Esperanza Spalding knew something was wrong.
Yes, she beat out Justin Bieber and Drake for the best new artist Grammy in 2011. Yes, she had been hailed as the future of jazz for her singing and her bass playing. But it didn’t feel right, so she took a break.
“I’m just glad that a) I could afford to do it and b) I had the . . . [guts] to do it,” Spalding says, calling from her Brooklyn home.
And it’s a good thing, because if she didn’t, Emily probably would never have come into her life, leading to her new album and ambitious new performance project, “Emily’s D+Evolution” (Concord), which combines jazz, R&B, rock and visual storytelling. Before she returns to Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Brookville, where she rehearsed the piece for weeks, Spalding explained how the unusual idea came to fruition.
Can you describe Emily?
I see her as the embodiment of an energy, this force that barreled through my life and my work to open this channel. And in her wake, this new way of expressing myself was opened.
That mountain has erupted. The top will forever look different. Maybe it will become a lake. Maybe it will continue to vent gas from the middle of the earth. Whatever. It’s open and it’s going to stay open. She has performed her function. I think once the work is done — and it’s getting there — she will move on, but the effect of her energy in my life will remain.
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And it wasn’t like that before?
I didn’t know I was missing something, then I realized that I was. I did know intuitively that I had to slow down and reassess. . . . I knew it was stifling in a way that I couldn’t put my finger on. In that space of playing with other people and getting involved in their struggles of just day to day trying to do art out in the world and have it resonate and still pay the bills and find time to still share and teach and practice and be a dad and be a mom. All these stories that I was getting in touch with by being part of other people’s bands was really humbling and it was really centering and it reminded me what was at the core of my motivation for playing and doing music. In that quiet place, that’s where this project came from.
How did the project come to Tilles Center?
Shout out to Tilles Center! They were willing to let us use it. They had been talking about booking us when I was interested in some sort of bartering and they very generously let us workshop it there in exchange for some teaching and work with the students there. It was a great experience with everyone. I think there are more people like that in the world and I’m going to hunt them down and work with them.