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Esperanza Spalding

Grammy award-winning singer-composer-bassist Esperanza Spalding has released Emily's D+Evolution. Rekindling her childhood interest in theater, poetry and movement, this project delves in a broader concept of...
If “esperanza” is the Spanish word for hope, then bassist, vocalist and composer Esperanza
Spalding could not have been given a more fitting name at birth. Blessed with uncanny
instrumental chops, a multi-lingual voice that is part angel and part siren, and a natural
beauty that borders on the hypnotic, the 23-year-old prodigy-turned-pro might well be the
hope for the future of jazz and instrumental music.

“She is an irresistible performer,” says The Seattle Times. “She sings and plays bass at the
same time and does a sort of interpretive dance as she plays…Her analysis of what’s going
on in jazz today is perceptive.”

Irresistible. Interpretive. Perceptive. Such words are very much at the core of Spalding’s life
story, but the story is anything but typical. She was born in 1984 and raised on what she calls
“the other side of the tracks” in a multi-lingual household and neighborhood in Portland,
Oregon. Growing up in a single-parent home amid economically adverse circumstances, she
learned early lessons in the meaning of perseverance and moral character from the role model
whom she holds in the highest regard to this day – her mother.

“She was very strong-willed, very independent,” says Spalding. “She did a million things.
She was a baker, a carpenter, she worked in foster care homes, she worked in food service,
she worked with Cesar Chavez as a labor organizer. She was an amazing woman. She was
hip enough to put a lot of negative things I saw as a child into some kind of context – even
before I fully understood what she was saying.”

But even with a rock-solid role model, school did not come easy to Spalding, although not for
any lack of intellectual acumen. She was both blessed and cursed with a highly intuitive
learning style that often put her at odds with the traditional education system. On top of that,
she was shut in by a lengthy illness as a child, and as a result, was home-schooled for a
significant portion of her elementary school years. In the end, she never quite adjusted to
learning by rote in the conventional school setting.

“It was just hard for me to fit into a setting where I was expected to sit in a room and swallow
everything that was being fed to me,” she recalls. “Once I figured out what it was like to be
home-schooled and basically self-taught, I couldn’t fit back into the traditional environment.”

However, the one pursuit that made sense to Spalding from a very early age was music. At
age four, after watching classical cellist Yo Yo Ma perform on an episode of Mister Rogers’
Neighborhood, the roadmap was suddenly very clear. “That was when I realized that I
wanted to do something musical,” she says. “It was definitely the thing that hipped me to the
whole idea of music as a creative pursuit.”

Within a year, she had essentially taught herself to play the violin well enough to land a spot
in The Chamber Music Society of Oregon, a community orchestra that was open to both
children and adult musicians. She stayed with the group for ten years, and by age 15, she had
been elevated to a concertmaster position.
But by then, she had also discovered the bass, and all of the non-classical avenues that the
instrument could open for her. Suddenly, playing classical music in a community orchestra
wasn’t enough for this young teenager anymore. Before long she was playing blues, funk,
hip-hop and a variety of other styles on the local club circuit. “The funny thing was, I was the
songwriter, but I had never experienced love before. Being the lyricist and the lead singer, I
was making up songs about red wagons, toys and other childish interests. No one knew what
I was singing about, but they liked the sound of it and they just ate it up.”

At 16, Spalding left high school for good. Armed with her GED and aided by a generous
scholarship, she enrolled in the music program at Portland State University. “I was definitely
the youngest bass player in the program,” she says. “I was 16, and I had been playing the
bass for about a year and a half. Most of the cats in the program had already had at least eight
years of training under their belts, and I was trying to play in these orchestras and do these
Bach cello suites. It wasn’t really flying, but if nothing else, my teachers were saying, ‘Okay,
she does have talent.’”

Berklee College of Music was the place where the pieces all came together and doors started
opening. After a move to the opposite coast and three years of accelerated study, she not only
earned a B.M., but also signed on as an instructor in 2005 at the age of 20 – an appointment
that has made her the youngest faculty member in the history of the college. She is the 2005
recipient of the prestigious Boston Jazz Society scholarship for outstanding musicianship.

In addition to the studying and the teaching, the Berklee years have also created a host of
networking opportunities. Since her move to the East Coast, Spalding has worked with
several notable artists, including pianist Michel Camilo, vibraphonist Dave Samuels, bassist
Stanley Clarke, guitarist Pat Metheny, singer Patti Austin and saxophonists Donald Harrison
and Joe Lovano. “Working with Joe was terrifying,” she recalls, “but he’s a really generous
person. I don’t know if I was ready for the gig or not, but he had a lot of faith in me. It was an
amazing learning experience.”

The newest chapter of Spalding’s journey begins with the release of her forthcoming
international debut recording for Heads Up in May 2008. The album will be the first
opportunity for a worldwide audience to witness her mesmerizing talents as an
instrumentalist, vocalist and composer, but it’s just the start of what she hopes to achieve in a
career where the creative opportunities are almost limitless.
“I think there are some outside forces that have blessed me with creative talents, and I don’t
want to disrespect whatever plan the cosmos or the heavens or God or whoever might have
for me,” she explains. “But based on what I know about myself right now, what I really want
to do is reach people. I want to make great music, but I also want to use that talent to lift
people up, and maybe show them some degree of hope where there might not be any in their
lives. My name means ‘hope’ in Spanish, and it’s a name I want to live up to.”


2016 - Emily's D + Evolution
Concord Records / Decca - Universal Jazz

2012 - Radio Music Society
Concord Records / Universal Jazz

2010 - Chamber Music Society
Heads Up Concord Socadisc

2008 - Esperanza
Heads up , Concorde , Soacadisc

2006 - Juno
Heads Up


There is no live planned currently

Esperanza Spalding - "One"
Esperanza Spalding - "Good Lava"