The composer, musician and vocalist Esperanza Spalding has won four Grammy Awards, teaches songwriting at Harvard and is currently working on an opera with the composer Wayne Shorter. An expanded edition of her album “12 Little Spells,” named one of the best albums of 2018 by The Times, will be released May 10.
Based in New York, Ms. Spalding travels frequently to perform. Her trips were so frequent that about seven years ago she was forced to rethink her travel philosophy.
“When we were doing about 280 shows in a year, I realized that travel time wasn’t time out of my life, it was part of my life,” she said, and made the decision to enjoy traveling as she would any other place or mindset.
This isn’t always easy, she acknowledged.
“I’m not saying that I walk through the airport and I see unicorns and birds singing around me,” she said. “It is stressful, people can be awful and you can be delayed and miss stuff that’s important. It’s just that — even that — is part of the adventure.”
Here’s what she can’t travel without.
“I study Nichiren Buddhism, so I always have this folded-up shrine in a pouch. It’s a teeny little scroll in a wooden frame that kind of pops up like a folding chair so you can look at it vertically. And I have a bell with me and I have some beads for chanting, and I have a beautiful silk cloth that I lay out, and some crystals and some incense and some candles, and all of it fits in a pouch that’s the size of an iPhone X.
“Sometimes I’m listening to my own music. It’s a nice quiet time to reflect and review what I’ve done. Sometimes I feel sort of like a self-indulgent creep listening to my own stuff but I guess it’s like reading through a journal — remembering what you thought back then, or what was important to you. It’s sort of a private space even though you’re surrounded by hundreds of people. Something about the airplane, to me, feels very private, even in the middle seat.”
“I love Neosporin for the inside of my nostrils before I get on the plane. I heard that’s the way you can protect yourself from catching anything going on the plane, anything circulating in there.”
“I feel like I’m sort of a plant in some ways, that whatever I bloom from year to year is a direct expression of what I’ve been rooted in. Plane rides are a place that I read a lot, and a lot on the trains. So to me, that’s a tool of my trade: whether I’m reading poetry or religious studies, mythology, fiction, nonfiction, science fiction, whatever it is, that becomes sort of the blueprint of whatever is coming. One book I loved recently was “Psychomagic: The Transformative Power of Shamanic Psychotherapy” by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Another one is James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time.” That’s go-to reading, I go to that like a bible, just at any point in time.”
“I check it. That overhead bin situation, that makes me stressed out. That thing of, ‘Am I going to have space for my bass guitar up there?’, I had to let that go. That is something that I haven’t figured out how to make a fun adventure out of.”
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
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