Surprise Grammy win for Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy for Best New Artist Feb. 13. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images courtesy of

While I write this column, sippin’ on a Reed’s Raspberry Ginger Brew, I’m wondering if you watched the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards on February 13. If you did, then you may have noticed that the multi-talented musician Esperanza Spalding won the award for Best New Artist. She wore a stunning light green gown by Selma Karaca, reports.

Esperanza is the first jazz artist to win the Best New Artist Grammy. She sang about her dreams, and the rest is history. Esperanza co-hosted the pre-telecast with Bobby McFerrin and also performed with the Grammy’s Jazz Ensemble.

I don’t have to tell you this is a huge deal. A huge step forward. Esperanza Spalding’s win gives jazz more visibility, while it celebrates an artist who is presently working her a** off for her craft.

In a fitting tribute to Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, vocalists Yolanda Adams, Christina Aguilera, Martina McBride, Florence Welch and Jennifer Hudson kicked off the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards with plenty of verve. When I think of Esperanza, I think of Aretha.

Like Aretha, Esperanza Spalding’s talents extend beyond the jazz genre. Aretha sang jazz during her humble beginnings. I say all that to say there is no telling where Esperanza’s talents will take her. I mean, listen to Aretha sing early jazz standards. And the woman can play a piano, too. Who would have known back then that Aretha would be as celebrated as she is today. I believe Esperanza Spalding is following in her footsteps. She’s just got it like that.

Two other top-notch performances belonged to Cee-Lo Green, who performed “F*** You” with Gwyneth Paltrow, and Janelle Monáe, who performed with Bruno Mars. Cee-Lo is fun to watch, plus he can sing. And I don’t care what anyone says about Gwyneth Paltrow’s singing. She can sing. Just check out her performance with Babyface on their duet, “Just My Imagination.” And Janelle Monáe is, well, she’s an original. No doubt about it. Did you catch her surfing the Grammy crowd?

New music coming

from JD Allen

As I surfed the net, I made some recent discoveries about new music out and on the way.

While at Willard Jenkin’s, I was happy to read about his recent live music experience involving tenor saxophonist JD Allen and his band.

He wrote, “Their stream-of-consciousness set, with barely a perceptible break in between selections — be they originals or cleverly re-imagined standards — at DC’s Bohemian Caverns was one of last year’s highlights for me (and is destined to become JD’s first live recorded album).

“The JD Allen 3 is on the cusp of a new recorded chapter, Victory!, for the Sunnyside label. The recording is set to arrive in May with a bit of a twist, an accompanying short philosophical film that will further propel a man fast becoming one of the essential tenors of our time.” Indeed, he is definitely a tenor sax man of our time.

This is all good news. I look forward to listening to more Sunnyside recordings, especially by JD Allen. I’ve written about his work with Jeremy Pelt in past columns. Saxophone great Sonny Rollins sings his praise.

Sax man Jeremy Pelt’s

new CDs

Last week, I received two new HighNote discs from Jeremy Pelt, The Talented Mr. Pelt and Ernestine Anderson’s Nightlife: Live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. I’m excited because previously I’d listened to tracks from both albums on the radio, during the Jazz with Bob Parlocha radio show to be exact. Anderson’s rendition of “I Love Being Here With You,” is a standout. She sings the song old-school style. And does she know how to party? Yes.

Jeremy Pelt’s original songs (five total) such as “Pandora’s Box,” and “All My Thoughts Are of You,” plus Anthony Wonsey’s “Paradise Lost,” reminds me just how terrific Pelt’s band is, and how I need to listen to more Wonsey.

Stars pay tribute

to Ray Charles

Pelt’s not the only trumpeter with new music for 2011. According to, Wynton Marsalis, Willie Nelson and Norah Jones will celebrate the genius of Ray Charles with Here We Go Again. The album is set to be released by Blue Note on March 29. The music was recorded live at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Marsalis and Nelson recorded the 2008 Blue Note album Two Men with the Blues. If the next album is anything like Two Men with the Blues, look for sales to go through the roof, and look to add another must-have to your music collection. Norah Jones sounded great singing with Ray (Concord’s Genius Loves Company) and will probably sound just as good with Wynton and Willie.

Honors for Roy Haynes

Back to the Grammys for a minute: Former Blue Note Records President/CEO Bruce Lundvall (2011 Trustees Award recipient) and drummer Roy Haynes (Lifetime Achievement Award recipient) were both recognized with Grammys this year. They deserve it. If you know anything about them, then you know that both men have done tremendous things for jazz. If I explained further, I would take up a lot more space here. Bruce and Roy are living music legends with a sincere devotion to jazz.

Noted author, historian and scholar Robin D.G. Kelley is helping Haynes with his autobiography. Kelly is the author of Thelonius Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (Free Press). The memoir will be his story according to his memories, and will be in Roy’s voice based on interviews transcribed and edited. He’s been known to hold court at the Artists’ Quarter around his birthday in March, so cross your fingers that Roy will honor us with a post-Grammy performance here in the Twin Cities.

Jazz Grammy winners

I’m happy to know that a few of my picks to win did in fact win Grammys. In the Best Jazz Vocal Album category, Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee, Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Emarcy recording, won a Grammy. She’s one class act. Early in my jazz interviewing stage, I got my time zones mixed up and mistakenly called her an hour earlier than planned, and she didn’t trip. At the time, she was up dealing with a newborn baby!

Herbie Hancock won more Grammys, too. He won two for The Imagine Project in the categories of Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals and Best Improvised Jazz Solo. Check out tunes from the CD at his website,; “Don’t Give Up,” and “Imagine” are featured. The more Hancock creates, the more I admire, respect and enjoy writing about his work and unique collaborations.

Composer Billy Childs won Best Instrumental Composition for “The Path Among the Trees” (Billy Childs Ensemble), a track from Autumn: in Moving Pictures (Jazz-Chamber Music Vol. 2) (ArtistShare). Childs doesn’t get to the Twin Cities much, so the next best thing to do is to pick his recordings.

For Best Latin Jazz Album, the winner was my favorite to win: Chucho’s Steps, Chucho Valdés and the Afro-Cuban Messengers (Four Quarters Entertainment). Valdés is one of my absolute favorite living pianist. When I think of Havana’s finest music, I think of Chucho.

In the Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) category, “Don’t Explain,” Geoffrey Keezer, arranger (Denise Donatelli), a track from: When Lights Are Low (Savant Records) didn’t win but should have. I’m a long-time Geoffrey Keezer fan who is now hipped to Denise Donatelli. She’s a vocalist to watch. Her phrasing is full of substance, and grace.

Congrats to all the Grammy nominees and winners.

Robin James welcomes reader responses to