Hard-working jazz singer/instrumentalist Esperanza Spalding, who recently played several dates in California and whose latest album Esperanza on Heads Up International has been available at Amoeba Music since it was released last month, took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with the Amoeblog this week. The jazz acoustic bassist/vocalist talked about how she defines the type of music she plays, her recent gig at the Roots Picnic in Philly, the state of jazz music in 2008, and how she got into the style of music initially.
"I fell in love with the music via the bass," said Esperanza. "Playing the instrument automatically made me a draw for jazzers who needed bass in their band, or on a gig. People would literally tell me, 'Hey if you check out these records or learn these songs, you can have this gig.' And, when the music I was assigned or turned onto was jazz, I would take it to heart and try my best to understand it. Of course, for my musical palette at that time, it took a while before I could really
appreciate what I was listening to."
As for the challenge of being both a vocalist and an instrumentalist simultaneously, the artist said that it just takes practice as far as executing the music. "But what can be difficult is being a singer, in the sense that you are engaged with the audience, and really responsible for emoting, and getting into the lyrics, melody, etc and being an effective bassist/band leader," she added. On the topic of Esperanza's music, I asked the artist how she herself describes her style? "Hmm, investigative," she replied. "I am trying to synthesize all the elements that are present, or at least present in my intention, if it doesn't always translate to the listener. I figure in a few years I'll really be able to peg my sound."
Considering that she is more likely to be found playing a jazz festival in Europe than a hip-hop event in Philadelphia, I wondered how the experience was when she and her band played at the recent large scale Roots Picnic in Philly, and also how different it is for her, as a performer, when she plays to hip-hop audiences vs. the more traditional jazz audiences? "For me the main difference was that the folks at the (Roots) picnic didn't know who we were. It is a really different experience learning to connect with audiences from scratch, as opposed to them choosing to come see you on some level," she responded.
"I think most people there had no clue who I was, or that I was even going to be playing where and when I did. At the time after the show, I was a little down, fearful that we didn't translate, or connect. But the feedback was positive, so I guess if folks like or don't like the basics of what you're doing, it doesn't matter the context! On top of that, I learned a lot about presenting a show in that context. A festival like the Roots Picnic is less intimate than a jazz club, so I have to send the music out stronger, so it penetrates at long range...if that makes sense."
By its very nature, jazz music is always in a constant flux and reshaping and evolving, some decades more than others. I wondered what Esperanza thought of the state of jazz music today. Is it in a healthy progressive state right now? "Honestly, I don't know," she replied. "I think that question is also alluding to the health of jazz in the major music media outlets, and in that sense jazz is struggling. I only say that because I know of many musicians, groups, etc, that are really carrying the music forward, I mean their hearts and souls are in it, and the music is strong, but, for a plethora of reasons, those artists are almost invisible to the major music media. The explanation for that lies in so many arenas I don't even want to start."
Knowing how popular the current ongoing Verve remix projects are (another volume was just released) I asked Esperanza if she had ever considered having her music remixed by electronic or hip-hop producers/artists? "Yes! That would be rad! I would love to even hang with them during the process, and see how we could get the same effect and intensity in the re-mixes using players instead of machines, or some combo, focusing on the instrumentalists." The list of artists Esperanza has already collaborated with includes Fourplay, Stanley Clarke, Christian Scott, Donald Harrison, Joe Lovano, Nino Josele, Nando Michelin, Theresa Perez, and many more.
As for the artists Esperanza would like to collaborate with in the future, she said: "I would love to do some sort of project with Questlove, Toumani Diabate, Andre 3000, Dixie Chicks, Yo-Yo Ma, Bobby McFerrin, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Jill Scott, Soulquarians, Carl Thomas, Per Jorgenson, Lilliana Herrero, and too many others...you see, ultimately, anyone that I imagine now would synch up nicely with my musical spirit. And, realistically, though I love all these musicians, I really won't know if we have something to make together until we get into it. Essentially, anyone creative who loves organizing sound, and is proficient at what it is they do, and has an open mind, is someone that I am down with working with."
Esperanza Spalding's current album Esperanza is available at Amoeba Music. For more information on the artist and listings of her upcoming concerts check her MySpace.