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Debut Album Shows Off Esperanza Spalding's Multiple Talents

Esperanza Spalding was a self-taught classical violinist, so nobody was more surprised than Spalding when she decided to switch to playing acoustic bass and singing jazz and blues. VOA's Doug Levine has more on this talented young musician who also demonstrates a flair for songwriting on her self-titled debut album.

On her first outing for a major label, Esperanza, 23 was given free reign in the studio. While her singing and bass playing are front and center, it's her composing and arranging skills that are most impressive.

Esperanza says she picked songs that showcased all aspects of her music. "A few of them I actually wrote right before we went into the studio, and some of the songs were tunes that I've been playing with the group live for the last year. Some of the songs, obviously, some of them are arrangements. So, basically, all of them are songs that I chose that I've either arranged or written. That's why the CD is named Esperanza. I'm presenting myself to you, my musical self to you. So, I chose songs that I felt kind of covered all the bases," she said.

Esperanza got an early start in music. She began with the Chamber Music Society of Oregon at age five, a stint that lasted for 10 years. Next came the bass, which she says she learned to play almost by accident.

"When I picked up the bass, the first five or 10 minutes that I picked it up, I was playing the blues with a musician that I never played with before on an instrument that I didn't even know. And right in those five minutes I was like, 'What? How can we even be doing this?' Because, I didn't know anything about jazz. I guess on some subconscious level, I picked up on that, that you can communicate and it's a beautiful, communicative art form," she said.

Esperanza is still getting accustomed to her new role as bandleader. But she says no matter how much time she spends on promoting her album or planning her live shows, she never misses an opportunity to practice.

"The funny thing that people may or may not know about serious musicians is that you spend a lot of time by yourself. There is a lot of alone time just with you and your instrument, or you in your hotel room, on the road. So it's actually quite a pleasure to be able to talk with different journalists or whoever it may be. And what really takes up most of my time is just preparation. You know, at my house practicing and listening and thinking of arrangements. Thinking about what the band needs to do, and the live gigs, to improve it and make it better, make it more memorable," she said.

Esperanza is currently on a break from her teaching duties at the Berklee College of Music, where she once attended on a full scholarship.