Esperanza Spalding in Concert at The Birchmere with her ‘Thank You October’ Tour


It’s a new day.

Esperanza Spalding left a lasting impression on October 8, 2014 to a sold-out house at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA, as one of her few Birthday celebration stops in her two-week ‘Thank You October’ tour.

Esperanza Spalding . Photo courtesy of
Esperanza Spalding . Photo courtesy of

The Grammy Award-winning Jazz bassist/singer/composer/ band leader turns 30 on October 18, and to celebrate her birth month and a season of change and transition she decided to do something different “just for fun,” she said. “I love birthdays and celebrating for the whole month,” said Esperanza.  Spalding sings solos from each of her five albums on the short-run tour that she equates to break-up sex.

“It’s like break up sex. You know you have to move on, but you need one last reminder. It’s musical break-up sex – and don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about either.” she said with a mischievous grin to the receptive Birchmere audience.

In 2011, Spalding shocked the mainstream music industry and gained an international following by becoming the first Jazz artist to win a Grammy as the Best New Artist of the Year.  (Seeing the unprepared loss drain from the frozen smile of Justin Bieber’s once “ready to win” face was priceless.) In 2013 at the 55th annual Grammy Awards, Esperanza walked away with two wins, for Best Jazz Vocal Album for Radio Music Society, and with Thara Memory she won Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) for the song “City of Roses.”

Accompanying Spalding on the‘Thank You October’ tour are two longtime collaborators and impressive musicians in their own right, keyboardist, Leo Genovese and drummer, Lyndon Rochelle. This vibing trio performance included selections from Spalding’s critically-acclaimed solo releases, Junjo (2005), Esperanza (2008), Chamber Music Society (2010), and Radio Music Society (2012).

You could feel the change in the air and the freedom of release right from the start. Esperanza enters onto the stage with an air of lightness, taking a bow to Genovese on her right and Rochelle on her left. Then she slowly makes a full waist bow to the audience, “our choir,” she said, as she set the tone for the ten-song, 90 minute set of improvised and challenged boundaries – singing, strumming, and plucking her way through an electric evening of poetic “birthday” gifts. This is music she said lovingly, “that is not going to be touched for a while.”

The evening was a mingling of jazz fusion, non-traditional scat, love songs and social commentary that awakened the senses and stimulates all parts of the brain.

Don’t be fooled by Esperanza Spalding’s petite presence, soft speech and gentle, irrepressible charm. The self-assuring power of Spalding’s musicianship is virtuoso. Spalding’s idiosyncracies are a personal signature, and her technique, mechanics, superb timing, and ebullient personality have created her own pure style and natural neo jazz sound.

A graduate of Portland State University (classical bass)and the prestigious Berklee College of Music (vocal technique), where she also was a teaching staff member, Esperanza Spalding, has proven herself a master as a jazz bassist – both electric and upright acoustic within the complimentary genres of jazz, pop, funk and international music influences.

Witnessing the storytelling of Spalding’s four string play on the stand-up bass is an effortless flair with a beautiful, free-flowing feel, bringing an organic melodic approach of dynamic variation and clarity. No longer is she over eager to impress or with a point to prove; Spalding was relaxed and at ease in her element of freestyle in-the-moment jamming with her play mates.  But it was the surprising a capella and the flirtation of repeated falsetto notes belted in numerous songs that really stole my breath away.

Esperanza Spalding. Photo courtesy of San Francisco
Esperanza Spalding. Photo courtesy of San Francisco

My favorite display of this was with “Wild is the Wind” sung with overflowing emotion, physicality, and telling facial expressions.

“Love me, love me
Love me say you do
Let me fly away with you
For my love is like the wind
Wild is the wind . . .”

When Esperanza Spalding is in the rhythmic zone, her full head of hair is tossed back, her neck bobs back and forth, and her eyes are closed with her body swaying side to side.  She’s grooving.

It was the showstopping performance of the evening.

Another highlight was Spalding’s wild, original take to The Wayne Shorter fusion tune “Endangered Species” as an environmental parable accompanied by her own new lyrics, a strong bass line and many high notes. It’s a dangerous ride – but such a musical adventure! (Leo Genovese killed the keyboards with his “flying fingers” on this number; but the truth is he was a magical presence all night.)

Esperanza Spalding concluded her evening on the bass guitar with the shout-out audience encore request for “Black Gold,” the crowd -pleasing anthem song aimed at African-American boys. But tonight, as she spoke lovingly to the crowd, everyone was gold. “All of you are gold, whatever color you are.”

Esperanza Spalding. Photo courtesy of Kevin Winter/Getty Images.
Esperanza Spalding. Photo courtesy of Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

Thank-you Esperanza for including the DC Metro area and the intimacy of The Birchmere in your rollicking October Birthday celebration. Cheers!

Esperanza Spalding played for one night only on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 at 7:30 pm, at The Birchmer – 3701 Mount Vernon Avenue, in Alexandria, VA. For future performances at The Birchmere, check their website.

Esperanza Spalding’s website.

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Sydney-Chanele Dawkins
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins is an award-winning feature filmmaker, film curator, film festival producer and a theater/film critic and arts writer. She also serves as an impassioned advocate for the Arts as Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts in Alexandria, VA. Fearless. Tenacious. Passionate. Loyal. These characteristics best describe Sydney-Chanele's approach to life, her enthusiasm for live theater and the arts, and her cinephile obsession with world cinema. Her successful first film, 'Modern Love is Automatic' premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and made its European debut at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She recently completed her third film, the animated - 'The Wonderful Woes of Marsh' - which is rounding the film festival circuit. In 2013, Sydney-Chanele produced the box office hit,Neil Simon's Rumors for the McLean Community Players at Alden Theater, Her next producing effort in 2014 is Pearl Cleage's 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' for Port City Playhouse. Programmer for Cinema Art Bethesda and Co Chair of the Film Program for Artomatic, Sydney-Chanele is the past Festival Director of the Alexandria Film Festival, the Reel Independent Film Festival,and Female Shorts & Video Showcase. She is active in leadership and programming positions with DC Metro area Film Festivals including: Filmfest DC, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, Arabian Sights Film festival, and AFI Docs. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions - [email protected] [Note: Sydney-Chanele Dawkins passed away on July 8, 2015, at age 47, after a battle with Breast Cancer.]


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