The Spanish word for "hope" is esperanza, and 26-year-old jazz musician Esperanza Spalding is all about giving hope to young people with a passion for music.
Most recently, Spalding was invited to perform at President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize reception; she also played at his inauguration in January of 2009. She has released two solo CDs, and collaborated with the likes of Stanley Clarke and Pat Metheney.
Spalding, who plays standup bass and sings - at the same time, and it's something to behold - has been acclaimed as one of the shining lights of contemporary jazz. She came up the hard way: Raised in single-parent home, in a "ghetto" and "scary" (her words) neighborhood in Portland, Ore., she earned her GED after dropping out of school.
The thing is, Spalding already knew what she wanted, and she had the tenacity - and the talent - to go after it.
Scholarships to the music program at Portland State University, and to the Berklee School of Music in Boston, helped her achieve her goal. In 2005, at age 20, she became the youngest professor of music in Berklee's long and storied history.
"Voice and bass are, to me, the two extremes in music," she said. "You have the bass, which is the bottom, the meat and potatoes, and the voice which is always the top layer, Usually, typically.
"Playing both at the same time is really cool. When I'm playing, my brain is always equally divided between ‘I'm the voice on the top, delivering this melody, but at the same time I'm still connected with the foundation and the bottom.'
"It's really strange to do those at the same time, because in a way it's like those are all you need. You need the message, and you need the carrier of the message. The bass is what delivers it."
Spalding performs in concert, with her band, Tuesday night at the Lucas Theatre. She'll be in town Monday, too - she's the Savannah Children's Choir Artist-in-Residence for 2010; the itinerary calls for her to visit area public and private schools, meeting with choral and band students, and to work with Children's Chorus students in an open rehearsal at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 1802 Abercorn St. The 5-7:30 p.m. event is free and open to the public.
From the choir's artistic director Roger Moss: "We've chosen Esperanza for her compelling music, and her even more compelling story. In past years' residencies, we've focused on opera. This year, we wanted to focus on the American tradition of jazz.
"Also, because she is a singer as well as an instrumentalist and composer, we're able to bring her message to an even broader group of young musicians throughout Savannah." Listen & learn: www.esperanzaspalding.com.
At 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 9 at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts, 32 Abercorn St. Tickets $20 general admission, $50 reserved, $5 students, $75 VIP (includes artists' reception following the concert). Call (912) 525-5050.
THE SHANE PRUITT BAND
Stand back! One of the coolest blues/rock tracks of the late 1960s, the Steve Miller Band's "Living in the U.S.A.," featured Jim Peterman on wicked Hammond B3 organ (Boz Scaggs was also in the band at the time). Peterman didn't last long with the Miller gang - although he was onstage at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival - and these days, several lifetimes later, he's behind the keys (and playing bass) with the Shane Pruitt Band, a tough electric-blues trio out of Spartanburg, S.C. Pruitt, who's more than 20 years younger than the 60-ish Peterman, is a guitarist with the whip n' snarl of a Johnny Winter, and the subtle histrionics of a Buddy Guy. The band has two River Street dates this week, and - especially with Peterman on board - it'll be the best blues in town. Certainly the blues with the greatest pedigree. Listen & learn: www.myspace.com/shanepruitt.
At 10 p.m. Friday, March 5 at Fiddler's, 131 W. River St. At 10 p.m. Saturday, March 6 at Live Wire Music Hall, 307 W. River St.
THE PACKWAY HANDLE BAND
The neo-traditionalists of Packway Handle return, with a new CD, What Are We Gonna Do Now, jammed as always with tunes that walk the (surprisingly) thin line between old-timey bluegrass and young-punk humor. The Packway fellers, from Athens, use fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar and bass to make delightfully high-energy acoustic music, and their retro onstage setup - they all play and sing around a single microphone - is more than a nod to "the way it was done in the olden days." It's the musicians shaking things up, because they can. "Think of how many bluegrass bands you've seen plugging in and they all stand up there all lined up," guitarist Josh Erwin told us in December, when the band last visited Savannah. "It's a little bit stagnant. This makes it a bit more fun." Listen & learn: www.packwayhandle.com.
At 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 6 at Huc-a-Poos, 1213 US Highway 80, Tybee Island. Free.