10 Fingers: Esperanza Spalding

by Hannah Dexter

The benefit concert with Esperanza Spalding and the American Music Program is now an annual event. My fellow Portland and Michigan State bass man, Louie Leager, was playing alongside Miss Spalding this year! I was running Pete’s Bass Shop while my boss was out of town and she rented an upright from us for the show. She graciously agreed to do this interview when she and her brother dropped off the bass on her way to the Portland Airport.

1) What song did you have stuck in your head today?
…. What? (an “are you serious face”). Uhmm… I didn’t- I didn’t have a song stuck in my head today.

2) What music do you listen to when you’re feeling thoughtful?
Uhmm… I like to listen to Oumou Sangare. She’s a singer. She’s from Mali. It’s good. It’s really outside of what we study. It’s nice for a different perspective.

3) What’s the first album you bought with your own money that you couldn’t stop listening to?
Mmmmmmm! (She lights up) I think it was probably Cibo Matto. My friends in high school liked it.

4) What’s your favorite Booty Music? Dance Music?
Dance Music? (Her brother gets a big grin on his face and chuckles, they make eye contact). Hmm Lemme think lemme think. Well, Earth, Wind, & Fire, or, you know …. Stevie Wonder!  Manhunt! Prince!

5) What is the most meaningful moment you had in a rehearsal, class, lesson, etc.?
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!! … well… There’ve been a lot. I have to say. One that may mean something to other students… A couple of years ago, I got to participate in this conglomerate concert, everyone was there. The roster was so many people. Everybody played like one song, in a band with 5 or 6 people. And the band I got to play with was Herbie Hancock and Roy Haynes. The song was Dolphin Dance and I had never really learned the song. I had found out pretty late about it, so when I found out- from the time I found out to the gig I was trying to learn it. And memorize it. Really get the changes together and as soon as we started playing it, I got lost in the form. And I had wanted to make such a good impression on Herbie. To be a good listener and to follow him and be into what he was doing… and I got LOST! (Laughing) I had no idea where I was in the form! I know. I was so nervous and I don’t really remember anything I was playing. I was just so scared, and trying to listen, trying to hear anything in the form but, you know if I played a wrong chord he’d just make something out of it and I had no idea where we were. It was really embarrassing and I was getting really upset. Then I started to notice that anything I played, he heard. Anything I did, he was right there. Any rhythm I went to out of safety or trying to not sound like an idiot, Roy would grab. I realized I was so worried and scared that I wouldn’t do a good job of following them, but they were completely engaged with each other and me. They were listening as if I were anyone. Basically they gave me the same courtesy and dedication to listening and caring what I was playing that I was trying to give to them, thinking that, well they’re the masters and I better figure out how to compliment them. After the song, I was so embarrassed, I went to Herbie and I went ‘Oh man I’m so sorry, Mr. Hancock, I’m so sorry for getting lost, I’m gonna work-‘ ‘You were lost?’ (we laugh) He said ‘I thought that was fun!’ (we laugh harder). The lesson is, at that level, there is no ego. It’s totally humility. He came to the playing situation with as much willingness to follow me as I did to follow him. It had nothing to do with me as an individual, it was for the sake of the music. I hadn’t learned that before, I was ready for ‘yes master,’ come like a puppy dog, or whatever. So that was a really… powerful lesson. It’s basically, there is no level. There’s more experience, more mastery, but the basic fundamental intention of playing with anybody remains the same. He was almost 70 at that time.
JG: Wow. That’s a really great story.
ES: Yeah, now. At the time it was so intense.

6) Who’s a young musician we should be looking out for?
Christian Sanz.

7) What’s your favorite basement chillin music?
It’s Bill Carrothers. It’s just mellow enough that you don’t have to fully listen, but anytime you wanna tune in it’s the hippest deepest stuff that he’s playing. I like his record with Bill Stewart. His trio record. It’s a debate who’s the bass player cause I don’t have the pamphlet. Check it out!

8) What music from your childhood stuck with you?
Oh! Mr. Rogers’.  We were just talking about that in the car.

9) Make a band of 5ish musicians alive or dead that you want to see in concert.
ES: Hmmmmm… that is really challenging question. I don’t know if I can do it right now. I just can’t think- Okay!!!…. Nat King Cole.
JG: Piano or Vocals?
ES: Both. Definitely both. . . Nat King Cole. . . Oscar Pettiford. . . actually, you know what? If I could ever just see Art Tatum play solo, in real life, I think that would be enough. That’d be enough. But also, since there’s so few videos of him, it’d be great to have that band, Nat King Cole, Charlie Parker, and uhm… But, then you know, I’m not gonna go there because you don’t know about the chemistry of the band so I’ll just do Art Tatum solo.

10) If not music, what other job?
ES: I think I’d like to do some sort of healing. I got this book about energy healing. I don’t think I could do it because it’s so different from my understanding of medicine. But, I think it would be a worthwhile pursuit. Something with healing, medicine, nursing, some kind of natural medicine. Something that related to learning how to cultivate plants in a healthy sustainable way. Which I think may be related.
JG: Makes sense. Music seems to be pretty related spiritual healing.
ES: YEAH! Maybe that’s- maybe that’s not totally unrelated. But I know I see this woman in Austin, Texas who’s a healer/massage therapist and I’ll go in with a physical problem and the experience I’ve had with her, I go in and my shoulder’s bothering me and she can actually read the problem in myself. She’ll give me an exercise to work­­ on that’ll have nothing to do with my shoulder- well, with my shoulder AND ‘Don’t try so hard to prove that I’m capable. That’s gonna wear you out. Know that you are capable.’ Just being around someone with that gift, that talent, it means so much to me and when I met her I was like wow, if I didn’t do music I’d wanna be someone like that, that can give that to people because it’s.. it’s amazing! … So I guess we can try to do that in music.

Until next time, Heal sisters, Heal!
Hannah

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