Junjo, Spalding’s debut as a leader, is a trio date with Cuban musicians Aruán Ortiz (piano) and drummer Francisco Mela; she plays and sings on a nine-song set featuring originals and inspired takes on Jimmy Rowles’s “The Peacocks,” Chick Corea’s “Humpty Dumpty,” and Egberto Gismonti’s “Loro.” Recently transplanted to New York, Spalding freelances with the likes of trumpeter Christian Scott and saxophonist Donald Harrison, and writes and arranges for her quintet, featuring Scott, saxophonist Mike Tucker, drummer Lynden Rochelle, and alternating pianists.
You’ve mentioned that Ron Carter and Dave Holland were important influences. What have you learned from them?
Ron Carter is one of the best because of how he orchestrates the music. The beauty of his playing isn’t just his lines or his solos—it’s how he puts that all together. He’s one of the first musicians who made me hear the connection between the bass and the piano or the bass and the snare. His ability to draw from other musicians and to create this glue opened my eyes to what was happening internally in the music. And Dave Holland writes so well for the way he plays; it’s really inspiring to hear somebody who knows how to write and bring out their own sound. Plus, both are just killin’. They’re monster players.
How did you start using your voice while playing?
I originally got into singing while I played because it helped me learn jazz standards. It’s a great way to learn tunes and internalize the melody; you start hearing the harmony of counterpoint, even if you’re not singing out loud. You start hearing the inner structure of the chords. To hear that relationship between the melody and the bass—that’s really important.
You draw from a lot of different musical styles. What are you up to with your quintet?
It’s a fusion. We groove a lot, whether it’s from Brazil or Cuba, or an R&B groove, or it’s a more traditional song that’s really swinging. I try to arrange the horns and the voice to sound like a big band. I usually sing the melody, and sometimes I sing wordless lines. It’s very upbeat, very rhythmic.