You never know where inspiration comes from—I realized I wanted to be a journalist when I saw NBC New York’s Sue Simmons interviewing New Edition. My sister-in-law Angelou was inspired to become an environmentalist while summering on her family’s 58-acre farm, not far from the Canadian border. My little girl, Mari, really digs marching bands, and was inspired to ask for trumpet lessons for her birthday so she can be in one.
Inspiration, you see, breathes life into dreams, and dreams breathe life into us. And sometimes, life is transformed and transforming because of it.
It was an episode of Mister Rodger’s Neighborhood, featuring the classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma that inspired and transformed my latest obsession, Esperanza Spalding. The critically acclaimed jazz bassist, who is transforming one of America’s greatest art forms, taught herself how to play the violin at the tender age of five because of that episode. And now, at just age 23, Spalding is a bright and shining star in the jazz pantheon, bringing her eclectic, graceful, funk-filled stylings and that angelic voice to stages all across the world—and inspiring my girls to follow their passions.
I stumbled across her music on iTunes (where I tend to look for bright new artists and listen-worthy music because Heaven knows I can’t count on black radio to help a sistah out), and I simply cannot stop playing her latest offering, Esperanza. The girls and I absolutely adore her young, hip, Afro-Brazilian update on the Milton Nascimento classic Ponta de Areia and the jazz standard, "Body and Soul," and her “I Know You Know,” and “Precious” make us stop what we’re doing and dance. We just dance and dance. And marvel at how someone so young could do something so incredibly original and fresh and incredibly cool—play the bass and sing and compose and lead her own band and teach at Berklee.
Esperanza, in essence, inspires.
On her website, EsperanzaSpalding.com, the artist acknowledges her gift, and gives humble thanks:
“I think there are some outside forces that have blessed me with creative talents, and I don’t want to disrespect whatever plan the cosmos or the heavens or God or whoever might have fore me, she explains. But based on what I know about myself right now, what I really want to do is reach people. I want to make great music, but I also want to use that talent to life people up, and maybe show them some degree of hope where there might not be any in their lives. My name means ‘hope’ in Spanish, and it’s a name I want to live up to.”
She most certainly does. Take a listen, and hear it for yourself. I’ve included two videos here—one of her performing Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” in the East Room of the White House at Michelle Obama’s jazz concert, the other of her performing our favorite, Ponta de Areia, because, doggonit, you just need to hear it.
If you have the time, check out her website; if you have the $10, cop the album—it’s worth every penny, and I promise you, you’ll be inspired to let the babies listen in.
Photo credit for Esperanza Spalding portrait: Johann Sauty
Photo credit for Mari, a.k.a. Lil' Louis, on the horn: Proud mama, Denene Millner