Esperanza Spalding‘s cell phone began buzzing. “Everybody and their mother-law started texting me and saying, ‘Oh my God!’” says the jazz bassist-singer, 26. They were congratulating her for scoring a Best New Artist nomination in this year’s Grammy race. “I certainly did not expect to even be considered for that type of nomination, me being a little old jazz musician and everything.”It was late Wednesday night when
Spalding is both pleased and bemused by the attention. “I mean, for jazz musicians, usually the recognition comes from your peers,” she says. “If someone that you really respect artistically likes your record, that’s all the award you need. But it is meaningful, and I don’t want to act like it’s nothing, that someone outside of my little jazz circle knows about me and wanted to acknowledge me.”
Her fellow nominees this year are Drake, Justin Bieber, Florence + the Machine, and Mumford & Sons. Although Spalding is only well versed in one of those artists’ music (“I think Drake is really incredible”), she’s no snob. “A lot of musicians who consider themselves intellectual artists sometimes look down their noses at people who have a lot of commercial success,” she notes. “They don’t remember how much really hard work it is to be a commercially successful entertainer. So even if I’m not familiar with their music, I respect their hard work. Now I have to go check them out some more.”
The Grammys exposure should help Spalding with her next project, a more mainstream-oriented album called Radio Music Society. “I want to take a lot of the players that I know that are really phenomenal jazz musicians right now, put them in these songs, and format it in a way that will end up on the radio without compromising the soul and the core of improvised music,” she says. She is currently writing music for that album with an eye toward releasing it in late 2011.
Spalding is also preparing to support Prince, whom she calls “a dear friend,” on his “Welcome 2 America” tour starting later this month. “Anything I do with Prince is always a blast, whether it’s jamming in his basement or having a conversation about genetic biology,” she says. “I’m sure this will be no different. He’s a totally fun character and an incredible musician, and we’re just going to rock out and it’s going to be beautiful.”
Count it as just one more unusual honor for Spalding. If few jazz singers receive such prominent Grammy recognition, perhaps even fewer are pals with the Purple One. “Everybody knows the hype of who he is as an artist,” Spalding says. “But he also happens to be a really lovely person. He’s a really, really cool dude. If you ever got a chance to just sit and have a drink with him, you would be laughing and having a great time.”
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