover of Downbeat magazine, which praises the August release of her second album, “Chamber Music Society.”

“It is so satisfying to see that many people appreciate it and are enjoying this album. It is a blessing to be able to share my music. I’m looking forward to getting on the road and performing live,” said Spalding via e-mail from Japan where she was performing last week.

Upon her return to the United States, she is slated to record with jazz saxophonist Joe Lavano (one of many musicians she has collaborated with, including Pat Metheny, Stanley Clarke and Patti Austin), before she will make her Des Moines debut on Saturday, Sept. 18 to kick off the Civic Music Association’s 2010-11 concert series.

“It’s an honor and a pleasure to work with Joe and also other musicians. I gain so much from those experiences,” Spalding said.

Where some artists might have played it safe after experiencing major label success with their debut album, Spalding continues to push the creative envelope on “Chamber Music Society.” The album is common ground between her devotion for classical and jazz music. Spalding grew up playing classical violin but adopted the acoustic bass and jazz music as a young adult.

“Jazz came into my life a little later,” she said. “What I have always enjoyed about jazz is its openness, the space for improvisation.”

Spalding is allowing herself plenty of creative space for her next album, “Radio Music Society,” which she plans to release in the fall of 2011 as a follow-up to “Chamber Music Society.” The new album will include elements of funk, hip-hop and rock.

“I just hope people enjoy it,” she said. CV


Caption: Esperanza Spalding performs Saturday, Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium. Tickets are $15 to $45 through Midwestix and the Civic Music Association (280-4020). Students may buy tickets one hour before the concert for $5. A pre-concert talk by local jazz musician Roxi Copland will be held at 6:45 p.m. Tickets to an after-show party with Spalding can be purchased at the door for $10. Visit for details.


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