For the jazz community, 2021 proved that improvisation is a life strategy

More than most, 2021 was a year of mixed results — an endless scroll of gains and losses, halting progress and hard retrenchment. For jazz musicians and the community of listeners around them, it brought confirmation that improvisation is a life strategy. Peering in the rearview, my mind flickers to a moment from midyear: At a community arts space on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, bassist, composer and singer esperanza spalding has taken up a residency with the musicians and scholars who constitute her Songwrights Apothecary Lab.

Surrounded by totems, ensconced in the welcoming dark, spalding addresses her music and commentary not only to the handful of souls in the room but also to the viewers of a livestream. A few songs from this public workshop, including the breathtaking “Formwela 10,” will soon find their way onto an album also titled Songwrights Apothecary Lab. Later, I’ll misremember the experience and swear that she also performed “Formwela 1,” the song that includes this couplet: “While the levy of our predicament’s unyielding / Love come flood through here.”


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