Big Hair, Bigger Instrument

Fresh-faced jazz chanteuse Esperanza Spalding cuts a striking figure, with her oversize Afro and petite frame. She looks positively teeny next to the upright bass she plucks, and her voice is sweet and strong. When she made her network television debut on Late Night with David Letterman, he gushingly called her “the coolest person we’ve ever had on the show.” She was handpicked to perform at this year’s The Roots Family Picnic in Philly, and already they’re calling her “the next Norah Jones,” but we say screw that. Spalding aims to be nobody but herself. We caught up with her for a fleeting phone interview during her nationwide tour.

“My artistic objective is a personal objective — which is to become masterful at the three things I do, which is singing, playing bass, and composing. I don’t put things in my songs just to make them popular — like, oh, let’s add a hip-hop groove and this will be a hit! That can sound so easily contrived,” she explains. When you look at an artist like Spalding, you might expect bottom-heavy pop R&B or out-the-box neo-soul noodling, but she prides herself on making jazz her language of choice — and she expresses herself in English, Spanish, and Portugese. Her melodies are more Ella than Erykah — although that doesn’t mean she isn’t open to collaboration, or an open interpretation of exactly what “jazz” is. “It’s not gone. Mos Def is jazz. The Roots are jazz. Jill Scott is jazz. Steely Dan is jazz. It’s permeated everything… I’m only 23, so I don’t have anywhere near all the elements I need to make the strongest music possible. That’s why you collaborate — the sum is greater than the parts,” she says. Enjoy the Esperanza experience at the Jazziz Bistro in Seminole Paradise at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, at 7 and 9 p.m. Tickets range from $22 to $48; get them at There is a $25 food-and-beverage minimum on all seats, so come hungry. Call 954-583-8335.
Thu., Aug. 14, 2008

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