Life Force: Esperanza Spalding:

Radio Open Source
5 min readApr 7, 2019


Illustration by Susan Coyne

This Week: A conversation with bassist, singer and composer Esperanza Spalding. Listen today at 2pm on WBUR or anytime on our website.

Our engineer George Hicks gets a special shout out for this one. He introduced us to the music of Esperanza Spalding and pushed hard for us to interview her while she’s here teaching at Harvard. He and Conor produced a gorgeous podcast and hour of radio.

It’s a classic Lydon gab-a-thon about music and life, jazz and not-jazz, Esperanza’s family and favorite music, and she’s up for it all big time! She’s a delight to listen to, to laugh along with, and George has expertly mixed in lots of her music you’ll want to discover.

Here’s George’s playlist of songs from our show:

Chris, Conor and George met Esperanza in the lobby of the Berklee Performance Center in Boston in late December on the afternoon of an evening show. She showed up wearing a jumpsuit that said “LIFE FORCE” and literally wore her heart on her sleeve! Nuf said.

Photo by George Hicks

As we said, Esperanza is beyond category — a bass master, a singer, a composer, a Harvard professor. In her own words:

CL: Let me just say, you had me with (your song) “Little Fly” — “Little fly, am not I a fly like thee/or art not thou a man like me?” William Blake of all people.

ES: I don’t remember how that poem came into my life, somebody gave me a book of William Blake poems with the illustrations -the paintings that he would make to frame his writing.

And that poem is so profound; it’s so beautiful. I mean that’s kind of what we were just talking about — you ingest from your surroundings, you know, whether that’s jazz pedagogy or a book of poetry or an album or the way that your mother talks or the way your neighbor talks or a dream you had, whatever, and you like freely interpolate it into what you have to say, what you want to offer and what feels good to do, of course, and that’s how that one came about.

“I’m into bad-ass people doing bad-ass stuff.”

Photo credit:Silvia Saponaro

I know that I have a restless spirit, so yeah I really do have no idea what I’m doing, and I try to be honest with my students, like this is what I know so far, but it might not even work. This could all turn out to be a total disaster later, but this is what I know right now. And and I look to people honestly; embracing that aspect of myself is pretty new and I feel emboldened to just call it out and to claim it thanks to people like Wayne (Shorter),who really lives by that philosophy and creates by that philosophy, and he’s explicitly been like an ally and an encourager to me to allow space for that mode of being in the creative arts. Where else can you do that? Really, you can’t do it in brain surgery. So it almost feels like if you’re somebody who can stomach it, it almost feels like that’s what I can do for the art, for music is this: you know leap out and fly.

I think that the stories that we tell and activate through music are really powerful because they take on like the immensity of reality in our brain when they get in there, and that’s a lot of what great musicians are trying to do — trying to get us acclimated to ideas beyond the reality that we know now.

I mean think of Sun Ra or Parliament, who you know are basically stating as fact something that the rest of the world is clearly saying is not. But now we have to defer to them and say yeah that’s who they were. That’s right. That’s the artist telling the truth

Next Week: Bauhaus in the OS Haus

Coming Soon: Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace

Engineer George Hicks, Chris Lydon and Ed Pavlic

Our friend Ed Pavlic came to town this week to talk to us about Amazing Grace, the incredible documentary about Franklin’s recording of her 1972 gospel album at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, in Watts, Los Angeles. The film opens in wide release on Easter Weekend. Emily Lordi reviewed it in The New Yorker online this week.

Don’t Miss: Matt Aucoin in Conversation with Chris Lydon Next Friday Night

Speaking of Bad-Ass…

“While I live, I remember.”

RIP Agnes Varda. How I loved this woman! I first got hooked by Faces Places last year, the Oscar-nominated documentary Varda made with the French photographer JR, and I’ve seen nearly a dozen more since then thanks to the Harvard Film Archive’s retrospective last winter and to my new discovery — Kanopy. College tuition is a bitch, but this is a good perk. Here’s Alexandra Schwartz on Varda and Manohla Dargis who knew her well.

More Good Stuff We Read This Week:

Rebecca Traister: Joe Biden Isn’t the Answer. All you really need to know about Donald J Trump. Hint: as P.G. Wodehouse said, the best way to know a man’s character is to play golf with him. Steve Kinzer on The Folly of Russiagate. Rupert Murdoch’s “empire of influence.” Slavoj Zizek vs. Jordan Peterson for $1,500 a head.

Collusion Delusion Confusion

Speaking of Russiagate, there’s dozens of comments on last week’s show page, including Chris’ response. Jump in.

That’s all for this week! Like, subscribe, tweet.

❤ the os team



Radio Open Source

An American conversation with global attitude, on the arts, humanities, and global affairs, hosted by Christopher Lydon.