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Esperanza Spalding – Then and Now

It was Sunday, September 2nd, 2006 and we were in Chicago on Labor Day weekend. Leafing through an entertainment newspaper that morning, we saw that Donald Harrison and his band were scheduled to perform at the Chicago Jazz Festival that afternoon, so we made plans and went down to check them out. 

After an opening song, Harrison, dressed in a white linen suit, introduced the band in that unmistakeable New Orleans accent of his. The drummer was John Lamkin, the pianist was Dan Kauffman and Christian Scott, Harrison’s nephew, was on trumpet. When he got to the bassplayer, who was this young woman with an exploding mane of hair, there was a substantial increase in applause–and whistles. The bassplayer was Esperanza Spalding. Harrison noted that she played in Scott’s band, but was sitting in with his band for the occasion. He also said, “You’re going to hear big things from her in the future. So remember that name.” 

I had a feeling that he was right, and everything she’s done since has only confirmed this intuition. What’s as amazing as Esperanza’s many talents, as bassist, composer, producer and all, is that she does not allow the hype, which many times gets downright silly, nor the very real milestones she’s achieved, to cloud her vision and progress as an artist.

There are folk twice her age who might not be able to handle the historic opportunity to perfom twice for a history-making President at the White House, and then again, at his Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in Norway. But Esperanza has kept her eyes on her own prize and her latest recording, Chamber Music Society , is further proof of this fact.

I had the opportunity to meet Esperanza in February 2009 and she is as warm a person as she is talented. It’s been beautiful to watch her grace in handling her ascencion since that Chicago afternoon in August of ’06.  

If jazz has ever needed an “ambassador”, and that’s subject to debate, it could not have a better one for these times than this lovely, insanely-talented and inspiring young woman from Portland, Oregon.

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