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The young Esperanza Spalding is bringing her musical and vocal talents to the Red Sea Jazz Festival as part of an all-girl quartet.

Esperana Spalding 88 224 (photo credit: Johann Sauty)
Esperana Spalding 88 224
(photo credit: Johann Sauty)
In pure marketing terms, Esperanza Spalding has at least a couple of things going for her - her gender and her instrument. Not that bassist-vocalist Spalding would approve of the former being used to further her career. At the end of August, she will bring her double bass and vocal chords with her to the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat, when she plays - and sings - in an all-female band led by drummer Terri Lynne Carrington that also features pianist Geri Allen and saxophonist Tineke Postma. Her tender years notwithstanding, the 23-year-old Portland, Oregon-born, now-New York resident has been making waves in the jazz community for a few years already. For a start, she was the second-youngest teacher at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston - the youngest being world-renowned guitarist Pat Metheny. While aware of the lofty nature of the accolade, Spalding is still careful about falling prey to the hype. "I don't think I'm such a great teacher yet," she states simply. "I'm still learning myself." But the powers that be at Berklee must have noticed that she had some kind of talent for imparting the intricacies of the art form. "Sure, I manage but - and this applies to my playing and singing too - I haven't arrived at any profound place yet, but I'm getting there and doing stuff. I am refining my craft." This is abundantly clear. Earlier this year, Spalding put out her eponymous debut album as leader - called Esperanza - and she regularly mixes it with such luminaries as pianist Herbie Hancock, vocalist Patti Austin and saxophonist Joe Lovano. "I get a lot out of playing with Joe's US Five Quintet. I get to put it out there with him." Spalding's synergy with Lovano certainly stretches her oeuvre. While the fifty-something reedman has quite a few mainstream projects under his belt, the quintet tends toward the more rarified domain of less-structured musical endeavors. Esperanza, on the other hand, has a definite feel-good ethos to it. Spalding says she lives comfortably in both worlds, with the accent on providing value for money rather than envelope pushing. "I think, as artists, we have a duty to give people what they need from the music. We have to make sure there is a lot of beauty, sincerity and positive energy in the show we put on. It should be palatable. I don't care so much if it's a jaw-dropping show, but I want people to leave the show happy and in a good mood." ACCORDING TO Spalding, she has plenty of forebears to feed off in that department. "Even the main frontmen - people like Bird and Dizzy [bebop founding fathers saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie] - were entertainers. History can be told selectively. We hear more about the esoteric art form stuff, but even those guys wanted to be entertainers. Bach wrote for the church, for a function, and entertainment is also a function." Fronting a band as an acoustic bass player, and providing vocals, too, takes a lot of guts - as well as dexterity. Mind you, it's not as rare as it used to be. "There are quite a few bass players who lead bands these days," Spalding notes. "There are guys like Avishai Cohen, Christian McBride and Ben Allison." As a product of the post-modern era, Spalding's musical interests stretch far and wide. "My heroes include people like [jazz diva] Dianne Reeves, [veteran saxophonist] Wayne Shorter - he's my number one hero - [drummer DJ] Questlove, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder and Joe Cocker. And there are lots more. "And I don't just do jazz. When I was at Berklee, I'd play with a Cuban band at a place called Wally's every Thursday. And I've toured with an Afro beat group called Femme Nameless. It's all good fun." Spalding, however, does not consider focusing on the gender aspect fun. "Yeah, I guess people talk about Terri's all-female band as a kind of novelty. But we've all cut our teeth with cool cats. I feel less hard-core than the others in the band, but what we do has nothing to do with our gender. People ask me to play in all women bands and I say no. But I'm really happy to play with Terri and the others. It's going to be great in Eilat." The Terri Lynne Carrington quartet will play at the Red Sea Jazz Festival on August 26 at 8 p.m. and on August 27 at 10:30 p.m.