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Just Who the Hell Is Esperanza Spalding, Anyway?

February 27, 2011

First, the facts. In the past year, jazz instrumentalist Esperanza Spalding has not performed with Usher. She has also not released a 3-D Imax film, nor has she guest-starred on CSI: Crime Scene Investigators, written a New York Times best-selling autobiography, filmed a Super Bowl commercial, been viciously mobbed by young girls at an Australian arena  or become a go-to cameo on Saturday Night Live.

So who does she think she is, anyway?

Didn’t Esperanza Spalding realize that there was a reason why Justin Bieber was sitting on the front row of the Grammy Awards ceremony on February 13th, or why Justin Bieber’s “people” had cleverly released his film only two days before? Didn’t she realize that Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, E! News and countless other super-smart entertainment programs had already hinted that it was Justin Bieber’s night? How dare she have the guts to stand up and come from the back of the section in which she was seated, presumably behind the Rihannas and the Gagas and the Hudsons and the Aguileras, and accept the Grammy award for Best New Artist? I mean, we all know who Justin Bieber is. Who is Esperanza Spalding?

How about an instrumentalist gifted enough to land a spot with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon at five years old – a concertmaster by fifteen years old? A high school dropout who earned her GED and went on to be the youngest faculty member at Boston’s Berklee College of Music? An artist who performed at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Concert – by request of Barack Obama himself — and whose album Esperanza stayed on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts for more than 70 weeks?

Yeah, Esperanza Spalding’s doing okay. And she’s only 26 years old.

Just ask Oprah, who named Spalding one of her “Ten Women on the Rise” in 2010. Or ABC World News, which named Spalding “Person of the Week” last week.

Or you could cut to the chase yourself, and pick up Spalding’s latest release Chamber Music Society (released February 22) and check the proceedings out for yourself. Chamber Music Society is a monster feat of instrumental arrangement, gentle scat and tropical jazz soundscapes, all anchored by the maestro herself  with calm, easy upright bass and lulling, seductive vocals. It’s a deft fusion of orchestral strings and neo-jazz with which you’ll want to cozy up and spend a lot of time, but you don’t have to be a jazz aficionado to know Spalding’s got serious talent. Case in point: take a second to watch her Letterman appearance from January.

Esperanza Spalding’s talent is undeniably formidable. Which is all the more troubling that the accomplished musician received countless attacks from Justin Bieber followers  via Twitter after she rightfully snagged the Best New Artist Grammy from him. The night didn’t go according to plan for Mario Lopez, Billy Bush and the clamoring entertainment news bloodhounds, to be sure. Instead of the boy phenomenon receiving the keys to the kingdom, a lovely young jazz artist – not heard on the “Hot 103.7 FMs “or “98.5 The Beats” of the world – stepped forward to take hold of an award she’s earned as much, if not moreso, than any of her fellow nominees. The fact that much of the Grammy viewing audience may not have known who she was that night, in the end, will be inconsequential. By the time Esperanza Spalding’s done with us, everyone will know her name.

Spalding’s latest release, Chamber Music Society, is currently available at iTunes and Amazon and the album with samples can be heard at EsperanzaSpalding.com.

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