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Esperanza Spalding: Jazz As 'Radio Music'

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These are good times for Esperanza Spalding. The bass player, composer and vocalist was barely into her 20s when she released her debut album on a Spanish label in 2006. Her 2008 breakout record, Esperanza, topped Billboard's contemporary jazz chart. Not long after that, she was invited to play at the White House by President Obama.

Last year, she was the first jazz musician to be named Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards — much to the chagrin of Justin Bieber and legions of tweens. Spalding's latest album, Radio Music Society, comes out this week.

"The benefit of the radio is, something beyond your realm of knowledge can surprise you, can enter your realm of knowledge," Spalding tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin. "Part of the premise of that stems from my concern about the accessibility of jazz, just how people can access it. If you don't already know about jazz music, how would you be exposed? How would get an opportunity to find out if it spoke to you? If you get exposed to it enough, you might find a taste for it."

Spalding created videos to accompany many of the songs on Radio Music Society. In the video for "Black Gold," she addresses the issue of what African-American children are learning in school.

"What we learn in school, and what's often spoken about, is so heavily connected with slavery or overcoming oppression," Spalding says. "I just thought that there's also something to be said for our connection with pre-colonial African culture. It's just a little offering to that dialogue of our identity."

Working with artists such as Prince, Patti Austin and Stevie Wonder, Spalding still connects with the lesser-known musicians with whom she has also worked.

"I'm always surrounded — all day, all night, every time I get involved in anything — by my peers, colleagues, mentors, these people that I live and breathe what they do," she says. "I live and breathe their teaching. I live and breathe their playing. ... It's not like you're pursuing something on your own."

"At steps along the way, you get opportunities that can really throw you into a level of notoriety that your peers may not have the same access to," Spalding adds. "I know many other musicians who aren't getting the attention that I'm getting, who have also worked with Stevie Wonder, played at the White House, opened for Prince, done all of these things."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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