HOMETOWN: Portland, Ore.
INFLUENCES: Cannonball Adderley, Ron Carter, Dave Holland
ALBUM: Chamber Music Society, out now

Jazz bass player and singer Esperanza Spalding has accumulated a lifetime’s worth of accomplishments at age 25, in part because she knew from a very early age what her destiny would be. She was only 4 when she saw classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma make a guest appearance on the kids’ show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. “That was when I realized that I wanted to do something musical,” she says. “It was definitely the thing that hipped me to the whole idea of music as a creative pursuit.” She taught herself to play violin, and performed on the instrument as part of a local community orchestra until she was 15.

By that time she had discovered the bass, and the following year she earned her GED and bolted to study in the music program at Portland State University. “I was definitely the youngest bass player in the program,” she says. “I was 16, and I had been playing the bass for about a year and a half. Most of the cats in the program had already had at least eight years of training under their belts, and I was trying to play in these orchestras and do these Bach cello suites. It wasn’t really flying—but if nothing else, my teachers were saying, ‘OK, she does have talent.’”

Spalding went on to study at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where she became an instructor at the tender age of 20. She earned her stripes on the road playing with saxophonist Joe Lovano. “I don’t know if I was ready for the gig or not, but he had a lot of faith in me,” she says. “It was an amazing learning experience.” Spalding released her debut album, Junjo, in 2006, but made her national breakthrough with 2008’s Esperanza. Her new follow-up, Chamber Music Society, finds Spalding leading a modern chamber music group that encompasses elements of jazz, folk and world music.

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