Playing By Ear: Esperanza Spalding

In 2005, Esperanza Spalding signed on at the Berklee College of Music as an instructor — at the age of 20. [Photo by Johann Sauty/via NPR]Esperanza Spalding (left) is a young jazz vocalist who just caught my ear. According to NPR Music: “There are many gifted singers in jazz today, and no shortage of accomplished acoustic bass players. But few jazz artists can be both. Esperanza Spalding’s new album, Esperanza, blends her soaring vocals and her deep bass lines. At 23, Spalding has already built an impressive resume: She earned a full scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and graduated a year early to become the youngest faculty member in the school’s history, and she’s also played with jazz legends such as Patti Austin, Pat Metheny, and Herbie Hancock.”

Here’s how she describes her first encounter with the bass:

“One day I went into the high school, into the high school that I went into, and the bass was just — it’s kind of funny, it was kind of heavenly, you know?” she says. “I walk into this room, and it literally — it’s kind of below street level, and light was shining in, and the bass was just there with no case on it, because they just bought it. And I walked into the room and picked it up and just started playing.

“And at the same time, my music teacher came in and showed me basically what a blues form was, and I just kind of started making anything up,” she adds. “And pretty much from that moment, I said, ‘Wow, this is — in these five minutes, I’m enjoying this music more than I have the last 10 years on the violin.'”

Spalding says that the spontaneous connection she made that day remains a formative moment for her conception of jazz today.

“That’s like the vein of jazz,” she says. “It’s that ability to immediately be able to communicate with someone that you don’t know. And in those first five minutes of this instrument that was completely foreign to me, in a way I touched right upon that vein. I mean, I hit it, I hit that nerve. Now, after nine years, everything I’ve learned about jazz kind of all comes back to that first realization in that room.”

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