Not long ago, we sat down with Jazz Musician and Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding at The Hoxton for a brief chat. In case you’re not familiar with her work, Esperanza is a Jazz musician and multi-instrumentalist whose career has spawned 4 albums ‘Junjo’, ‘Esperanza’, ‘Chamber Music Society’ and ‘Radio Music Society.’ Read and watch clips from our time with the talented bassist as she talks about her inspirations, her album ‘Radio Music Society’ which was released earlier this year and of course the moment she collected her Grammy for ‘Best New Comer’ back in 2011.
Tel us a little bit about your background and how you became the musician you are today.
I’ve always been playing music since I was about 5, the violin. And I would dabble in other instruments just for the sheer enjoyment; as a kid it was my idea of playing! As I got older I wanted to try other kinds of music, taking violin out of its context didn’t really work. But when I started playing the bass, I realised it’s what I really wanted to do all the time… then it became really satisfying, then I started improvised music and it I was wowed, it opened up this whole universe that I knew was for me. I was also exposed to so many musicians so I learned a lot about to how manifest ideas in music.
Who were your inspirations?
From friends to teachers, colleagues in New York, Boston and Portland. In terms of people I admire from a distance, Joe Lovano- he’s so free in his music but he has absolute control and Wayne Shorter- my music is nothing like his… he’s Wayne no one can touch that!
What other genres do you appreciate?
I just listen for anyone that uses music beautifully, I don’t really like to use the term genre, and it doesn’t really come from the artist. That’s a term for marketing, it’s about where to put it on the shelf and how to sell it
So tell us about your new album, Radio Music Society; it was part of the same project as ‘Chamber Music Society’ and you ended up splitting them. Tell us about that.
After my Esperanza record, I was working and writing new music- I looked at my material and I thought ‘what do I want to share’. I had so much material that I couldn’t possibly fit it on a record and some of the songs didn’t work together.
The more I worked on it the more I began to see that there were two different sounds and similarities in some songs. So I thought I would do a double record but that was way too much work, in the end I decided to do two separate albums. I started with Chamber Music Society because it seemed closer to being done. While working on that, I worked on rough recordings but ultimately the more I worked on it… the more the concept became clear. Chamber Music society was about bringing it in to this intimate interpretive space. Then for Radio society, I thought it meant sending it out this intimate interpretative space and sharing it. I explained the concept to the relevant people in the industry and they were all for it, and then when the Grammy happened… it was like we have this spotlight that would allow music to be heard.
It must have felt like a big achievement winning that Grammy, taking into consideration the kind of music you write and artists you were up against?
I wouldn’t really say it was an achievement, the beauty of music is that the diversity of it, it’s not a sport; theoretically the person who wins the gold medal is the best that year, or the gymnast who executed everything perfectly. That doesn’t really apply to music because it’s so subjective, what each person does with their level of mastery speak differently to the audience. The ‘up against’ thing misconstrues the desire of which we approach our craft, it’s not to win or be up against someone. The achievement comes from a lifetime of dedication, I felt grateful that someone like me who wasn’t popular would be recognised in that arena. It’s not a public vote, it’s people who are members of the recording academy; they’re the ones who think you can bring something to music and that it was what I’m grateful for.
A Jazz musician hasn’t been acknowledged in that field since 1975, yes it’s exciting because it happened to me but it’s also disconcerting because it’s not like nothing of value has happened since then.
The lead single in the UK for your album was Black Gold, can you explain the song?
Do you listen to much UK music? And if you’re going to collaborate with one, who would it be?
I would love to work with Corrine Bailey Ray, I did actually write a song for us which we performed together once. I’d love to work with her, love her spirit and her music, it’s really nice to be around her- I hope we’ll do something soon… it’s just time!