Grammy-award winning singer and instrumentalist Esperanza Spalding is the queen of cool, cloaked in a bit of mystery. Her fifth and latest venture, “Emily’s D+Evolution” came to her during a full moon, in a dream-like sequence of sketches, a musical story unraveling before her. “It wasn’t actually a dream. I was awake. It was a night close to my birthday, and I couldn’t sleep between gigs. It just kept getting more intriguing to me as I played with it. A year and a half later, here we are,” she said.
During her tour to promote the album, 30-year-old Spalding — whose middle name is Emily — hopes to “create a world around each song.” She says, “There are a lot of juicy themes and stories in the music. We will be staging the songs as much as we play them, using characters, video and the movement of our bodies.”
Those juicy themes are not something she can easily explain.
“I don’t like to talk about sound and movement, I don’t think you can. It would be inaccurate. I can show you better than I can tell you,” said Spalding.
Whatever it is that she is eager to share with fans during her performances this summer, it’s sure to be a testament of her growth as an artist and as a person. From her first album, “Junjo,” to “Esperanza, Chamber Music Society” and “Radio Music Society,” Spalding has stretched as an artist, exploring different feelings and musical realms. The silky-voiced celebrity’s concerts are joyous dalliances through complicated chords. She’s dazzled listeners at the White House, collaborated with a number of artists including Janelle Monae on “Electric Lady,” Bobby McFerrin, Herbie Hancock and Terri Lyne Carrington for “The Mosaic Project” and also released “We Are America,” urging for the close of Guantanamo.
The young starlet has had a whirlwind career, but she’s always open to, and up for doing and learning more. Spalding soaks up life’s lessons from everyone. Scores of knowledgeable advisers and friends have helped keep her on track throughout her journey.
She counts the late, legendary Philadelphia guitarist Jef Lee Johnson as one of her mentors.
“I loved him very much. I learned about not getting caught up in that superficial bull---t [that comes along with] being an artist and being somebody. He was very unattached to hype. [It was] really all about the music and letting it speak for itself. He was a beautiful spirit. A no-nonsense, funky soul and a brilliant, great mind,” she shared.
The incredibly busy talent, who loves to mediate, read and clean (believe it or not), almost forgot that lesson from Johnson about staying grounded. During a year off, Spalding took time reevaluate herself and get centered.
“I think I had to get off a high horse that I didn’t know I was on. [I felt like] I hadn’t seen my instrument in forever. I needed to think about my sense of self and worth. I had a self-revelation: I gotta work on myself! A lot has changed, and it’s ongoing. Things have changed with my band and how I run my business. Musically I don’t think anything has changed, it’s an evolution. The ‘D+Evolution’ of change and that’s the nature of the climate; the universe. Direction isn’t absolutely forward or absolutely back.”
Move with Spalding at the Theatre of the Living Arts, this Sunday, May 17, at 8 p.m.