Esperanza Spalding picked up two more Grammy Awards in 2013. "Radio Music Society," her latest CD, won for Best Jazz Vocal Album. The second Grammy was for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist for her song "City of Roses." To hail these achievements, the Washington Performing Arts Society brings her back to the Warner Theatre for an evening of gems from "RMS," which she first performed here last year.
The effervescent bassist/composer/vocalist and former Berklee College of Music faculty member has been on a musical roll since her self-titled album debuted in 2008. Shortly after she received the 2011 Grammy for Best New Artist, the only jazz artist so honored, "Chamber Music Society," her third studio album and partner of "RMS," immediately soared to the top of Billboard's jazz album charts and became the best-selling contemporary jazz album of 2011. She introduced it to Washington two years ago at a packed Lincoln Theatre, then performed it later at the Warner Theatre.
"When we have something going on like these two albums, people come back to see something new," she said. "When a band comes to my city for a second time, I love listening to them again and I always say, Whoa! What's happened? No matter how many times you hear a particular number, you always find something new and special about it."
Spalding's goal in "RMS" was to explore what makes a pop song that listeners might gravitate to on the radio. In addition to her covers of Wayne Shorter's "Endangered Species" and Stevie Wonder's "I Can't Help It," the lyrics of her original songs address such diverse topics as love ("Crowned and Kissed"), the tragedies of war ("Vague Suspicions"), an innocent man in jail ("Land of the Free"), teaching young black boys pride ("Black Gold"), and the joy of singing along with the radio ("Radio Song"). Of them all, she confesses to arriving at the Grammy ceremony wishing that "City of Roses" would walk away with an award.
|» Where: Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. NW|
|» When: 8 p.m. Monday|
|» Info: $39 to $49; 202-785-9727; wpas.org|
"Winning for that song was so special, but it's also hard to be in that situation and receive the honor when so many other wonderful artists were nominated," she said. "It began when I got a commission to write a song about a city. I first wrote the music to meet the deadline. The big band arrangement came later when I tweaked it for my record and dedicated it to my city. Portland was the most logical subject because I grew up there and am familiar with the jazz scene and everything about the place. The lyrics flowed naturally.
"The fact that it won for instrumental arrangement and vocals is exciting. I've been arranging my music and singing along with it going back to the first time I sang with a band when I was 15 or 16. I really wanted to gig on bass, and finally got that opportunity. When I was recording with an indie record label in Portland, they wanted me to sing more and I've been doing it ever since."
Spalding's voice has a remarkably wide range and the agility to switch from pop to jazz to soul as the beat dictates. It works in perfect partnership with her upright acoustic bass. Although many bass players may sing along when the mood arises, no others boast Spalding's multiple textures, resonance and range that mesh so beautifully with the stringed instrument.
"My mom was working two jobs, so I grew up in an unstructured household where I could pursue my deepest interests," she said. "When I began college at 16, I wasn't a perfect student, but I knew how to devote more time to one subject. Because I was proactive, I was always refining how to study and that led to spending the bulk of my time practicing and improving my performance. Now that I have so many interests, my work is cut out for me. Twelve of my favorite top musicians are in the band that's coming to Washington on this tour. We rarely play a number the same way because we're always exploring how to make our music better."