Tiny Desk

Esperanza Spalding

Download Audio

16 min 55 sec

Esperanza Spalding has phenomenal hair. If you meet her in her street clothes, you may not notice it; she keeps it tucked inconspicuously away, miraculously to be honest, under a knit cap. But right before she took the "stage" at NPR Music's Tiny Desk, she doffed her piece to unveil a massive, overflowing 'fro. More than one of us wondered from which secret hiding place it all emanated.

Spalding stows a lot of talent in small packages. She's not a very tall person — diminutive, really — but has made a career of playing the imposing double bass with jazz giants. She sings, too, with a high-pitched but husky flavor, making it easy to wonder how she generates the lung capacity for her acrobatic, high-wire feats. For reference, spend time with the middle tune here, the standard "Midnight Sun." She goes at it solo, just bass and voice, and generates plenty of horsepower.

But it's not sheer musical talent that makes her a winning (and bread-winning) performer — after all, there are plenty of chops to go around in jazz. Spalding has a certain poise, a way of engaging a crowd, of controlling a room. It's usually seen as a large-scale projection, a friendly demeanor greeting a festival or performing arts center crowd of thousands. In this most awkwardly cramped of stages, her deep conviction was a dominant force.

For her Tiny Desk Concert, she mostly called original tunes from Chamber Music Society, her new album pairing a jazz rhythm section with a three-piece string trio. The two tunes bookending her set alternated the gossamer with the rich and darkly hued: the album opener "Little Fly," her setting of a William Blake poem, and "Apple Blossom," featuring her regular guitarist, Ricardo Vogt.

Spalding conceived of Chamber Music Society as an intimate experience, a close musical exchange between a small group of friends. If it was intimacy she wanted, she got her wish: The constraints of Bob Boilen's workspace ensured that all the players were nice and cozy. We liked what she had in mind.

Set List

  • "Little Fly"
  • "Midnight Sun"
  • "Apple Blossom"
[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Tiny Desk Concert with Youth Lagoon Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

Youth Lagoon

Trevor Powers' new songs are expansive and self-assured, a transition reflected in this performance.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Wild Reeds Julia Reihs/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Julia Reihs/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Wild Reeds

Great singers aren't easy to come by, so finding three in one band is something special.

Tiny Desk Concert with Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats Julia Reihs/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Julia Reihs/NPR

Tiny Desk

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

At the Tiny Desk, Rateliff's body-shaking Southern-style soul takes on a more laid-back sound.

Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

Rahim AlHaj

The oud player's wordless music tells powerful stories about life's blessedness and fragility.

Tiny Desk Concert with Aurora Hadas /NPR hide caption

toggle caption Hadas /NPR

Tiny Desk


At 19 and on the cusp of her first album, the Norwegian singer performs with a sense of discovery.

Tiny Desk Concert with My Bubba Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

My Bubba

My Bubba is a duo of women whose quirky, delicate, sweetly sung folk songs are a delight.

Tiny Desk Concert with Chris and Morgane Stapleton Lani Milton/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Lani Milton/NPR

Tiny Desk

Chris Stapleton

With his wife Morgane, the country singer-songwriter sings patient, detailed songs of devotion.

Tiny Desk Concert with Diane Coffee. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Diane Coffee

Conjuring David Bowie, Diane Coffee's Shaun Fleming swaggered and shimmied behind the Tiny Desk.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Suffers NPR/NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Suffers

The 10-piece band can barely fit all its horns, guitars, percussion and energy behind one desk.

Tiny Desk Concert with Beauty Pill Julia Reihs/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Julia Reihs/NPR

Tiny Desk

Beauty Pill

In Beauty Pill, life whirs with plunderphonic glee and riffs are funky from the inside out.

Back To Top

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor