Esperanza Spalding’s Grammy win on Sunday was a clear sign to a fledgling generation that there is a whole world that exists outside their interests. Many folks may already know this because they had to see it by watching the Grammys in the first place. What’s most galling about the repercussions of the infamous Spalding upset is the constant stream of vitriol that’s heaped on Twitter days after the fact. The internet is now replete with tired, retweeted jokes about Spalding’s high key-low profile, yet if one were to comb through these Justin Bieber maniacs’ poorly spelled reactions, every now and again a convert appears.
If there’s anything the jazz community asked itself the morning after, it was the question of what does this all mean. There have been those like jazz blogger Alex Rodriguez who have said that Spalding’s surprise win won’t benefit any jazz musicians not named Esperanza. True, just as there have been many tweets, Facebook statuses, and blogposts from inside and outside the jazz internet (including a few posts from The White House) trying to educate the rest of the world on the voters of The Recording Academy made a (rare) wise decision, it isn’t like most of these posts were also noting her backing work with Joe Lovano Us Five.
Yes, it has been said in spinning circles that advertising only has a 10% success rate. Yes, it may be difficult to talk sense into teenagers across the globe that someone can be considered a better artist even though she didn’t sell out Madison Square Garden (which Justin Bieber never did, either, although Spalding certainly did play to a sold out crowd at MSG… as an opening act for Prince, which certainly isn’t anything to sneeze at in addition to her multiple stints at the White House and the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo). Yes, comparing a lifelong dedication to drumming (which is admittedly quite good) and intermediate-level guitar playing to being the youngest professor at the Berklee College of Music is still sort of comparing apples to oranges. Yet, this moment is still a window for many into the potential of jazz music as a true form of entertainment and not just background music (which the Grammys still relegated Spalding to in the segment following her award).
There have indeed been converts ranging from little girls who decided not to vandalize Spalding’s Wikipedia page all the way to the noble critic Roger Ebert. This may even be the window to the melding of genres that we have been waiting for. Just as Brad Mehldau and Robert Glasper may have awakened some lovers of jazz to the works of Radiohead and maybe rock in general, there may be an adventurous few who will look to this moment and investigate the works of Esperanza Spalding and eventually love all else that jazz has to offer. We shouldn’t be overly optimistic about Sunday’s potential to the jazz community, but this may still be a crucial gateway to an audience who may just pay artists like Spalding some mind.
Words by Anthony Dean-Harris