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 Deqn Sue. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Deqn Sue

She came so close to winning NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concert Contest, we just had to see her play.

Tiny Desk Concert with Lianne La Havas Jun Tsuboike /NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Jun Tsuboike /NPR

Tiny Desk

Lianne La Havas

The singer is soulful yet playful, raw and vulnerable in a commanding kind of way.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Internet. Cameron Robert/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Cameron Robert/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Internet

The R&B band might just be the oddest thing to come from the hip-hop collective Odd Future.

Tiny Desk Concert with Joan Shelley and Nathan Salsburg. Lani Milton/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lani Milton/NPR

Tiny Desk

Joan Shelley

As technology rules the day, here's a reminder that a single voice can carry deep emotion.

Tiny Desk Concert with Gina Chavez Lydia Thompson/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lydia Thompson/NPR

Tiny Desk

Gina Chavez

The Austin singer-songwriter performs with intense openness, directness and warmth.

Fiona Apple performs with the Watkins Family Hour at the Tiny Desk. Ariel Zambelich/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ariel Zambelich/NPR

Tiny Desk

Watkins Family Hour

With help from Fiona Apple, two Nickel Creek alums gather a band to perform old and new songs.

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

itoggle 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 Sam Lee Lydia Thompson /NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lydia Thompson /NPR

Tiny Desk

Sam Lee

The singer found his voice by finding and preserving old British, Irish and Scottish folk songs.

Tiny Desk Concert with Leon Bridges Lydia Thompson/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lydia Thompson/NPR

Tiny Desk

Leon Bridges

Bridges is easy to love and hard to resist, with purity in his voice that's untouched by modern pop.

Tiny Desk Concert with Happyness Morgan Walker/NRR hide caption

itoggle caption Morgan Walker/NRR

Tiny Desk


If you're a fan of dark, incredibly dry, wry humor, you've just found Happyness.

Back To Top