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Esperanza Spalding is one of a kind. A jazz bassist, but a jazz bassist who also sings (and has sung alongside the likes of Patti LaBelle, Alicia Keys and Janelle Monae). A kid who, at the age of four, saw cellist Yo-Yo Ma on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and decided to play music. And although Spalding had a lengthy illness as a child, she went on to become the youngest bass player (at the age of 16) in the music program at Portland State University. 

Most famously, in 2011 Spalding became the first jazz musician to win the Grammy Award for best new artist. The landmark achievement was only part of why her first Grammy win made her famous beyond the world of jazz, though. She also defeated Justin Bieber to nab that award, resulting in some unsavory behavior on the part of fans of the Biebs.

Spalding is touring North America right now, with her first date on April 5 at Toronto’s Massey Hall. (Other Canadian dates are listed here.)

Spalding spoke to CBC Music last week, and due to her extremely busy schedule had about 10 minutes to spare. But she was very gracious with those 10 minutes, and to the suggestion that she respond to 10 snappy questions in a Proust questionnaire mould (albeit condensed). Consider it a quick peek into the inner world of Esperanza Spalding.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I think things are perfect right now. Everything is perfect for me individually. And then, from moment to moment there’s this striving, trying to realize something that brings more peace and more good for yourself and the people around you. Maybe perfect happiness is feeling content in that you’re fulfilling your capacity to create more good for yourself and other people, from moment to moment.

What is your greatest fear?

I’m afraid of the dark. I don’t mean that in an esoteric way. I mean that literally.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Joan of Arc. Not so much war conquest, but for, at least in the interpretation by Mark Twain, the blatant, transparent and tireless honesty. And I think anyone throughout history who has been able to frankly express their true self, to say what they mean in the moment and mean it, and really be able to convey how they see the world, and what they see as right or wrong is incredible.

What is your favourite journey?

I guess from not being able to being able.

What is your greatest achievement?

I don’t really consider it.

What is your most treasured possession?


Who are your favourite writers?

Michael Ondaatje and Herman Melville are two.

What do you most value in your friends?

Shoot, they’re all so different. We feel good around each other. Trust.

What would you say is your most marked characteristic?

You’d have to ask some of my valued friends.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Any virtue is valuable. Maybe if you put too much weight on it, the implication is you’re not paying attention to other important factors. But any virtue is good to have.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Eating out at restaurants when I should be cooking at home. That’s a big luxury to me, to go sit down and have a wonderful meal that someone else cooks and cleans up after. And I’m a big comedy nut. It brings me so much pleasure I almost feel there’s something wrong. But I’m not a very extravagant person.

Who is your musical hero?

Too many. But two in particular I can think of right now are Wayne Shorter and Milton Nascimento.


What to be jazzed about in 2013, from Wayne Shorter to Esperanza Spalding

Q&A: Jack DeJohnette at 70 

Take 5: top 5 bass players in Canada

Jazz faceoff: Dave Young vs. Eddie Gomez

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Esperanza Spalding: 10 questions in 10 minutes

Esperanza Spalding is one of a kind. A jazz bassist, but a jazz bassist who also sings (and has sung…


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