Entertainment & Arts

Esperanza Spalding: Bright young hope of jazz

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Media captionEsperanza Spalding proved one of the biggest attractions at this year's Montreal Jazz Festival

Grammy award-winning Esperanza Spalding is a young a multi-lingual vocalist, bassist and composer who is making waves in the world of jazz.

This year, Spalding has been one of the biggest attractions at the prestigious Montreal Jazz Festival, which is used to attracting big names such as Diana Krall, Stevie Wonder, Dave Brubeck, Herbie Hancock and Ray Charles.

The festival's vice-president and artistic director André Ménard describes Spalding's recent performance at the 10-day event as "taking it to another level", fuelled with drama and imagination.

On meeting Spalding, whose afro has become something of a trademark, it is difficult to believe that a slight 26-year old could possess a great voice with such depth.

Image caption Esperanza Spalding beat well-known rivals to the best newcomer Grammy this year

Even more so as she also maintains a seemingly effortless upright position playing bass, although she confidently says "all it takes is a little practice".

This year has seen Spalding hit the big time, beating Justin Bieber and Drake to win one of the music industry's most prestigious prizes, the Grammy for best new artist.

Describing the occasion as "thrilling", she adds: "It's exciting that in that category someone a little bit off the beaten path would be selected."

Spalding's musicality has always set her apart. She was raised in a single-parent home in a deprived neighbourhood of Portland, Oregon but at the age of five she taught herself the violin.

Her subsequent time with The Chamber Music Society of Oregon, a community orchestra, inspired her third album, Chamber Music Society, which fuses classical music and jazz.

And Spalding's energy and creativity has a legion of high-profile admirers, including jazz giants Joe Lovano, Jack DeJohnette and Pat Metheny.

Beyond this, Barack Obama is her most famous supporter, having personally invited her to perform at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

Spalding modestly denies her success to date is purely down to her abilities, crediting "great teachers, great friends and her parents" for her success.

She describes her three years teaching at Berklee Music College, from the age of 20, as a "gift from the people she had been involved with".

Spalding's diverse heritage - Native American, Hispanic and African American - clearly informs her musical output.

But she admits it is hard to specify what defines her music, saying it all depends on "what little sounds come though by osmosis" on each piece she is working on.

Although Spalding's success has shone a brighter light on the jazz community, she is not ready to call herself an ambassador for the genre.

Instead, she believes her main objective for the moment is to make "improvised" music suitable for radio airplay "without sacrificing any of its important elements".

This, she adds, is what her forthcoming album, Radio Music Society - to be released early in 2012 - aims to achieve.

Esperanza Spalding may not be a mainstream-selling recording artist, but she definitely has the potential to be a significant creative force for many years to come.

Many believe that, as her name "esperanza" says in Spanish, she is the "hope" for the future of jazz.

Esperanza Spalding will be playing at the London's Barbican Centre Monday 11 July.

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