Telluride Jazz Celebration "find," Esperanza, takes top Grammy honors

Telluride Jazz Celebration "find," Esperanza, takes top Grammy honors

Prince-beta-062-300x233 Esperanza Spalding's first Telluride appearance was 2007 for Winter Jazz. Those of us who know Telluride Jazz Celebration's impresario Paul Machado know the man has an eye for the ladies. His special gift is to catch rising stars before they have reached their zenith: violinist Regina Carter, guitarist Badi Assad, chanteuses Diana Krall, Jane Monheit, and Lizz Wright to name a few of Machado’s picks early in their careers.

The story of Esperanza Spalding is a rags-to-riches-tale, an American dream come true, because a smart single mom recognized she had  a gifted daughter who thought – and played – out of the box. Years later, the jazz bassist/singer has clearly earned the respect of her peers. And one of her major fans happens to be President Obama. Last night, Sunday, February 13, Esperanza took the Grammys by storm, winning Best Artist, trumping popsters Justin Bieber and Drake, plus bands Mumford & Sons (Telluride Bluegrass Festival, 2010) and Florence & The Machine.

The name "Esperanza" means "hope" in Spanish, but the lady is way beyond hope. At the ripe old age of 26,  the beautiful – she’s a mix of Welch, native American and African American – petite bassist/vocalist with the towering Afro has arrived.

On bass, Esperanza's tone is rich and beautiful. Once outside the beat, she manages to stretch and suspend it, while still contributing to the evolution of the melody and harmony of her band when she is not going solo. Performing a solo, one critic described her as “a master of velocity.” When Esperanza's singing is wordless, the sound is reminiscent of Flora Purim singing on Chick Correa’s records.

Esperenza told me years ago during our first interview:“I don’t have the most sophisticated voice, but I do have good intonation and singing feels very natural: What comes out, comes out. It takes energy to compose and playing bass is physically demanding. For me, singing is like writing a letter to a close friend or loved one. You don’t have to correct your spelling and grammar. What’s important is the care and feeling you express."

That was back in the day when the brashness of youth was burnished with an emerging genius.

Last night, the genius got out of the bottle.

Congratulations Esperanza.

Good eye Paul.

(photo courtesy of

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