Esperanza Spalding on the Grammys, jazz and Q-Tip

Esperanza Spalding on the Grammys, jazz and Q-Tip
Sandrine Lee

Singer and bassist Esperanza Spalding made history when she received a Grammy Award in 2011 for Best New Artist. Up against music greats Mumford & Sons, Florence and the Machine, Drake, and teen favorite Justin Bieber, it was Spalding who walked away with the Grammy, making it the first time a jazz musician won that award.

On Sunday, Spalding will perform at the State Theatre, sharing tunes from her newest album, Radio Music Society. The album serves as a companion to Chamber Music Society, Spalding's last record. Spalding collaborated with new talent, including hip-hop artist Q-Tip who performs on and co-produced two tracks. Here's Gimme Noise's conversation with Spalding about her big award and her new album.

"What I really like about Q-Tip is that he's associated with hip-hop, but as a person and as a creative spirit, he's involved in so many layers of music. I knew through friends of mine that had worked with him that he had a really broad sense of music."

The pair worked together on one of Q-Tip's projects and had a "good vibe," so Spalding was excited to work with him again and says she continues to look forward to working with new talent.

When asked about her Grammys competitors, Spalding says that she "really likes" Mumford & Sons, "likes" Florence and the Machine and "can appreciate the work that's involved in the careers of Justin Bieber and Drake." She also adds that she thinks it's impossible to judge five artists who have such different music styles.

"You have five completely different artists there...for someone to walk away with this thing that says 'you're the best,' that totally is not fair. That doesn't make any sense," Spalding says. "You can have six athletes who are all running 100 meters and whoever gets there first is the best because they're the fastest.  When you're talking about art and you're looking people whose styles are distinctly different, it's really I don't think it's fair to say one is the best. I don't think it's fair to say one is somehow more appreciated than the others. For people who are obsessed with Florence and the Machine, then they're the best. If people love Drake, then Drake is the best.

To me, what that award signals more than anything else is that it had been so long that anyone from the jazz world has been recognized. I think for a lot of people it's like, 'Jesus, why the hell has it been so long since a jazz musician has even been acknowledged here?' I think people said 'thank you' for acknowledging that jazz is happening out there and that it can even be seen alongside these "non-jazz or improvised musicians." I think more than anything that people wanted to acknowledge that it was something meaningful that has happened.  It was an opportunity to bring a light to fact that a lot of different art forms that are around and thriving in this country don't get any play in that realm- and it's not just about jazz-...I think it was a great opportunity to open the conversation."

Spalding doesn't care what people categorize her music as and says she thinks people get too caught up in labels when it comes to music.

"The truth I want to say is- I don't care what people call me. Call me a baker, call me a Moroccan specialist, as long as people come and listen I don't care," Spalding says. "I know the musicians that I love and the records that I love and the last thing I'm thinking about when I put it on or when I sit down to transcribe it is what it's called. I don't think I've ever in my life associated anything I really love with the category it's filed under in the record store on iTunes. I don't really care. I just care about doing it really well."

She encourages people to try listening to new music without judging it by the category it is placed in.

"We tend to have titles for things and we like that. It's easy for organizing things in our lives. I would just ask that we remain open to categories we think we don't like or haven't heard anything so far that we like," Spalding says.

Esperanza Spalding's Radio Music Society is Sunday, September 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the State Theatre. Tickets are $33-$73.

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