Written by Grant Jackson from NPR
On this Piano Jazz from 2008, bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding brings her neo-soul style to a set of standards with the aid of pianist Leo Genovese. Spalding is one of the most talked about artists in jazz today. She scored a surprise win for Best New Artist at the 2011 Grammy awards, beating our pre-teen sensation Justin Bieber and introducing the masses to the term “living jazz artist.” She has since scored two more Grammy wins in 2013 for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Radio Music Society and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist for her song “City of Roses.”
“It was a very interesting show,” host Marian McPartland says of the session. “She’s quite a character — there’s something wild about her singing and I thought the pianist did a very good job backing her up. I’m so glad she won the Grammy; I hope will be good for more jazz people!”
Originally from Portland, Ore., Spalding recalls getting the “hunger” to play music at an early age. She picked up the violin quickly as a child, teaching herself much of the way. She came to the bass in high school and began playing gigs with jazz and pop groups around Portland. A teacher’s encouragement and a full scholarship led her to make the cross-country move to Boston and attend the Berklee School of Music.
Spalding admits to spending more time on gigs and “bumming around Boston” than in classes, though the connections she made through the school proved valuable. For one, it’s where she met her pianist, Leo Genovese, who joins her on this show. The two kick off the set with Betty Carter‘s “Jazz Ain’t Nothin’ but Soul,” a tune which seems to sum up Spalding’s approach and musical philosophy. Her mischievous side doesn’t escape host Marian McPartland‘s notice, and it’s certainly apparent on her admittedly crazy solo version of Lionel Hampton‘s “Midnight Sun.” After a duet of “Just Friends,” McPartland is inspired to improvise one of her musical portraits. The tune playfully jumps back and forth between sensitive lush chords and playful, free-sounding bursts that perfectly capture Spalding.
McPartland’s piano provides a perfect accompaniment to Spalding’s bass and vocals in Duke Ellington‘s “Prelude to a Kiss,” the most straight-ahead tune on the show. With Ellington in the air, McPartland performs her arrangement of the Duke’s quirky tune, “Clothed Woman.” The session ends with “Look No Further,” a Richard Rodgers tune from the show No Strings.
Originally recorded Nov. 11, 2008. Originally broadcast April 14, 2009.