Dear Naima: Look No Further

Naima has lived most of her life in Cascade. When her dad, Michael Johnson, went to see Terri Lyne Carrington & Esperanza Spalding, he wished for her. I imagined the show from a 7-yr old girl’s eyes.

Dear Naima,

I bet you didn’t know that while your daddy was at the Terri Lyne Carrington / Esperanza Spalding concert Friday night he was thinking about you the whole time.

Yes.  The whole time.

I ran into him at Intermission and when I first saw him he didn’t say anything about how the women performers everyone was there to see were Grammy-winning jazz musicians.  Instead, the first thing he said was how much he wished his Princess could have been there.  He kept picturing how you would have watched Terri Lyne Carrington’s lead her all-female band with her fast hands. 

During the second half of the show I was sitting center of the stage thinking about you, trying to imagine what a 7-year old would have seen.

You, with a name that comes from John Coltrane’s famous ballad.  You, whose parents are both respected musicians.  You’re not an average kid, you know.  You’ve heard of names like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn your whole little life; You may have even heard of instrumentalists Mary Lou Williams and Hazel Scott.  You even know a lot of music words that grown-ups don’t know. 

I was sitting there wondering what you would have seen and heard that you have’nt already seen and heard in your own parents’ voices, songs, notes, scats, and compositions.

Your Daddy told me you know who Esperanza is and that you like her a lot.  That means you would have really been paying attention at the concert.  You would have noticed how thousands of people were packed on several different levels to see ladies perform. 

When the pretty, thin lady with a big afro came onto stage, it may have reminded you of how you hold the microphone pretending to be a singer.  To the left, you would have seen a man, playing the piano, like your daddy.  In the back you would have seen a bunch of drums and cymbals. To the right you would have seen a big oversized radio with people playing instruments behind it.  Behind them, you would have seen vocalists and musicians.  You would have known that that big ole instrument Esperanza started to play was an upright bass.

Esperanza’s voice is soft and it is powerful when it needs to be.  Just like yours.  When Esperanza told a story during her song Radio Song, it made me think of how you must sound when you tell your Mama and Daddy how your day at school went.

At the concert you would have heard the song Esperanza wrote about a man who was put in prison for 30 whole years for something he didn’t do. Your eyes would have gotten as big as marbles when during the song all the lights went out and you would have heard something that sounded like a jail door close.

Later, your daddy would have made sure you knew what that song was all about. 

You would have recognized the song “Black Gold” and you would have liked the surprise guest singer Algebra Blessett’s pretty yellow dress.  You would have liked her singing too.  You know good singing when you hear it. 

Your daddy says you are growing fast and that you want to play an instrument.  You already know that women can be jazz singers and jazz musicians too.  But I bet you didn’t know that Esperanza got hooked on jazz when she was 4, after seeing a jazz artist on a kid TV show.  Did you know that when she was 5, she taught herself to play the violin and joined a community orchestra that had grown-ups and children in it? 

You would have been singing some of the songs on Sunday morning.  You would have probably looked in the mirror, knowing that those jazz ladies were once just like you.


Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding recently performed at the Cobb Energy Centre from the Performing Arts.  The "Ladies of Jazz" concert, which was presented before a general audience, was a part of the ArtsBridge Program - an arts education program for K-12 students.



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