All that jazz

Sarthak Kaushik | Updated on April 03, 2020 Published on April 03, 2020

Grit: At 20, Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding became the youngest music instructor at the Berklee College of Music   -  WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

One way to endure a lockdown is by drawing hope from the stories that fuel music

As the country doubles down on itself in the face of a marauding virus, now seems like a good time to paraphrase Shakespeare — Music is the sleep that the bard believed would “knit the raveled sleave of care”. And as we count the number of days left for the 21-day lockdown to unlock, it seems a good idea to dip into the stories of two divas who are carrying forward the legacy of the female powerhouses who charged the world of jazz.

Take that: Grammy winner Norah Jones’s Come Away With Me set the cash registers at music stores ringing   -  K BHAGYA PRAKASH


With her 2019 release Begin Again on Blue Note Records —the benchmark record label for jazz — Norah Jones underlined the talent that fetched her Grammy success in 2003. And American bassist, singer and composer Esperanza Spalding, one of the most exciting names on the jazz bill, showed that the fire still burns bright in her mind with 12 Little Spells, her fearless experiment in 2018.

It is the stories of these divas that make the music that much sweeter.

Geethali Norah Jones Shankar was born on March 30, 1979, in Manhattan, New York, to Sue Jones, a concert producer, and a certain Pandit Ravi Shankar, arguably one of the best-known names in the world of notations in the classical sphere. High school was spent in pursuit of melody, culminating in learning the alto saxophone. At the age of 16, with the consent of her parents, she officially changed her name to Norah Jones. The journey towards the upper echelons of jazz-laden popularity had begun. The first step on that ladder was The Little Room, a jazz lounge that reverberated with her dulcet vocals, attracting the attention of the blues guitarist and record producer Peter Malick, who then handed the reins of her music to Blue Note records, and, soon, Come Away With Me was ready to set the cash registers at music stores ringing. The year was 2003, and the album went on to win five of the eight Grammy awards it was nominated for. Norah Jones, whose name could easily have been hyphenated with a famous name, had made her own space on record store shelves, in the annals of Grammy history, and on the continuing list of artistes who have the ability to fill performance spaces.

Spalding’s rendition of Sting’s gloriously understated Fragile, with Herbie Hancock accompanying her lush vocals and dexterous pulls at the upright bass, was just one display of the prodigious talent of the monster musician that lurked behind the fragile frame. But it nearly was not to be. Spalding’s talent was spotted early when her mother realised she could reproduce Beethoven by ear. She started performing at the tender age of five, and it was no surprise when she won a scholarship to the Northwest Academy, a fine arts school. At age 16 she won the scholarship to Portland State University and became the youngest bass player in the programme. Encouraged by her bass teacher, she decided to apply to Berklee College of Music, where her audition was good enough to earn her a full scholarship. That, though, was not enough to cover her expenses, and she almost gave up on her dreams, contemplating instead a career in political science.

Her friends then organised a benefit concert to cover her travel expenses. Legendary guitar maestro Pat Metheny once told her that she had the “X-factor” and that she should stick to her love for the bass (she once described her choice of the bass over the other instruments she had mastered as “waking up one day and discovering you are in love with your co-worker”). It helped that as soon as she completed her course, she was hired by Berklee. She was 20 years old when she became one of the youngest music instructors in the institution’s history.

The year 2006 saw the release of her first album, Junjo, but it was her 2010 album Chamber Music Society that put her name in the history books. It won her the Best New Artist Grammy at the 84th edition of the awards. She was the first jazz artiste ever to win that category. Her latest flirtation with cutting-edge music manifests in her 2018 album 12 Little Spells. And the spell was cast in quite an interesting way — from October 7, 2018, she released one piece of music a day for 12 days. Oh, and she also is currently a professor at Harvard University, teaching an aptly titled course called ‘Practice of Music’.

So, yes, decisions, age and talent all mixing in a merry mélange of music. And if you decide to press play on their music, do remember the stories. For it is the story that fills in the silences of the music.

Sarthak Kaushik   -  BUSINESS LINE


Sarthak Kaushik is an RJ at Ishq 104.8 FM, Delhi

Published on April 03, 2020

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