interview: ’emily’s d+ evolution’ – the growing artistry of jazz musician esperanza spalding

November 30, 1999

It’s been almost a decade since the release of Esperanza Spalding’s first album ‘Junjo’. Her debut to the world was almost destined way before she won a Grammy, played alongside Prince, or graced her presence at the White House on two occasions. It began in Portland, Oregon when she discovered her desire to play the violin as a child. Despite all of her success in her career, Spalding has continued to remain humble about the many accomplishments in her life, and still speaks of the importance of growing and always evolving as a musician and artist. Spalding spoke with us about her new tour that kicks off this month, and also shared some life lessons about growing as an artist.

By Brandon Jackson, AFROPUNK Contributor



Esperanza, before I talk about some of the work you’ve been doing since the release of ‘Radio Music Society’, I want to ask about this dream you had a day before your birthday which gave birth to ‘Emily’s D+ Evolution’. Tell me how this all came about.

You know I really can’t tell you how it came about. It actually surprised me too (laughter). It was something that came about that was never really meant to be a character as if I’m saying, “hi my name is Emily,” but it was really the way of how I saw myself. It was the energy of the performance that I saw and the vignettes. I really liked the symbolism in the vignettes. The vignettes were very abstract and I really liked it. I guess I really had been missing that, and later with a little reflection the original dreams actually turned out to be songs. I think that’s how everything started to move forward. It always seems that the original source of inspiration always turns out to be a winner. Over time it just seemed that there was more and more to unpack and I just kept running with it.

I now that your tour kicks off in early May and runs through the mid part of August. Can your audience expect to see anything different from this tour compared to some of your past tours?

Yes they will! I can’t tell everything, but it’s going to be very good so I hope they come out.

You’ve been in the public eye for about 12 or so years. And I know for Jazz artists it can take years, sometimes 20 or so years for a Jazz artist to arrive. Do you still consider yourself new to the public eye or do you feel that you’ve arrived as a musician?

To me there is no such thing as “arriving.” Arriving is usually related to the realm of notoriety, which is really not my concern. I arrived when I was born and that was enough for me. Arriving is already an arrival. No person, no entity, no group of peers, or organization has the authorization to tell a person that they’ve arrived. I would also like to say that in the realm of being any artist whether it is a songwriter, classical pianist, or jazz musician the process is ongoing. You do get to a place where you know your strengths. You know you can read a sheet of music if someone puts it in front of you. You know as an artist if you have to write a jingle about resumes you can nail it. The miracle is that forever the potentiality expands, so there is no such thing as arrived. It’s sometimes like arriving on the horizon, and as soon as you get there there’s another horizon. As artists we are so limitless, so to me there is no arriving.

You know it’s interesting, I remember reading an interview where you stated one of your goals was to sing and play the way a piano player does. Is that something that you’ve achieved yet or are you still working on that?

I wish I was there! I think that has to do more with one aspect of singing and playing. What I mean by that is having the independence and the agility in both the voice and the bass to move in real time. I think that would be really great to be able to do that. But this is a process that is ongoing.

I know that writing has been a big thing for you going back to when you wrote for your first group Noise for Pretend. Do you still keep a journal as a means to help you with some of your lyrics for projects you’re working on?

Yes. I use a journal, voice memos, and tape recorders of some of my thoughts and ideas. Everything that I do is ongoing. At this point in my life everything that I do goes through many revisions before it’s ready for other people to hear. I use the journal for mostly editing and fine tweaking things.

It’s no secret that when you made your debut to the world you drew in an audience of people who never would have listened to Jazz had it not been for them seeing you on the Grammys or the BET awards. Do you still feel that there is more of an audience that has not been tapped into yet who would like jazz?

Well, like a lot of art forms there aren’t many spaces in the public arena for the general public to hear about things like poetry, international literature, world music, folk, and contemporary dance. It’s hard to gain access sometimes to the performing arts and non –performing arts like poetry. I think the more that we are exposed to the performing arts, the more we learn to appreciate them and love them more which have been the experience for my life. I don’t really think much of my music is very jazzy, and I don’t consider myself a gateway act into jazz. I’m an artist first and if people come to see me and they want to listen to jazz awesome, and if not I’m thankful they came to see me!

Lastly, Esperanza I know you’re a fan of Mos Def, so I had to ask you this question.Who’s your top 5 Hip Hop Artists?

You know it’s funny I don’t have a top 5 anything. I mean everyone is so different so it’s not really fair. I really don’t believe in competition. I will say that I think Kendrick Lamar is amazing! I really think he’s a genius and his talent for what he is doing with his poetry and language is really underrated. I think what he’s doing now is super special. Please visit for tour related information.

Tour Dates

June 13th

Washington, DC
03:00 PM

June 14th
20th Century Theater
Cincinnati, OH
08:00 PM

June 16th
Cain Park
Cleveland Heights, OH
08:00 PM

June 19th

Barrymore Theatre
Madison, WI
08:00 PM

June 21st
Burton Cummings Theatre
Winnipeg, MB
07:30 PM

July 2nd
3rd & Lindsley
Nashville, TN
08:00 PM


* Brandon Jackson – Speaker, Writer, and Educator