The Future Plays a Big Bass Violin
In the middle of the 20th century a cut lip changed the sound of swing forever. Trumpet led bands were the norm and a man named Glen Miller struggled to make his music stand out among all the faces out there. Then one event changed that. While the Glen Miller Orchestra was on the way to a gig disaster struck. The lead trumpet cut his lip and couldn't play. A clarinet player was then asked to play the lead sound, the saxophone was to back the clarinet's line and the unique sound that made Glen Miller an American Icon was born. Today we have another sound that stands out in the sea of faces in this music called Jazz; Esperanza Spalding. Ms. Spalding is taking jazz to new places despite the efforts of some of today's greats to keep jazz "pure."
Artists such as Stanley Crouch and his protégé Winton Marsalis feel that jazz reached its isthmus in the late 1950s and that its sound only needs to be honed and perfected. Scott Yanow states “His selective knowledge of jazz history (considering post-1965 avant-garde playing to be outside of jazz and 1970s fusion to be barren) is unfortunately influenced by the somewhat eccentric beliefs of Stanley Crouch.” (Yanow) Many jazz listeners cleave to this style and continue to celebrate jazz only in its "purest" form. The dismissal of the likes of Miles Davis and Sun Ra, along with the entire spectrum of fusion Jazz tries to forget a music that has been instrumental to opening the jazz form to newer musicians. The problem with this is that jazz in its youth was music of continuous change and expansion. No one before Louis Armstrong played like Louis Armstrong and no one before Billy Holiday sang like Billy Holiday. Unfortunately if everyone today continues to work on perfecting the sounds of these musician’s jazz will die from Inouye.
Onto this scene sprung a young woman who is so talented that old music greats just shake their head in wonder. A multi talented artist Spalding can play many instruments including her instrument of choice the double bass and her newest instrument, the drums which she plays to help improve her line on the bass. (Colapinto) Born in Portland in 1984 Esperanza took to music at the age of four. By 15 she was already playing professionally in a blues band in Portland. (Murphy).
Her education was not that of a normal teenager. She dropped out of high school and took her GED instead enrolling in Portland State University. Unhappy there she took the advice given her to apply to the Berklee school of music in Boston. Only three years later she graduated and became one of the youngest teachers in the history of Berklee.
A consummate workaholic she has no time for relationships and spends most of her time either on the road, she plays 150 gigs a year or practicing and composing. She has played with musical greats from jazz as well as the pop artist Stevie Wonder. (you tube)She has played for the President three times already including at his inauguration and at the Nobel ceremony in Oslo.
Watching her play is something akin to a participation game. Feet start tapping, heads start bobbing and those who know the words sing along quietly. Spalding is a young woman who’s inspiration and direction is driving jazz maybe not away from the likes of Marsalis and his Young Lions but creating a parallel path of experimentation and newness and may be what will bring many listeners back and new listeners in.
Colapinto, John. “New Note”. The New Yorker. 15, March, 2010.
Murphy, Sarah. “Esperanza Spalding”. Berklee college of Music Profiles. Berklee College of Music. April 2004. Web. 06, April, 2010
Yanow, Scott. “Winton Marsalis Biography”. Allmusic.com. Rovi Corporation. Web. 2010. 06, February, 2010.