*At just 26 years of age, Esperanza Spalding has already had huge moments of acclaim in the past near decade.
President Barack Obama personally tapped the young extraordinary jazz bassist, vocalist and composer in 2009 to deliver a sterling musical rendition in Oslo Norway as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.
It was an honor of huge proportions that placed the then 24 year old on an international stage before an audience of millions. Shortly thereafter, the President again tapped the young Spalding to perform at the White House in a special tribute to the musical genius of Stevie Wonder.
In all, Esperanza Spalding has performed at the White House for the Obamas and an assortment of visiting dignitaries and VIP guests a staggering four times. And if that were not enough to provide a young artist an extreme case of the jitters, Miss Spalding exhibited her musical singing and bass performing abilities again on national television in the wonderfully produced 2010 BET Awards Tribute to Prince.
And again, it was Prince who personally had asked for this exciting young musician to perform in his honor along with Alicia Keys and Patti LaBelle as well as other musical giants.
Quite an honor indeed.
Wherever she’s performed post her sterling classical musical training at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, she’s drawn rave reviews. Her virtuoso musical ability on the acoustic and electric bass as well as her singing were being noted by all who see her performance live in concert or via her many You Tube videos. So, clearly something very special was in the wind for this very talented young artist.
Her young musical career has certainly had its share of wonderful moments, but on the evening of February 13 in an audience composed mostly of the musical recording industry’s elite on the occasion of the Grammy Awards 53rd presentation before an audience of millions, young Esperanza Spalding’s moment came in glorious fashion albeit a non-performing one. For in what many music industry insiders initially viewed as a shocking moment if not one of total non-belief, she won one of music’s most sought after and coveted Grammy Awards, ‘Best New Artist’. And that win came in a field of incredible artists in their own right that included young singing sensation Justin Bieber, rap heartthrob Drake, Florence and the Machine as well as Mumford and Sons rounding out the consideration category.
Clearly the odds of her winning, in spite of the sterling musical background she possesses as a classically trained musician and having graduated from Berklee, a recipient of the Boston Jazz Society scholarship for outstanding musicianship while there and immediately upon graduation, having joined the elite school at the age of 20 as the youngest professor in Berklee’s history.
Even more so, she is the rarest among her young performing peers. She’s a jazz musician. No jazz artist had ever won a Grammy Award for ‘Best New Artist’ in the general categories for over 35 years. Although jazz is America’s true cultural export to the world, when it comes to competing with mainstream pop, rock and rap artists during the highly watched Grammy Awards Telecast, jazz artists are usually relegated to the pre-ceremonies. They’re among the great unwashed in the eyes of many in the music industry and limited to a few hours weekly on mainstream radio as jazz, in spite of the talented efforts of multi Grammy winners Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Michael Buble, Stanley Clarke, De De Bridgewater and countless other very extraordinary jazz musicians and artists, jazz still over the past four decades has generally been a non-sequitiur. So, even for Miss Spalding to compete with the great pop, rap and rock stars in her category had already been seen by some as a kind of cruel mistake in the whole Grammy Award nominating process. Jazz artists had been historically prohibited via a host of factors from joining the exclusive mainstream of American mainstream culture. So the theory went, why would this nomination be any different?
Could it be many whispered as the Grammy nominees were announced several weeks ago, that the voting members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) would actually vote for a artist of Miss Spalding’s musical excellence and equally in view of her superb and critically acclaimed recent CD, “Chamber Music Society”. After all and despite the excellence of her CD and incredible musical talents, few beyond her many jazz and classical music fans that revered her music thought she had any chance of receiving the Grammy.
But to the shock and awe of many throughout the music industry, the NARAS voting members came back with the Grammy nod to Esperanza Spalding as ‘Best New Artist’. It was indeed a historic moment. A few days prior to the Awards Ceremonies, Spalding’s producer of ‘Chamber Music Society’, Gil Goldstein, a multiple Grammy Award winner in his own right was quoted as observing, “it would be nice that once in a while, the best new artist would be someone who reads and writes (music).” Apparently the members of NARAS agreed in part.
But, immediately and practically moments after winning the Grammy, from Twitter, Facebook and other instant social media came the predictable howls of “Esperanza…who?” However, the usual vocal critic at the Grammy crowning ceremonies, Kanye West was notably silent as other critics of her winning rushed forth. But, a closer look at this remarkable talent reveals an astounding background as a dynamic singer, composer, bassist and arranger. Not to mention praise from many stalwart legends and artists in their own right such as Stevie Wonder, Patti Austin, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner and of course and perhaps two of her biggest fan, President Barack Obama and Prince.
Esperanza Spalding is a rarity in today’s rush to immediate fame and fortune in clueless and quickie reality shows and near raunchy videos, as opposed to actually learning music and theory. Not only does she possess innate natural musical gifts to compliment a classically trained background, she also excels in practically every form of music. And coupled with that is a work ethic that would rival that of James Brown’s reputation as the ‘hardest working man in show business’. One look at the pending concert schedule of Miss Spaulding is to understand how very hard she works in concert venues around the country and internationally.
Esperanza, which in Spanish means ‘hope’ was initially drawn to the sounds of the cello at the tender age of four, when she first saw a performance on Mister Rogers Neighborhood TV show by the great classical cellist and recent winner of the White House Medal of Freedom Award bestowed by President Obama, Yo Yo Ma. She felt an attraction to the string instrument as no other and was literally hooked as she recalled in a recent interview. She eventually gravitated to the acoustic bass and excelled at it. No small task. She began to perform jazz and the rest is near history.
In 2008, she released her first album, ‘Esperanza’ to critical acclaim and immediately many in the jazz world began to take additional notice. The New York Times in its review of the CD raved that, “Esperanza 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.” Esperanza reached the top of most contemporary jazz charts, quickly becoming one of jazz music’s biggest sellers and her career as a jazz musician was literally exploding. Yet, although she enjoys and revels in her jazz leanings, she’s certainly not limited to merely that genre. Her music is inspired in large measure by her classical training, not to mention her early pre-play in the little clubs in and around Portland, Oregon where she grew up and toned with her foray into other idioms that wove the intimacy of classical chamber music and its intimate string ensembles into the further elements of folk, pop, soul, blues and even rap. All of which truly compliment her multi-lingual background.
Esperanza Spalding has many more musical moments to share with the world. And we the audience will be the beneficiaries of her remarkable musical talents. And as the musical world gathers its collective breath after the shock and awe of her receiving the Grammy as ‘best new artist’, there’ll be fewer inquiries as to Esperanza…who?
Ronald Bookman is a Contributor to
EURweb and is President
of Ron Bookman & Associates, Inc.
& the iJazz Renaissance Concert Series
Contact him via: [email protected]