Esperanza Spalding on reinvigorating jazz: 'It just needs better publicity'

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The New York Times, in a recent piece, said celebrated young jazz bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding has “the potential to reinvigorate an entire genre.” To which, she replies: “No, it just needs better publicity.”

Spalding, who famously beat out Justin Bieber for best new artist artist honors at the Grammys two years back, issued her fourth studio album Radio Music Society last week. The project debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Jazz Albums chart.

Still, for all of those accolades, Spalding admits she occasionally feels intimidated by the music, even today. At least when experiencing it on record.

“Sometimes I even feel left out of the loop when I’m listening to jazz on CD, but when I go to see that same music live I have a different experience,” Spalding told The Guardian. “I think a lot of musical genres can reveal themselves live in a way that they can’t on CD. We probably all have the experience of walking through a museum and not feeling anything, and then you see one picture that just captures you, you don’t have to know what the artist did or that they had a good line of light or how they played with shadow — you don’t have to know or understand any of that for it to have an impact and be meaningful. It’s the same with music. It doesn’t hurt to understand it intellectually but you don’t have to for something to speak to you.”

She says she’s been remarkably unbothered by the controversy surrounding her victory over Bieber, a storm that saw Spalding’s Wikipedia page attacked by angry fans.

“You know I feel I live in a parallel reality,” Spalding says. “I don’t really go on Facebook or whatever those other things are … Twitter? People were telling me all that was going on, but I never heard or saw any of it myself. For their sake I hope they’ve forgiven me, because it’s a waste of energy for them to be worried about it. But I’m fine. Whatever.”

Spalding, the first-ever jazz musician to win the best new artist Grammy, has 29,000 followers on Twitter.

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Esperanza Spalding. Click through the headlines for complete reviews …

ESPERANZA SPALDING – RADIO MUSIC SOCIETY (2012): Ultimately, this is an album that’s likely not serious enough to connect with jazz fans, and probably not propulsive enough to attract a pop audience. The project needs less alchemy, and more focus. Then again, maybe I’m overthinking it. After all, Radio Music Society opens with a deliriously enthralling moment of lip-smacking sweetness, as Spalding daydreams about that magic moment when a song earworms its way into your subconscious: “Now, you can’t help singing along, even though you’ve never heard it. … This song will keep you grooving.” That, she does. That she definitely does, even if I keep thinking that she could be doing so very much more.

FRIDAY MORNING LISTEN: JUST BIEBER – MY WORLD 2.0 (2010): I’ve been thinking about this year’s Grammy awards. Specifically, the “shock” of jazz bass player/singer Esperanza Spalding receiving the award for Best New Artist. I was certainly shocked, especially when thinking back to some of the incredibly odd people who have taken home the award: Milli Vanilli, Starland Vocal Band (Confession: I used to have that record. Loved me that “Afternoon Delight”), Christopher Cross, Maroon 5. Apparently, Bieber’s rabid fan base was shocked more than I was. There were reports of Spalding’s wiki page being hacked by annoyed Bieber fans. My favorite update (quoted from salon.com): “JUSTIN BIEBER DESERVED IT GO DIE IN A HOLE. WHO ARE YOU ANYWAY?” Yeah, mighty entertaining.

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