Esperanza Spalding, the beautiful bassist (and vocalist and songwriter) who just released her album Chamber Music Society graciously gave us a little interview. After working with her idols, rapidly gaining critical acclaim and crafting her latest album to perfection, she’s at another turning point in her amazing career. Read the full Q&A and get your free download after the jump, and don’t forget to check tour dates.
You’ve already received great attention already from major press to gigs at the White House for Barack Obama. How does it feel to get this international recognition?
Well, it’s very flattering, exciting and a blessing, of course, and it allows me to continue working in music.
You also played in legendary saxophonist Joe Lovano’s band. How did you end up working and touring with him?
I met Joe as a student at Berklee, when I was playing in the student ensembles, at the end of my last year he asked me to do some gigs, and I continued to keep working with him over the years, so that’s been about 5 or 6 years now.
Your schedule is packed with tour dates well into next year. Do you prefer performing live to writing and recording? Or do you do them all at the same time?
Each has their own unique set of challenges, some benefits and they all balance themselves out in which I like more or less. Traveling and touring are wonderful, a blast, but when I’m on tour I miss having the space and time for writing and practice, and of course when I have time off, I’m itching to get back on the road, I love them both, I love both aspects equally.
It’s rare to see a solo upright bass player as a band leader nowadays. What led you to string instruments in the first place?
What attracted me to strings instruments was the children program, Mr Roger’s Neighborhood, I saw Yo Yo Ma playing and something about the sound attracted me and I asked my Mom for a violin, cause they were talking about violins and strings, and then with the bass, it was the sound of instrument, and how you can improvise with it.
When did you graduate to the upright bass, and what kind of music were you playing at that time?
I was studying classical and I started playing simple jazz, I was playing very simple jazz. My teachers were some incredible classical musicians.
There are a handful of tracks in the bunch written by other artists. Why did you choose those songs in particular for your album? How did the music for William Blake’s “Little Fly” come about?
There may not be a firm answer, you just want to record the music that speaks to you and that you feel that you do justice to it, and the Jobim song, ‘Inútil Paisagem’, that we chose, is something that evolved from hanging out with Gretchen Parlato, developing that sound with her and I felt that it had intimacy and spontaneity in how we had arranged it.
With ‘Wild in the Wind’, I was inspired by Piazolla, and of course Nina Simone, Piazzolla has incredible pieces that are arranged for a large ensemble yet they have so much space for improvisation. The way that we play it seems to fit.
The William Blake piece came one day when I was playing, I wasn’t writing for that poem, this little melody came out that I liked, and I thought that it would sit perfectly well with the poem, it was very miraculous.
There seems to be a seasons / nature theme throughout the album Chamber Music Society (“Apple Blossom,” “Winter Sun,” “Wild is the Wind,” “As A Sprout” ) would you say that was a coincidence or a conscious choice?
It wasn’t a conscious choice, but I feel very in touch with the natural realm.
What are your other interests besides music? What do you think you would you be doing now if you had never become a musician?
I think I would be doing something hands on, with the ground, like farming, gardening, something outside, helping people, being some sort of steward for nature world. I used to be interested in political science but I think that these days those who know how to take care of the earth and live in a way that gives back and takes of care of the earth are going to be more useful than a degree in political science.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Thank you and I hope you enjoy the record!