Young jazz star Esperanza Spalding pays homage to her elders

From The Globe and Mail:

Esperanza Spalding is on the phone, from her apartment in New York, talking about her new album, Radio Music Society. Specifically, she’s going on about the American Music Program horn players who appear on several tracks.

“These kids are 16, 17, 18, even younger,” she says. “I think the youngest kid in the band is 14, he’s an alto player. And they’re studying the music. They’re living it, they’re breathing it, they’re playing it.”

This reminds her of a pianist and trumpet player she heard recently. “They were really young, and they would play so much!” she says. “They were amazing, and when I met them, I immediately thought of the people that say jazz is dead. I thought: Impossible! These people are here.”

Ironically, Spalding herself is, at 27, frequently cited as an example of how much promise the younger generation of jazz musicians holds. After winning a slew of critics’ polls, the bassist and singer stunned the Grammy audience in 2011 by becoming the first jazz musician ever to win the Best New Artist award. The Obamas are big fans – Spalding performed when the President was awarded his Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 – and she is probably the best-known “young” jazz star since the emergence of the Marsalis brothers.

But there’s a difference between being known and being heard, and Spalding finds it frustrating that mass-media radio and television offer only a “thin slice” of the riches available.

“There’s all this music, that’s here and alive and well and thriving,” she says. “How do we connect the dots between the public at large and all this incredible music?”

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