CREATIVE PEAKS: Center style

By on July 28, 2015

Esperanza Spalding laces audience with innovative music and performance


Jackson Hole, Wyoming – When Shannon McCormick first heard about Esperanza Spalding eight years ago, the Center for the Arts programming director knew immediately the young composer and singer was something special.

McCormick kept close watch on the artist’s career. He knew the Center Theater would be the quintessential place for her to play in the area.

Now after all those years, it’s finally happening. The Grammy-winning singer, composer and bassist plays Friday in the Center Theater. “This is a small room for her to play,” McCormick said. “She’s a pretty big star right now.”

Spalding offers an eclectic and experimental program, McCormick said.

Her latest project, “Emily’s D+Evolution,” is inspired by her childhood interest in theater, poetry and movement, exploring the broader concept of performance. In “Emily’s D+Evolution,” which she brings to Jackson, she performs all new material.

Emily is Spalding’s middle name and she uses it as a type of alter ego or fresh persona.

“This project is about going back and reclaiming uncultivated curiosity and using it as a compass to move forward and expand,” Spalding said in a press release. “My hope for this group is to create a world around each song, there are a lot of juicy themes and stories in the music. We will be staging the songs, as much as we play them, using characters, video and the movement of our bodies.”

McCormick noted that the performance branches out from Spalding’s original musical roots and reaches into a variety of genres.

“It’s very evolutionary on a night-by-night basis,” he said.

Spalding, who has played at the White House, is prodigy material, McCormick said. The rising superstar is not just a talented vocalist and composer, but an incredible performer.

“This is going to be pretty cool,” he said. “Her smile is enough to light up the whole outdoors.”

Spalding is the type of amazing cross-genre artist the Center is trying to attract as it diversifies its programming, explained Anne Bradley,  CFA’s director of marketing.

Spalding is a jazz artist by trade, but this show, which precedes her next album, explores a variety of musical genres. She’s the type of artist that renowned names like Prince, Bruno Mars, Billy Hart and Herbie Hancock seek for collaboration.

“She’s kind of all over the place with people who want to work with her,” Bradley said. “She’s one of those up-and-comers who everyone is excited to partner up with.”

Her current show is edgy and stretches so far beyond her jazz roots, the Center isn’t calling it a jazz show, she said.

“It’s kind of coming to life as the tour continues,” Bradley said. “She’s one of those artists that is exploring new sounds in uncharted territory – it’s groundbreaking.”

The Center is making concerted efforts to diversify its programming to attract new audiences. Its programming lineup includes more spoken word acts including recent shows that have brought to the stage people like Ira Glass and David Sedaris and a planned February talk from Garrison Keillor. There is so much live music in the valley, the Center wants to fill other voids, Bradley said.

“We’re trying to diversify, not just in the musical world, but also outside of music,” she said.

In the process Bradley hopes to bring in people who haven’t seen a show in the Center Theater.

Spalding, while a musician, also explores movement and spoken word. She is a multifaceted artist that draws mass appeal, Bradley said.

This type of show is decidedly different than what is normally associated with the Center and is a unique performance to find its way to the valley, too. It’s not jazz, pop or Americana.

“It defies all genres,” Bradley explained. “It’s pretty unprecedented. We haven’t had a show like this in Jackson. It’s not to be missed.” PJH

Esperanza Spalding, 8 pm., Friday at Center for the Arts. Tickets range between $51 and $71 at the Center box office.

About Kelsey Dayton

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