Rocks Off: You compose, arrange, perform, sing, record and teach. Which is the easiest for you? Which is the most expressive?
Esperanza Spalding: No way to really answer that. Each one has its context and moment when it feels utterly natural. And then, of course, each one has its time when you think, "Agh! What am I doing?" As far back as I can remember, composition has always come to me very freely. But I feel that playing the bass is the most expressive. [Playing improvised music with a group] it's just like a live conversation, like we're all composing at the same time.
RO: I would have said that arranging was the most expressive for you. I heard you on Marian McPartland's show on NPR and you played an arrangement of "Night and Day" that was really free and different. As many times as "Night and Day" has been done, you still managed to take it into absolutely new territory.
ES: That's interesting. I wouldn't have thought of that but now that you say it, I can certainly see it. When it's someone else's tune, you're a little more liberated because it already has context. I can do anything with it, but it will still be understood because it's a piece that's well known and no matter how I twist it or what direction I take it, it's still familiar.
RO: Tell us about the two CDs that you have coming up.
ES:One is Chamber Music Society and the other is Radio Music Society...
RO: Obviously they're related.
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ES:They are, but each one is also complete by itself. Basically, I'm just bringing improvised music into a classical setting and to music you would consider radio hits.
Chamber Music Society is a mix of string trios and piano trios. And in Radio Music Society ... I don't know if people are interested, but I know that I like to hear instruments. I like to hear arrangements. There's just so much more that I can do with a live band.
Just like this retro music that's so popular right now, it's all acoustic. It's all about arrangements and really skilled arrangers, singers and instrumentalists. The point is that we want to make music that's what you can hear on the radio, but made with real instruments. They're just great songs that are really memorable, with hooks that you can sing along to. It's just my version of that, but with a really banging live band.
Esperanza Spalding performs at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 24, Wortham Theater Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-524-5050 or visit www.dacamera.com. The concert is sold out.