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by Kevin Amos
The audience at the Byham Theater was treated to an ensemble of incredible musicians and music from the soul recently by the 2012 Esperanza Spalding Radio Music Society Current Touring Ensemble:
Radio Music Society is another extraordinary chapter in the Esperanza Spalding story. The Grammy Award winning multi-instrumentalist has performed in Pittsburgh three times over the past two years and has become very popular due to radio airplay and buzz on the street. Her collaborations with her current band as well as Jazz and Pop icons have established Spalding as a trendsetter to be followed for years to come. The astonishing bassist, singer and bandleader talent is indeed someone to hear and see.
Spalding on double bass, electric bass and lead vocal; Leo Genovese on piano, Rhodes and keyboards; Jef Lee Johnson on electric guitar and backing vocals; Lyndon Rochelle on drums and backing vocals; Chris Turner on lead and backing vocals, Renato Caranto on alto saxophone; Hailey Niswanger on alto saxophone; Aaron Burnett on tenor saxophone; Alan Ferber on trombone; Corey King on trombone; Igmar Thomas on trumpet and Leala Cyr on trumpet and backing vocals.
The musical journey for Spalding began in Portland. She was born and raised on what she calls “the other side of the tracks” in a multi-lingual household. Spalding grew up in a single-parent home and learned lessons in the meaning of perseverance and moral character from her mother. Despite great parenting, schooling did not come easy to Spalding. It was not for any lack of intellectual insight. She was both blessed and cursed with a highly instinctive learning style that often put her at odds with the traditional education system. On top of that, she was shut in by a long illness as a child, and as a result, was home-schooled for a considerable portion of her elementary school years.
“It was just hard for me to fit into a setting where I was expected to sit in a room and swallow everything that was being fed to me,” she recalls. “Once I figured out what it was like to be home-schooled and basically self-taught, I couldn’t fit back into the traditional environment.”
At 15, Spalding left high school for good. Armed with her GED and aided by a hefty scholarship, she enrolled in the music program at Portland State University.
“I was definitely the youngest bass player in the program,” she said. “I was 16, and I had been playing the bass for about a year and a half. Most of the cats in the program had already had at least eight years of training under their belts, and I was trying to play in these orchestras and do these Bach cello suites. It wasn’t really flying through the material, but if nothing else, my teachers were saying, ‘Okay, she does have talent.’” Berklee College of Music was the place where the pieces all came together and doors started opening. After a move to the east coast and three years of accelerated study, she not only earned a B.M., but also signed on as an instructor in 2005 at the age of 20. That has made her one of the youngest faculty members in the history of the college. She was also the 2005 recipient of the prestigious Boston Jazz Society scholarship for outstanding musicianship.
The 12 member ensemble performed for the enthusiastic Byham audience several outstanding pieces in an 11 song set which included “Smile Like That,” “I Can’t Help It” by Stevie Wonder, “Hold on Me,” “Cinnamon Tree,” “Crowned & Kissed,” “Endangered Species,” by Wayne Shorter, “Black Gold” and “Radio Song.” Sharing her gifts with the world and baring her soul this prodigy blessed with supernatural instrumental chops, a voice that is part angelic and a natural beauty that borders on mesmerizing, Spalding is the hope for the future of jazz and instrumental music.
For more information about Esperanza Spalding go to: http://www.esperanzaspalding.com.)
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