Thursday, June 05, 2008

Esperanza Spalding

Wow. We stayed up to witness Esperanza Spalding on "Late Night" / David Letterman. Paul Shaffer said in anticipation that "this is gonna be the coolest act we've ever had on the show."


A 23 year old genius. I hope someone posts a YouTube clip of her Letterman debut appearance. For now, here's another I found (and there're more on her MySpace):

Here's a 2004 article about her:
Esperanza Spalding
By Sarah Murphy Correspondent
April 2004

Esperanza Spalding was 15 years old when she entered the world of the working musician at a Portland, Oregon, blues club, armed with a single bass line.

"Somehow I got this gig with a blues band. I don't know how. I could play only the blues in F," she says.

Every member of the band was a seasoned veteran. Lead vocalist Sweet Baby James Benton had been a fixture on the Portland jazz scene since the 1950s. The trumpet player used to gig with Ornette Coleman. But they were eager to replace their bassist. Somehow, someone turned them on to Esperanza, who had only been playing the instrument for a couple of months.

After that first performance, one of the musicians pulled her aside and asked her to rehearse with them "so she could actually learn something." It turned into a weekly gig and an invaluable experience that fostered Esperanza's interest in the bass and did wonders for her rhythmic feel.

Within a year, Esperanza was gigging as a bassist and/or vocalist with "maybe six or seven" different groups throughout the Portland area, including two jazz septets, a trio, and a fusion group called Noise for Pretend that released two well-received albums on the independent label Hush Records.

With all those gigs and a full-time job, going to Berklee was the last thing on her mind. Esperanza never much liked school, anyway. She was home-schooled for most of her childhood. Then at 14, she earned a scholarship to a prestigious high school.

"It was horrible. I hated it, so I didn't ever go. It wasn't a good place for me," she says. "But the good thing is that by the end I had picked up the bass."

The way Esperanza tells it, her first encounter with the bass was purely accidental. Goofing around the band room one day, she grabbed the instrument and started noodling.

"At the same moment that I happened to pick it up the music teacher came in and says, 'Oh, you want to play bass?' We were both just kidding. But then he says, 'Here's a blues.' He taught me a bass line and I played it." It was that bass line that got Esperanza through her first gig.

But she was miserable in high school, so she dropped out, passed her GED, and enrolled at a local university. Not much happier there, her bass teacher convinced her to apply to Berklee. She was awarded a full scholarship; still, she never believed she would actually make it to Boston, because she didn't have the money for living expenses.

"It got to be June. I didn't even have a plane ticket and I definitely didn't have an apartment," she says. "A friend suggested a benefit concert. But I don't have a big ego like that, so I was like, no no no."

Esperanza's friends and fans secretly organized the benefit, raising about a thousand dollars. And so she decided to give Boston a try. But after buying a plane ticket and shipping her bass, she had only $400 left. Within a few weeks that money was gone. Although she was fortunate to be living rent free with a family friend in a suburb south of the city, the commute was grueling. She had to walk two miles to the train station with her bass every day.

"It was awful. I had a wheel [on the case] that was very testy, but I couldn't afford to buy another one," she says. Then in November it turned cold, and Esperanza got a taste of her first New England winter, rolling her bass through the snow. "By the end of the first semester I was so worn out from the commute and having no money, I just wanted to leave."

In addition to the financial hardships, she wasn't sure if she even liked the college. Never a fan of formal academics, she found the course work confining. And, the sometimes intense competition among the student body was tough for her to accept at first.

"You get these knots inside you. And you find all these places that you're vulnerable where you weren't vulnerable before. And it's all because you can't play a line as nice as somebody else. Who cares anyway?"

Pretty much all musicians will say they play music for the joy of it. But with Esperanza, one gets the feeling that if it ever stopped being fun, she would quit in a heartbeat. Which is why – with so many obstacles to her personal happiness – it's amazing that she not only survived her first semester, she quickly became one of the most in-demand musicians at the school.

Reluctant to take credit for her success, Esperanza claims some cosmic force was at work. "You have to understand," she says. "I'm here because somebody up in the heavens must love me or something."

Executive Vice President Gary Burton, who has worked closely with Esperanza, begs to differ. A tough critic and a demanding teacher, he has high praise for the young musician.

"She has a great time feel, she can confidently read the most complicated compositions, and she communicates her upbeat personality in everything she plays," he says. "She is definitely headed for a great career, and it will be soon."

In fact, Esperanza's career is already well under way. At the end of that tough first semester, she was hired to tour with Patti Austin – an ongoing gig that took her to Italy this summer. She performs frequently in the Boston area as both a bassist and vocalist. She recently was chosen to sing in the college's jazz vocal series. And this past spring, she recorded one of her original tunes with a Berklee student group, under the guidance of producer Pat Metheny.

Still, she's extremely modest about her accomplishments. "I make progress slowly," says the 19-year-old who, less than five years ago, had never even touched an upright bass.

Esperanza likes to say it was an accident that she started playing the bass, and it was a miracle she ever made it to Berklee. It's probably an even bigger miracle that she stayed. But while fate and chance may have played a part in getting Esperanza where she is today, talent like hers is no accident.
How cool is that? Check out all the audio cuts on her MySpace. When I find the Letterman clip I'll post it.


Here's the Letterman clip from last night. Enjoy.


From Yahoo! TV news (props to Cuz Jojo for the tip):
David A's Dad Still Can't Beat Idol Goliath
By Gina Serpe
Thu Jun 5, 2:01 AM PDT

It's the thought that counts. Or at least, it's going to have to be in David Archuleta's case.

American Idol producers have put the kibosh on a planned charity concert in the runner-up's homestate of Utah, an event masterminded by Archuleta's father as a "thank you" to fans who backed the teen crooner.

The toe-tapping token of gratitude, however, apparently wasn't run through the proper channels (like, any) and has now been unceremoniously called off due to a little uncharitable thing called "contractual obligations."

Archuleta's agent, Roger Widynowski, said Tuesday that the concert, billed as "Back Home With David Archuleta" and planned for tomorrow night, would be a no-go because the angel-voiced 17-year-old was not allowed to perform at any non-Idol sanctioned gigs. Not even one whose entire proceeds were earmarked for charity...
Yeah. I cracked on this stuff before.

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