Esperanza Spalding: Baby's Got Bass

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Thursday August 18, 2011

From T: The New York Times Style Magazine

Baby’s Got Bass
By: Robert Sullivan

The contrast between the Esperanza Spalding that you see onstage and the offstage Esperanza, jazz bassist and singer, was not immediately apparent at breakfast the day after her big sold-out show at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the kickoff of her summer tour. Onstage she is luminous, a major chord of exuberance, swinging behind her stand-up bass, eyes closed, singing to the lights, an evangelist of joy in various cool time signatures. At breakfast, meanwhile, she was soft-spoken and contemplative, almost demure.

Granted she was rushed, due to fly promptly to Paris, and then on to Prague and Montreux, Switzerland, where old jazz heads and new were already buying tickets to catch her live, performing from “Chamber Music Society,” the album that made her the first pure jazz musician to win the Grammy for Best New Artist.

“Excuse me, but you were phenomenal,” the woman sitting at the next table said to her. “No really, I mean just wonderful.”

“Oh, thanks!” Spalding said, a little surprised. “That’s nice of you to say.” Spalding was fairly conspicuous in the Hyatt’s breakfast lounge, less so for her trademark hair, which was tied up in a blue-and-white print scarf, than for her smile, more Zen than a 26-year-old should be allowed. When the fan exited, Spalding shook her head. “I mean, I just can’t tell anymore.” The concert, in fact, could easily have been just so-so; rust threatened the players. “We faced a little bit of pure air, if you see what I mean,” her piano player, Leo Genovese, said afterward. Genovese is an Argentinian composer and a hot bandleader himself, of the Chromatic Gauchos. “We hadn’t played together for weeks!”

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