The natural

By JON GARELICK  |  May 31, 2006

Spalding was raised by a single mother with a brother seven years her senior, was home-schooled, tried high school, and dropped out when the school wouldn’t advance her fast enough, then passed her G.E.D. four months later. And when you talk to her, she seems as surprised to be here as anyone.

“I was so scared when I got here,” she tells me over tea at the Trident on Newbury Street. “Up until Berklee, I could hardly read, I couldn’t read changes. I would just use my ear. I didn’t know anything about theory. I knew about classical theory, but nothing about jazz theory.”

Always the young star, she was now in a whole school full of stars. The first time Christian Scott asked her to play, his band of veterans turned her around. “They wanted to mess me up, because they just thought I was some girl Christian had a crush on. Kind of from then on, I’ve thought, ‘I have so much to learn, I don’t know anything.’ ”

Maybe not, but within months of arriving at Berklee, she won an audition to tour as R&B star Patti Austin’s bassist. Joe Lovano also took her out for a tour. And now she’s teaching. And still studying. Junjo is an assured trio session with pianist Aruan Ortiz and drummer Francisco Mela, laced with Brazilian and other Latin rhythms, but also odd-metered, free excursions.

“Right from the beginning, I understood how the bass works, the role of the bass, I knew what to do, and if I didn’t know, I knew what to ask, where to look to find out. For an outsider, bass is probably the least interesting instrument in the band. But when I hear Kind of Blue and I’m checking out what Paul Chambers is doing, and I’m like, DAMN! How did he think of those lines? They’re beautiful! And the beautiful thing is that he didn’t. He didn’t practice those lines, he didn’t think of the lines, he’s just playing himself. And he’s feeding off of what everyone else is doing. And that’s so beautiful. You can’t theorize that. It’s him, you know? It’s killing! I love that.”

***


WILCO AND BECK: Udden was listening to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Sea Change while making Torchsongs .

Jeremy Udden is probably best known around town for playing alto saxophone the past six years with the Either/Orchestra. But on his new Torchsongs (Fresh Sounds) he plays as much soprano as alto. In either case, the light, airy sound and continually unfolding melody is likely to remind listeners of Lee Konitz.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve listened to about a million hours of Lee Kontiz,” Udden (pronounced you-DEEN), 28, says when I reach him by phone. “There are other influences who aren’t quite as obvious — even though they’re obvious to me, like Lucky Thompson on soprano.”

Those influences also include his former New England Conservatory teachers, trombonist/composer Bob Brookmeyer and the late soprano saxophonist and composer Steve Lacy. Udden includes Lacy’s “Blinks” on the album, but opts for alto sax. “I don’t think I’d have the guts to play soprano on a Lacy tune,” he says, laughing.

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