Jazz Ace

Grammy Winner Makes Omaha Debut

Speaking from the New York studio where she was working with Bobby McFerrin on some overdubs, Esperanza Spalding said she is ready to make what she believes will be her first visit to Omaha. 

“I think so,” she said.  “At least with my own band, for sure.”

The 2011 Grammy winner for Best New Artist is set to perform on Friday, Sept. 28 at the Holland Performing Arts Center as part of Omaha Performing Arts’ 2012/2013 Jazz Series. Showtime is 8 p.m.

Best known as a jazz bassist and singer, multi-instrumentalist Spalding said earlier this month that, while her band hadn’t performed in about a week at that point: “The shows have been good . . .  Getting better and better.”

To call her a jazz bassist is somewhat limiting. Much of her work easily falls into that category, but it is not a simple task to pigeonhole the 27-year-old Portland native.

The breakout year was 2011, when Spalding’s third album, Chamber Music Society, helped her snag the Grammy. It was the first time a jazz musician had taken home that award, but doing the unexpected is hardly a surprise for Spalding.

“Of course,” she said, when asked if she still has the good memories that came with that Grammy win. She then added, it is her hope the day comes when more artists from a broader playing field are continually nominated.

Leaving high school at the age of 16, she completed her GED and earned a music scholarship to Portland State, but quickly gained another scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music.  According to legend, her trip to the East was aided by a benefit concert arranged with the support of her friends.

Facing the familiar challenges of making it financially as a musician, she nearly left school, but according to at least one account, she stayed the course thanks, in part, to encouragement from jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. Spalding, the prodigy, soon was to become one of Berklee’s youngest instructors.

Metheny is not alone among those singing, or playing, the praises of the still developing musical master. Jazz legend Gary Burton, who also is on the faculty at Berklee, has been quoted as saying Spalding has "a great time feel, she can confidently read the most complicated compositions, and she communicates her upbeat personality in everything she plays".

Even before Berklee, she was taken under the wing of the veteran players she met while performing in Portland clubs as a teenager. Despite her young age, Spalding brings years of performing experience to the stage. Over the phone, she offered a hint of what the Omaha audience will see.

“What we’re going to bring is 12 musicians,” she said. “We’re doing the expanded arrangements off the record.” 

That means, she elaborated, that the songs from her most recent record, Radio Music Society, are taking a new shape as they are played live.

“We’re up there having a great time,” she said. “There are some surprises, but it’s mostly Radio Music Society.”

Spalding says she is excited by the players in her band, and mentioned guitarist Jef Lee Johnson, keyboard player Leo Genovese, and Tia Fuller, who plays sax and is musical director as standouts. 

Everyone in the band brings something to the mix, she emphasized, and she hopes they will have a chance to expand their careers.

“The more people I bring, the more people I can expose to a wider audience,” she explained.

So for those in the audience hoping for a little jamming and stretching out on songs? “I think so, yeah,” she said. “But we won’t leave anybody hanging. We’re playing music from the record.”

For Spalding, the world is full of musical wonders and she is hard pressed to name a favorite.

“Oh man, there are so many,” she said. “I really love Bob McFerrin.” 

Wayne Shorter and Milton Nascimento are among the others, but Spalding said there really are too many to mention.  “I guess what I love is hearing new things and digging into what I hear.”

Spalding admitted there are many musicians with whom she’d like to work, but she has yet to compile a list, and the future is unwritten. 

“The world is so huge  . . . someone I don’t know about yet,” is likely going to get the next call.

Esperanza Spalding performs Sept. 28 at the Holland Performing Arts Center. 13th and Douglas Streets. Tickets start at $19 and can be purchased online at www.TicketOmaha.com, by phone at 402.345.0606, or at the Ticket Omaha office.

posted at 08:21 pm
on Monday, September 10th, 2012

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