Esperanza Spalding, Andy Bey
January 1, 1970This morning's Andy Bey concert review follows a preview of it in Thursday's Calendar section. But the bigger news is the big play the Globe gave the profile of 20-year-old bassist-singer-composer Esperanza Spalding in Friday's Jazz Notes.
It was good photos that did the trick, and the fact that the Berklee College of Music hopes to put a three-story image of Spalding on the Boylston Street side of the Berklee Performance Center, replacing the orange-and-yellow graphic design that has been there since the mid-'70s.
Spalding being in Boston meant the Globe could send a photographer to take some shots of the paper's own, and the photographer got a couple of good ones.
Spalding will hit the road with Joe Lovano when she graduates Berklee next month, which strikes me as particularly fitting. I first met her a year and a half ago in one of Lovano's classes as I was preparing my Globe Sunday Magazine profile of Lovano.
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Singer puts a lovely stamp on standards
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | April 23, 2005
Andy Bey is very much a jazz singer. Most of the standards he covered in his sparkling first set at Scullers on Thursday — six of the nine culled from his standout 2004 CD, "American Song" — would work nicely in a more button-down cabaret setting. But Bey's highly improvisatory approach stamped them thoroughly with his own personality and conveyed the sense that he never sings them quite the same way twice.
Bey took a seat at the piano in a pinstriped gray suit, a diminutive 65-year-old with glasses and braided hair. ("My name is Ziggy Marley," he joked with the audience a few songs later as he finished announcing his three supporting musicians: bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, drummer Jeremy Clemons, and — for half the set only — guitarist Paul Meyers.)
And right from the first number, "It's Only a Paper Moon," he began taking chances with his honeyed baritone voice.
Generally, Bey's singing style followed a pattern. He would begin a tune softly and ruminatively, perhaps pause to play a short solo on the piano, and then come back in belting the lyrics at high volume, as if he'd now become passionate about their meaning. His voice might rise momentarily to a falsetto-like height, or drop for effect to a foghorn drone.
Bey's baritone wasn't merely deep in pitch. There was a palpable sense of heartache running through his vocals. Whatever his disappointments in love (the subject of most of the set's songs), he has also weathered some professional setbacks. After breaking into the business via Andy and the Bey Sisters nearly a half-century ago, Bey went largely ignored for decades until he began focusing on standards in the mid-1990s.
Bey performed the set with handwritten lyrics before him, the only musical notation on them being each tune's key signature. Dashes scattered throughout the lyrics indicated places for him to improvise piano fills.
Twice, though, he rose from the piano and sang standing. The second time, he sent Kitagawa and Clemons offstage and had Meyers provide his only accompaniment on Dori Caymmi's lovely "Like a Lover." He remained standing for Dizzy Gillespie's bebop classic "Blue 'n' Boogie," which Bey scatted his way through entirely.
His accompanists had swung hard all night, but here they were finally unleashed to solo, and they made the most of it. Then Bey closed out the set back at the piano, with an exquisite solo reading of "Prelude to a Kiss."
At: Scullers, first set, Thursday
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Ace of bass
For Esperanza Spalding, practice makes perfect
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | April 22, 2005
Esperanza Spalding's six-year love affair with the upright bass sort of snuck up on her.
Spalding, 20, who will lead a trio tomorrow night at Roxbury Community College's Mainstage Theater, was fooling around with a bass she found in the band room at her Portland, Ore., high school one day when her band director walked in and asked if she wanted to learn the instrument.
Spalding had shown up at school that day intending to quit studying violin, but the band director taught her a blues bass line in F, and soon she was getting work around town on her new instrument. She was 15 when she debuted at a local club with jazz singer Sweet Baby James Benton, and by the time she left Portland for Berklee two years later she had played her upright and sung on a couple of CDs with the short-lived fusion trio Noise to Pretend.
Still, Spalding's affection for the bass was not quite a matter of love at first sight.
"At first it was just painful, and I hated it," she says, seated in a Berklee College of Music practice room. Her small hands, she notes, made playing bass particularly difficult. "But I liked the sound," she says. "I like the role of the bass in the band. That's a big thing: I don't want to be a frontman, and I don't like having to play solos all the time."
Spalding didn't always like practicing in those early days, either. "I just like to play when it makes me happy," she admits. "Sometimes sitting for six hours [practicing] doesn't make me happy, so I don't want to do it."
Luckily for her, she didn't need to early on.
"For someone who didn't practice very much, bass just came very naturally to me," Spalding says. "I knew how to play the bass. I knew what made sense somehow. And so that was really appealing. And people would say to me, 'You're a great bass player.' Nobody ever said, 'You're a great violin player, you're a great piano player.'"
These days, however, Spalding can't get enough of practicing her bass. "It's bizarre," she says. "It's kind of like this blossoming love. I love even holding it now."
Others love hearing her play it. Spalding's onetime professor Joe Lovano has already hired her for a short tour of Canada following her graduation next month, with a quartet rounded out by Berklee percussion professor Francisco Mela on drums and pianist James Weidman. Spalding has also been hired to tour with a Ray Charles tribute band, and she helped pay her way through Berklee by backing vocalist Patti Austin on a summer tour of Italy.
Then there are Spalding's own projects. Earlier this month, she recorded her first CD as a leader, joined by Mela and pianist Aruán Ortiz, another Berklee professor. The disc, titled "Junjo," features Spalding originals and vocals and is due out from Barcelona-based Ayva Musica in the fall. Spalding's compositions and singing will also be featured at tomorrow night's show, which features Leonardo Genovese on piano and Mela on drums.
Much of what drives Spalding's desire to practice of late is her determination to couple her singing with her bass playing. "It's a very unexplored instrument, especially for singing," she says. "There are a lot of things that we don't do as bass players, because they're really hard. I just would rather take the time to figure out those things."
To judge by a short, impromptu demonstration she provides in the practice room, Spalding is well on her way to nailing down her ambition. She starts off casually singing a few bars of a standard while accompanying herself with a walking bass line, and follows that with equally charming Brazilian vocals and a more abstract accompaniment on bass.
"She really knows what she's got," says Mela by phone afterward, "but she doesn't know yet how to combine those two abilities that she has. She's a great singer, she's a great bass player, and so she's just trying to put all the things in her to go in one direction."
The sight of a musician simultaneously playing upright bass and singing is a rarity. So, too, is that of a female upright bass player. But Spalding's thin frame and striking hairdo could soon become a commonplace sight for Bostonians.
Berklee is contemplating replacing the graphic design that has long ornamented the Boylston Street side of the Berklee Performance Center with a three-story photograph of Spalding and her bass, pending approval from the Back Bay Association.
"From what I've heard, it's kind of abstract," she says of the image under consideration. "Unless you know it's me, I don't think you'll be like, 'That looks like that girl.' I don't think I'll be recognizable. So that's cool."
Berklee bash: Three more Berklee standouts and their bands will have their music featured at the Regattabar Thursday at 7:30 p.m., when Berklee's student-run label Jazz Revelation Records celebrates the release of its second CD, "Two."
Performers include pianist Yumiko Mikami, leader of the Northern Lights Band; guitarist Nir Felder and his group Junk Poetics; and percussionist Manavihare (Mimy) Fiaindratovo and his African- and Afro-Cuban-influenced jazz group Fikira.
Tickets cost $10 ($8 for students), and include free copies of the new CD. Call 617-395-7757 or visit www.regattabarjazz.com.
Bassist/ singer/ composer Esperanza Spalding will perform with pianist Leonardo Genovese and drummer Francisco Mela at Roxbury Community College’s Mainstage Theater, 1234 Columbus Ave., at 8 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets $7. Call 617-541-5380 or visit www.rccmainstage.com.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Andy Bey Scullers, DoubleTree Hotels Guest Suites, 400 Soldiers Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 and 10 p.m. Ticket only, $20; dinner/ show, $58.
Standards suit Andy Bey. The singer is finally getting a little recognition for his rich baritone voice and deeply felt interpretation of classics such as "Lush Life," "Satin Doll," and "Prelude to a Kiss," all three of which appear on "American Song," his Grammy-nominated CD from last year. Usually accompanying himself on piano, Bey has a way of slowing down a melody and luxuriating in it that brings to mind Shirley Horn. But no one much noticed until he began emphasizing what he calls his "soft-palette voice" on a string of CDs built around ballads and standards, starting with 1996's "Ballads, Blues, and Bey." Since then, Bey's reputation as a balladeer has surged to where the Jazz Journalists Association has voted him top male vocalist the past two years. Even so, says Kurt Elling, one of Bey's top rivals for the best male jazz vocalist crown, Bey has yet to get his full due. "He's really one of the undersung artists," Elling told the Globe as Bey was passing through town last year. "He has a unique take on anything he touches."
Thur 4-21 Dave Holland Big Band Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 and 10 p.m. $25. Repeats Friday, Saturday. Bassist-composer Dave Holland's much-admired quintet forms the core of his equally stellar big band, whose fine new CD "Overtime" is the first out from Holland's new record label, Dare2 Records.