Esperanza Spalding

You might recognize her from the PBS commercials. She’s the super sexy one with the giant Afro who plays upright bass. She’s also a Grammy Award winner and professor at the Berklee College of Music. She’s playing here in Tucson, and I was lucky enough to find out in time.

This tour will be theatrical, according to her description:

“My hope for this group is to create a world around each song, there are a lot of juicy themes and stories in the music. We will be staging the songs as much as we play them, using characters, video, and the movement of our bodies.”

I’m curious to see what it’s all about. This will be the first “popular music” concert that my husband’s ever been to. I assured him that it’s jazz, not Nine Inch Nails, and the parking area for the Rialto Theater should be filled with the usual Obama bumper-stickered Prii.

For some reason, I doubt younger folks will be there. A thirty-something friend of mine on Facebook commented, “Sounds like Starbucks.” I thought about replying, “But tastes like a lightly roasted, freshly ground Ethiopian pour-over with notes of dried blueberry, dark chocolate, and a cola finish.” But rather than reply directly via Facebook, I thought it would be more interesting to see if he’s reading my blog. (Yeah, you, Dinger.)

For those of you who haven’t heard her, here she is:

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11 thoughts on “Esperanza Spalding

  1. As someone in my early twenties I think she’s actually quite hip — her recent stuff reminds me of Erykah Badu, the stuff with her on electric bass and with a full band, that is, which you’re more likely to see live. She was in this form at this years DC jazz fest.

    This coming from someone who thinks jazz is our greatest musical art form and have close friends who are professional jazz musicians in the DC and NYC scenes.

    She’s monstrously talented. Enjoy the show!

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    • I think she’s hip too, but I’m notoriously un-hip, so I never can trust my own taste on that matter. I’m glad to hear someone your age likes her too, because she really is monstrously talented.

      I’m curious to see who shows up for the show. The demographic here is somewhat peculiar. Tucson is place where a lot of people come to retire, so even if it turns out to be an older crowd, that wouldn’t necessarily mean anything. Plus, the tickets weren’t expensive in my opinion, considering what she is, but they might not be cheap enough for the younger folks. We shall see!

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  2. She’s classy. Plays in tune. That isn’t so easy on the upright bass. In London, back in the seventies and eighties, even at the best jazz venues, you could still hear upright players struggling in their tuning. Then once in a while Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen would show up in town with Oscar Peterson and put on a masterclass of how to play that awkward thing in perfect tune. Our mutual friend Tal Wilkenfeld would approve, no doubt Tina. Enjoy the show!

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    • She’s definitely classy.

      I can’t imagine playing the upright bass (what? no frets?) especially as a short girl. I’d probably have to stand on stool or something. I hear she started off playing cello. I once tried to play my friend’s cello and found it pretty awkward and difficult. It’s a huge instrument that requires a lot of strength. And yes, playing in tune is a whole ‘nother story. And then singing on top of that? Crazy hard.

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  3. Definitely very talented and classy! I’m utterly amazed at anyone who can play a fretless instrument. (I tried to play a violin once. It just made screechy sounds and people ran away. Fast.)

    On the other hand, the nice thing about fretless instruments is that they never worry. 😐

    If I’m honest, and no comment whatsoever on her ability — purely my tastes in music, if the show was just her and that percussionist, I’d have a hard time being interested past a few tunes. I’d want some piano or guitar (or both) thrown in and bit more of a drum kit.

    Maybe even a little sax, because everyone loves sax, right? XD

    Add me to the Tal Wilkenfeld fan club! Ever since I saw her with Jeff Beck in that Live at Ronnie Scott’s video. Here’s a video that’s part interview (the interviewer is a bit of a dork, though) and part performance:

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    • Dynamite, and that’s Colaiuta with her right Wyrd? Her solo at Ronnie’s on ‘Cause we’ve ended as lovers is just transcendently beautiful to my ears; it almost makes me cry, which is embarrassing, but true. Side-note: an old friend of mine (Jason) played keys on those gigs – and I had the flu so couldn’t go!

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    • Yeah, if I had a fretless instrument, I’d be sliding everywhere. “Oh wait, here it comes…there! Kind of!” You still have to have a really good ear. On the other hand, once you learn the instrument you’d be less inclined to look at your fingers while you play since there’s not much to look at. That would be nice. I find I play better when I don’t have to look (but that’s rare).

      I’m sort of the opposite then when it comes to music. I love simple. I remember trying to find a drummer who’d play with a small kit and brushes when I was in HS, and it was damn near impossible. Finally I found someone who could do both, but her mother was a bit of a Nazi and this girl was grounded all the time. Still we managed to play a few coffee shop gigs with another friend who played cello (and whatever other silly instrument I’d bring to the table…”Harmonicas are always in key…just blow and suck, that’s all! Here’s a tambourine, just knock it around a bit!”) We really stunk, but at least we weren’t too loud.

      And I’m not a huge fan of sax. It’s okay, but I could do without it. Of course, sometimes it’s just right. (If my mom were alive, she’d say she’s glad I didn’t take up that instrument.)

      Tal is kickass! And that interviewer is a bit of a goober, but she more than makes up for his gooberness.

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      • Sounds like we have fairly different tastes in music. I really do like bands with multiple guitars, multiple keyboards (e.g. piano and organ like Springsteen’s band), and serious drums (even multiple percussion as with Little Feat).

        And sax. 😛

        It’s all a matter of personal taste. Not too long ago I went with some friends to see Colin Hay perform. I wouldn’t have gone had I known it would be an entire evening of just him singing and playing his acoustic guitar. (Even worse, the opening act was a similar solo act, so by the time Hay came on I was already bored and fidgeting.)

        Part of the problem is that such a performance is almost entirely lyric-based with very little in the way of music content that grabs me. It’s not like Hay is an amazing guitar player that blows you away with his virtuosity. He’s a storyteller, a poet.

        But my hearing is so messed up, I can’t hear his lyrics or his between tune patter (which, judging by audience reaction was very funny). Which just left his guitar playing which was really not the point.

        The sound mix really hurt my ears, too. Loud and blaring yet still unintelligible — just an over-amplified voice and acoustic guitar. It got so painful I left my seat and went and sat out in the lobby through most of the show.

        Oh, well, lesson learned. Always find out what kind of musical performance you’re in for! Esperanza Spalding accompanied by a small drum kit would be much more interesting than Colin Hay was. I way prefer jazz to cute, clever folk music (which due to my hearing issues, as with rap music, is almost entirely inaccessible to me).

        My best friend is very into those Irish-like folk music bands (Great Big Sea, Dropkick Murphys), which are long on lyrical content and short on musical content. Even those with strong musical arrangements seem to have a fairly narrow musical space without much variation.

        A lot of metal bands strike me as similarly narrow in musical or arrangement variation. It’s one reason jazz is so much fun. Probably no more varied musical art form exists, although the more interesting rock bands also do well exploring different modes.

        I am, at heart, a rock’n’roller! 😀

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        • You might’ve really liked the show last night then. It was full-blown electric. My husband, as I’ve mentioned, has hearing problems too, but he was pissed that he couldn’t hear the lyrics. (Music is kind of lost on him and he doesn’t listen to it much.) He ended up leaving to go outside.

          I find I can’t understand the lyrics at most concerts I’ve been to. If I know that band’s music, I might not notice that I can’t hear the lyrics (because they’re running through my head). In the case of last night, this was all new material that hasn’t been released yet, so there was no way of compensating. I could hear about half of the words, and didn’t mind. (I’ve never found her lyrics to be spectacular in themselves, so this wasn’t a problem for me.)

          On the other hand, it sort of annoys me that every show I’ve been to is too loud to hear. I think people like that noise since it generates a certain amount of excitement, but it gets on my nerves. My husband, having never gone to such an event, couldn’t believe how loud it was. I thought last night was pretty restrained in terms of volume compared to other acts I’ve seen. I was very happy to see a sound shield around the drum kit. Still, I would’ve turned the guitar and backup vocals down. (I think the sound guy did eventually turn down the backup vocals, but that was halfway through the show.) I couldn’t make out her piano playing at all, which was really disappointing.

          As for the music itself, it was unlike anything I’ve ever heard. I don’t think I’d want to listen to it at home or in the car because of all the discord (with the exception of one tune, which I really loved), but in terms of diverse styles, she was mind-blowing. I think you would’ve found it interesting.

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