Why Esperanza Spalding deserved to Win


And the Grammy goes to…Esperanza Spalding. There have been many discussions about Esperanza Spalding’s recent win at the Grammy Awards as “Best New Artist” of the year. I have witnessed the frustration of many people, tweeting posts of dislike and confusion. Many feel that Esperanza Spalding did not deserve this honor and that the other nominees like Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence & The Machine, or Mumford & Sons were better candidates for this highly anticipated and prestigious award. On the other hand, I have also seen many individuals, mostly from the jazz community, congratulating Esperanza Spalding saying that her musicianship and creativity is finally rewarded on a high level. So, I thought that in this post I would like to share my thoughts and give insight to those that did not expect and were shocked by this news.

The question that many people are asking is: Who is Esperanza Spalding and why did such an unknown nominee end up winning “Best New Artist”?

Esperanza Spalding is known for being an innovative, creative jazz singer/bassist. Combining jazz with other styles of music, her compositions and approach to jazz focus on exploring the balance of her avant-garde bass playing and warm soulful, sultry voice. Her first solo album debut, Junjo, and her highly acclaimed 2008 release Esperanza continues  to receive attention both locally and internationally. Esperanza, soon after being released, went straight to the top of the Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart and has also been recognized by other reputable jazz magazines and organizations like the Jazz Journalist Association. In addition, Esperanza Spalding is no stranger to President Obama or the White House. She was invited to perform at the Oslo City Hall where President Obama accepted his 2009 Nobel Prize, as well as other White House events. Just recently, Spalding released a unique yet intriguing album, Chamber Music Society, which includes innovative compositions that incorporate styles like folk, classical, and modern sounds.

Here is Esperanza Spalding talking about her latest release Chamber Music Society.

So, why are people still asking who is Esperanza Spalding and why do they think she is unknown?

Honestly, I think our society has become so ignorant and blind to see the true colors of music. Music has grown more diverse in the past few years. By diversified, I mean music has stretched beyond the boundaries of pop, rap, r&b, jazz classical, mainstream, etc. We are now seeing different styles blend together to create a unique fusion. Yet, our society still sees everything black and white. They only see music one-sided and focus on today’s pop culture artists like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. I am convinced that jazz is not recognized as prominently because people still carry a preconceived notion that jazz is old and dead. Jazz is not dead. Jazz is actually growing stylistically just like other forms of popular music. I think Esperanza Spalding is a testament to how jazz has successfully opened up and redefined a new blend of traditions and other forms of music. Looking at all the she has accomplished, what confuses me is not who is Esperanza Spalding but why hasn’t the public recognized that she is popular and that she is well-known not just among the jazz community but within the entertainment industry as well. Of course the majority of Americans do not keep up with the leading jazz musicians of today but I think Esperanza Spalding has gained enough spotlight for people not to react in complete shock.

Seeing how people reacted to the news, here are some of the other arguments that people have presented when considering whether Esperanza Spalding actually matched the award that she received this past weekend. People have argued that Esperanza Spalding is not new to 2010 and that she has been a rising star ever since her career took off in 2005. Other reasons include that although Spalding is a great musician and is both creative and innovative, the other nominees had a bigger year and adequately are more qualified for the award as “Best New Artist”.

So, did she really deserve to win?

I, personally, feel that Esperanza Spalding deserved to win. As a jazz musician, I am inspired by Spalding’s achievements. Being recognized on such a high level encourages me that music is becoming more and more diverse. Before, awards like these were only given to popular artists–mostly pop, rock, and rap artists– because they sold the most albums or signed with major record labels. I always thought that the important awards aired on TV while the less important awards were left for press releases or small unadvertised ceremonies. Now, we are no longer just honoring the pop artists but the jazz artists as well. Although the jazz awards are still not included in the actual Grammy awards ceremony, having Esperanza Spalding receive a traditionally top act selling award showed that the music industry is finally recognizing jazz as a growing art form in the entertainment industry.

photo courtesy of Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times.

In A Blog Supreme article entitled “Wait, Who is Esperanza Spalding”, Patrick Jarenwattananon analyzes her win:

The easy answer is that she’s a highly skilled and highly marketable musician. She’s obviously photogenic and preternaturally poised in the spotlight, be it on national TV, performing for President Barack Obama three times (twice at the White House, once at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony), headlining sold-out shows across North America and Europe, paying tribute to Prince, opening for Prince, co-hosting the Grammy pre-telecast ceremony, or receiving a Grammy herself. This, plus her backstory, youth (she’s 26, oldest among the nominees but young as acclaimed jazz performers go) and virtuosic talent, make her a natural spokesperson for an American art form, and the recipient of some crossover attention.

In the end, Esperanza Spalding, although it may come as a shock for some, was a perfectly qualified candidate to receive this award. I hope that in the near future, this brings more worldwide awareness to the jazz scene. This event has truly honored a “real” versatile and diverse musician and I commend the Grammys for looking past popularity and commercial success.

Below, I have listed a few videos that showcase the true talent of Esperanza Spalding. If you would like to check her out, which I highly recommend, visit her website at www.esperanzaspalding.com

Esperanza Spalding on the David Letterman Show

Esperanza Spalding, “Little Fly”

Here are the other Grammy Jazz Awards

Best Contemporary Jazz Album
The Stanley Clarke Band
The Stanley Clarke Band

Best Jazz Vocal Album
Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee
Dee Dee Bridgewater

Best Improvised Jazz Solo
A Change Is Gonna Come
Herbie Hancock, soloist
Track from: The Imagine Project

Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group
Moody 4B
James Moody

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album
Mingus Big Band Live At Jazz Standard
Mingus Big Band

Best Latin Jazz Album – Vocal or Instrumental
Chucho’s Steps
Chucho Valdés And The Afro-Cuban Messengers

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO: “FROM THE FOUNDATION”/ROBERT GLASPER

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