Esperanza Spalding Radio Music Society University of Buffalo Center for The Arts/ Esperanza Spaulding Buffalo, NY April 18, 2012
It's always a good day when jazz comes to Buffalo, NY. It's a great day when a Grammy Award-winning jazz artist performs for an intimate crowd at University at Buffalo's Center of the Performing Arts.
Esperanza Spalding, Grammy's 2011 Best New Artist (much to the chagrin of Justin Beiber fans), kicked off her Radio Music Society tour earlier this week. In a sly acknowledgement that her audience may not have been familiar with her music but were fans of jazz, swing and fusion, the bassist/vocalist set the stage by placing a large dial radio right in the middle. As the lights dimmed and a hush of anticipation set in, the radio lit up and was soon surfing the "airwaves" for that perfect song. The radio briefly tuned in a talk radio show, which was quickly tuned out; "Careless Whisper," which garnered a few chuckles from the audience; and a few commercials, before finally tuning into jazz. The stage lights went up to reveal Spalding's 14-piece band in a traditional big band setup: piano and drums stage right, horn and sax players stage left, with the dial radio serving as their "pit." The band performed for several minutes before Spalding waltzed onstage, holding her signature Fender bass guitar and instantly charmed the audience.
Spalding's command of the stage and easy rapport with her band is reminiscent of Charles Mingus
to mind. Performing songs from her newest album, Radio Music Society (Heads Up, 2012), Spalding quickly proved why she is a Grammy winner. Although the crowd initially was reserved, its members were soon interacting with the charming singer and, by the end of the evening, dancing in the aisles.
It has been said that being awarded Grammy's Best New Artist is a bit of a double-edged sword. Yes, having a gilded gramophone from that category instantly makes one a member of an exclusive musical club, but the category itself and those nominated, are fiercely debated. Some previous winners simply fade away, while their fellow nominees become household names. Other winners and nominees wonder why they have been labeled "new," as in the case of winners Shelby Lynne and Bon Iver, and nominees Florence and the Machine. Having a jazz player win the controversial category is not only good for jazz but is also cool. Based on Spalding's performance at UB, she should make room on for mantle for more gilded gramophones; clearly she is going to be around for a long time, winning fans over with not only her charm but also her talent and incredible music.