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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Seven things you didn’t know about Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding tells us about having famous friends, her top-secret new album and opening for John Legend.
Esperanza Spalding. Johann Sauty
Esperanza Spalding. Johann Sauty

For its 13th edition, the Dubai Jazz Festival is back where it began. Launched as a three-day event at Dubai Media City in 2003, the festival expanded greatly over the years, with the last three editions offering eight- and nine-day music marathons at Festival City.

But 2015 marks a homecoming, back at Media City. It is also a notably slimmed-down affair, with only three days of gigs. Also missing in action is the second Jazz Garden stage, which showcased music you could actually label as jazz.

But promoters Chillout Productions certainly have not skimped on star names, with three absolutely massive headliners. We chat to the jazziest act on the bill by far, Esperanza Spalding.

Seven things you might not know about Esperanza Spalding

Fusing elements of funk, soul and Latin music, Spalding is one of modern jazz’s biggest stars, an incendiary electric and double bass player and a gifted singer who has helped put the genre back in the limelight with crossover success Radio Music Society. Here’s what you need to know.

1. She was handed the first of her four Grammys, for Best New Artist in 2011, by none other that John Legend.

“He’s wonderful. He handed me my Grammy – I got to keep it and everything,” she says. “Pretty wild, right? I like him a lot. This festival is a wonderful bill – I might try to sneak in for the Sting show.”

2. In 2009, Barack Obama personally chose Spalding to perform in Oslo at his Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

“Barack Obama – there’s like the politician, and the person, and I like him a lot. Of course, he’s obviously a larger-than-life character, the man inside of all the storm around him as a politician, a president – but the person he is is really cool and I’m really glad I have had many opportunities to just connect with that ­person.”

3. She sings in several ­languages.

“The trickiest thing about singing in another language is the poetic imagery. The words don’t have the same association as a native speaker, so it can be a little tricky to really believe and see what you’re singing. I definitely feel like Spanish, French and Portuguese feel more musical, because of the shape of your mouth when you’re making the words – but then opera is in German, so hey.”

4. Prince is a personal friend, who has invited Spalding to open for him and jam onstage.

“Prince is No 1 – what can I say? Prince is like the all-round popular musician, he’s the master of that craft by far. And he’s curious about everything from science to diet to music to history to cultures, languages – it’s really interesting to watch how he folds into his music and performance.”

5. Album number five is set to drop in August – but it’s top ­secret.

“I don’t want anyone to make any assumptions. I want it to be heard and seen, and then people can figure it out for themselves. It’s like my Athena – everybody has an Athena in them, the way Zeus did – and this project is very personal to me.”

6. She may have been the youngest teacher ever at the incredibly influential, jazz-centric Berklee College of Music, at the age of just 20.

“It might be tie a between me and Pat Metheny. Teaching there was one of the greatest lessons in articulating the process of the inner teacher. All of us have it, this capacity to look at something that is not complete and figure out how we’re going to put the parts back together to be better than they initially were.”

7. A night after her Dubai gig, Spalding will appear with the jazz legend Wayne Shorter at Poland’s Lotos Jazz Festival.

“It’s so wonderful, he’s one in a billion, and it’s just so surreal to be associated with him, to know him, to be that close to his music. Offstage he’s a light – funny, so intelligent, extremely insightful – and available. He’s always referencing music and films and books and writers – I always have a notepad nearby and I get home and have a list of all these references I want to check out. He’s such an encyclopedia of the arts.”

Esperanza Spalding performs on Friday, February 27 at 9pm

rgarratt@thenational.ae