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Esperanza Spalding: The Intimate Balance

By Published: February 14, 2011
AAJ: You started working on some of these tracks years ago—but you're only 25; how is that possible?

ES: [Laughs] Any track in particular?

AAJ: "Little Fly" and "Apple Blossom" really got me going. When I heard Milton Nascimento
Milton Nascimento
Milton Nascimento
's voice, on "Apple Blossom," I really wanted to pick up the phone and ask you about it.

ES: [Laughs] I know, I don't even believe that; I still can't believe that; I can't believe he is there. And that song was so much trouble for me. I have realized that "Apple Blossom" is a song that a lot of people relate to it, it speaks to them, and I don't really have a very good explanation about where the song came from. One day last, maybe March [2009], or maybe even earlier, it might have been September of 2008, in the fall, I was in the hotel taking a shower in the morning, and this scene just came to my head and then the story came, and I don't know where it came from, but I started crying right there, in the bathroom, and I was going "What the hell?! What's going on?" It's not PMS, the story just came and it hit me like a force.

I ran down to have breakfast, trying to clear my head, but it always remained in my head, this story of this man, and the way that he heals through this plant, this tree that represents the life of this person that he's lost. I don't know, I've never experienced anything like that, so I don't know what all of that means, but it just came out like that. And then for the last year-and-a-half I have been trying to put it together and reaching out to where the song was, and what it needed to become. And then at one point it hit me, that Milton should be the voice for this song. I heard it all in my head, but not having really experienced it myself it was difficult to finish the lyrics, and to make it real. So November last year, in the morning, I was supposed to go in the studio and I finished the lyrics 20 minutes before he got there. and he recorded it. It's very bizarre. It was very mysterious, I don't know where it came from, and I had wanted to do that for a long time.

AAJ: Gretchen Parlato
Gretchen Parlato
Gretchen Parlato

and "Inutil Paisagem"?

ES: We have known each other for awhile. We have done a few little gigs, and she is becoming a dear friend. One day she came by my house and we were wondering what we could do, that would feature both of us. And we came up with that arrangement, and I feel that the intimacy, the timbre of that song, the color of it, the percussion, the bass and the vocals, it sounds a little different for people, but it captures that vibe of two people that get along and like each other, and are doing some music together for fun, for entertainment, the enjoyment of experiencing the music coming out of you. So it seemed quite on the line.

AAJ: The album starts with a song inspired by a poem by William Blake. Tell me about "Little Fly."

ES: Yes, William Blake. It's amazing. Sometimes just being home can have an impact in one's life. I have this book of postcards that have the painting that William Blake had made to go along with the poem, and the painting of "Little Fly" got my attention first, and then I read the poem. I thought it was really powerful. I don't know where it came from, but I was practicing one day and the melody came out, and somehow it just fit perfectly.

AAJ: Everything has a little story on this record.

ES: Absolutely. The way this record evolved was because of this repertoire that I had been developing little by little and didn't have a place for yet. And then I realized "Oh, my God, this is really crying out for some more content, or crying out to be on this album," and they all just found their place.

AAJ : Where does Esperanza the singer start and the musician end?

ES: That's a good question—I never saw it like that, I guess. It's not organized in my mind at all, really. I'm just going for what needs to be done, whether that means singing in a track or not, or I don't know... You caught me off guard! It doesn't really go with the way that I'm operating with my music. I certainly feel like all the elements, singing and playing, they're really part of the same motivation, which for me comes out of composition: that's my main passion, and what I really think rules everything else. It all comes from there.

AAJ: What was the main idea on your mind when you started working on this project? What was the purpose, what you wanted to communicate?

ES: Well, I guess what I wanted to convey was that I wanted people to enjoy this type of ensemble, heavily inspired by a classical repertoire, classical chamber music. The feel, and the timber and the vibe of the record to me really draws its character from the influences of classical chamber music, and I wanted people who might not necessarily have turned to that yearning to experience that, coupled with improvisation and the types of style composition that is more similar to jazz composition, I suppose, although even that is a pretty big comment.

Sometimes we can come up with much deeper explanations after the fact, but really it's so really true to me, and it's so very real, and meaningful, and I wanted to share that. It's like when you draw something beautiful, and then you have to share it because you think maybe other people would enjoy it too, so you put it on your wall. And maybe that's the main thing here: it's an offering that I think people will enjoy and appreciate it. I believe in that.

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