Interview: Esperanza Spalding


Esperanza Spalding may

have surprised the music world when she received a this year's Grammy

for Best New Artist, but the talented bassist, vocalist, composer and

bandleader is unpretentious about being the first jazz artist to win

the award. When I contacted her at home for a phone interview, I

found her fun and cute, but passionate and candid about jazz. Her

insights into jazz history demonstrate her deep respect for her

forebears, while her own work illustrates how she can keep it fresh

while remaining within the tradition.

NUVO: How has your

being the first jazz artist to receive the Grammy for Best New Artist

changed your career?

Esperanza Spalding: It

hasn't changed my life very much, but there is one thing I can say

about it. Even though it is exciting about the Grammy, there is no

"me" without all of the musicians, teachers, friends and

supporters who are equally important in terms of the music I make or

the career that I have. I hope there are positive repercussions for

the jazz community on the whole. I wish I could share that honor more

directly with all of the people from who I learned from.

NUVO: What jazz artist

inspired you to pick the bass as your instrument? And who inspired

you to sing with it?

Spalding: I always

liked Slam Stewart. I didn't think of being a vocalist when I

listened to him. I liked him as a bass player. I didn't think of

his singing and playing with his bass solos in Slim Gaillard's

group. I would go to a friend's house, and he would teach me songs.

To remember the chord progressions, I would sing the chord melody. It

became something I wanted to cultivate more and explore, and that's

how it started.

NUVO: You're an

instrumentalist, vocalist, composer, arranger and bandleader. Which

role is the most satisfying for you?

Spalding: Oh, they are

all part of one whole. I don't really differentiate. It's sort of

mixed up. It's the experience of them all that is really


NUVO: Are more female

instrumentalists such as yourself moving into jazz careers?

Spalding: The only

reason there aren't more are the special requirements of being a

professional traveling jazz musician that are challenging for someone

who is engaged in a more traditional role, as a mother at home with

kids or being a more domestic wife. Touring isn't really

compatible with that lifestyle. I think you will see that more women are seeing their

commitment to their music as a traveling, recording professional

artist in jazz. It relies so heavily on touring and being gone at

night. I think that has been the hindrance on women continuing their

professional careers.

NUVO: Do you think that

jazz has strayed from its roots?

Spalding: I think,

technically, the foundation is strong, and the roots of what has

become jazz are firmly in every branch in part of what has American

music and almost every form of popular music. If you wanted to get

literal about it, the answer is no. It hasn't strayed from its

roots. There are many ways of looking at it.

NUVO: You have said you

believe hip-hop and neo-soul are "our 'jazz' now as

far as the role these genres play in the music genre lineage."

Spalding: ...I would

say rap is the need for improvisation in rhythm and time. It shows

how you can create your own time and shows how you can use the

vocabulary to create you own swing. That to me is a really a

distinctive characteristic of jazz. To me freestyling is really an

outcropping of jazz.