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Peter Sprague, December 2011. Photo by Rick Sokol
|Birth name||Peter Tripp Sprague|
October 11, 1955 |
Cleveland, Ohio, United States
|Genres||jazz fusion, jazz-rock folk jazz, world fusion, crossover jazz|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, composer, audio engineer, record producer|
|Labels||Concord, Xanadu, SBE|
|Associated acts||Blurring the Edges, Dance of the Universe, David Benoit, Chick Corea and Friends, Dianne Reeves, Geoffrey Keezer/Peter Sprague Group, Peter Sprague String Consort, Peter Sprague Trio, Sergio Mendes and Brasil '99|
|Twin-neck guitar with one neck nylon string, the other neck steel string|
Peter Tripp Sprague (born October 11, 1955) is an American jazz guitarist, composer, musical arranger and musical transcriber, sound recording engineer, and music producer. In 1984 jazz critic Leonard Feather, in a review for the Los Angeles Times, called Sprague, "One of the emergent great guitarists." While he is highly conversant with many forms of both jazz and classical music, his own compositions and arrangements have often reflected a Latin flavor, though lately he has created and performed a number of pieces specifically for his "String Consort" group (featuring a string quartet of violins, viola, and cello) which range from classical- to American folk-originated explorations. He owns and operates SpragueLand Studios where he is studio recording engineer and often plays as one of the performing musicians. He also owns and has been producing for his own record label, SBE Records, since 1994. Although he lives in the North County region of San Diego, California and performs frequently in the San Diego and greater Southern California region, he has traveled to and performed in a number of international venues. He has one brother, jazz saxophonist Tripp Sprague, and one sister, Terry Sprague, who teaches dance as depicted on film and video. He is married to Stefanie Flory, an occupational therapist and the manager of SpragueLand Studios. They have one daughter, Kylie Sprague, born in 1993, and live in Leucadia, California.
An active and prolific musician, Sprague has produced or played on over 190 recordings, including 20 on which he is featured artist (these for labels including Concord and Xanadu as well as his own SBE); overall he "has been part of over two hundred and fifty CD projects." He has studied with notable musicians including jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, Boston's Madame Chaloff, and classical guitarist Albin Czak, and has played with many other notables including Chick Corea, Hubert Laws, David Benoit (with whom he toured for three years), and Sergio Mendes. He has written eleven published music books, six of which are his transcriptions of his own music (The Sprague Technique, SpragueSongs, Soliloquy Songbook, Blurring the Edges Songbook, BrazilJazz Songbook, Soliloquy Songbook) and five of his transcriptions of others' (Jazz Solos of Charlie Parker, Jazz Solos of Sonny Rollins, Jazz Solos of McCoy Tyner, Assorted Jazz Solos, The Jazz Solos of Chick Corea); his The Peter Sprague Guitar Technique is required reading for a local college. He also transcribed six songbooks for Chick Corea (Chick Corea's Light Years, The Eye of the Beholder, Inside Out, Chick Corea Collections, Beneath The Mask, and Paint the World) and was chosen by Corea to arrange Corea's famous piece "Spain" for that artist's first GRP All Star Band recording. He composed and performed a twenty-minute guitar concerto, "Concerto for Two Guitars and Orchestra", with the Grossmont Symphony Orchestra in May 2000 and with the San Diego Symphony in May 2002, and has performed a number of times at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. More recently he has toured Europe and Japan with vocalist Dianne Reeves, and in 2010 he was awarded a Chamber Music America grant commission to compose and perform new music, which he titled "Dr. Einstein's Spin".
Sprague has also taught music to others: for three years he was an instructor at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood (California) and California Institute of the Arts in Valencia (Los Angeles County, California), and for two years he periodically traveled to Argentina to perform and teach there. Currently a member of the University of California, San Diego Jazz Camp faculty, Sprague continues to nurture younger aspiring jazz musicians through workshops he conducts with local high school and college students and through his collaboration with and promotion of other talented but less-experienced or prominent musicians.
Also of note is Sprague's original concept for a twin-neck guitar consisting of one nylon-string, wider classical-style neck combined with a second steel-string, narrower neck. He commissioned luthier Andy Powers to build this instrument and it is now one of Sprague's primary guitars. Along with a similar twin-neck subsequently built by Powers for fellow guitarist Fred Benedetti, this nylon/steel twin-neck guitar is likely the first of its kind.
Peter Sprague was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1955 but his family moved frequently—living in Texas, California, Indiana, and Colorado—until 1961 when the family moved to Del Mar, California where he began a lifelong love of surfing. Both parents were talented musicians though neither made music their career (the father, Hall Sprague—deceased 2010—was a sociologist; the mother, now Carol Harrington, is a psychotherapist), and they were jazz enthusiasts, often listening to jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Bennie Carter, and Stan Getz. When Peter began playing guitar at age twelve, he was paying more attention to rock; "The Beatles, Hendrix, Crosby, Stills and Nash." But by age 15 he became intrigued by the jazz his parents were listening to, and he began taking guitar lessons with San Diego guitarists Bill Coleman and Steve O'Connor. With his brother Tripp on saxophone they joined three other young musicians to form the Minor Jazz Quintet and played local gigs. He attended San Dieguito High School (now San Dieguito Academy) in Encinitas; however, wanting to focus more intently on developing his music, with his parents' support he then moved to Michigan for a year to live and study at the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy boarding school where he, "...lived in the basement practice room... immersed in a world of scales, arpeggios, and the constant forward and rewinding of an old reel-to-reel tape recorder decoding Chick Corea piano moves."
In 1976 Peter returned to Del Mar for a short time before moving to Boston, Massachusetts to study guitar technique with classical guitarist Albin Czak. During this time on the East Coast he met a number of other extraordinary jazz musicians; he also had some lessons from Pat Metheny who strongly influenced his evolution as a guitarist and whom he greatly respects to this day: "He's my hero." 1978 found Sprague back in Del Mar where he formed The Dance of the Universe Orchestra with his brother Tripp (saxophone), John Leftwich (bass), Kelly Jacoy (drums), and another Torrey Pines classmate who was as serious about jazz as he was, vocalist Kevyn Lettau. The group was hugely popular in the local region and it was with this group that Sprague first experienced recording, an album which they titled You Make Me Want to Sing.
Established notables take notice
About this time, while recording with Charles McPherson, Sprague caught the attention of major jazz record label Xanadu which gave him a four-album recording contract, and The Dance of the Universe disbanded. He met Chick Corea and, after playing at a party in Corea's home with Chick and other invited musicians including notables Al Jarreau, Herbie Hancock, Roger Williams, Wayne Shorter, and Hubert Laws, Corea was sufficiently impressed to ask Sprague to play with him at an upcoming series of concerts over the Memorial Day weekend at Disneyland. It was in his review of these concerts that Feather referred to Sprague as "one of the emergent great guitarists." Corea was also amazed at Sprague's ability to transcribe: "Peter Sprague's excellence as a musician is well demonstrated in his live and recorded performances," Corea said of Sprague's work. "He has had the patience and musicality to take my original scores, and together with the recorded renditions of these compositions, make final drafts that have become the last few Elektric Band music books. They are the most accurate music books that I've published. I don't know anyone I would trust more to correctly transcribe my improvisations."
Teaching, traveling, branching out
In 1985 Sprague accepted teaching positions at both the Musicians Institute (Hollywood) and the California Institute of the Arts (Los Angeles) and for three years taught students from all over the world. Connections at those schools landed him a two-year job where he would fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina, play concerts for a couple of weeks, then teach at a music camp in Las Lenas. Compiling all the material he'd created and accumulated for his teaching, he published a theory book, The Sprague Technique. He then drew on the many transcriptions he'd made for himself over the years to publish several songbooks of both his own solos and the solos of some of his favorite other jazz greats.
Sprague's affinity for Latin music led to his reuniting with former high school friend and Dance of the Universe singer Kevyn Lettau and her husband at the time, jazz percussionist Michael Shapiro. That in turn led to Sprague's playing with legendary Latin jazz musician Sergio Mendes. Sprague says of that time, "I love Brazilian music and to play with one of the main musicians who brought Brazilian music to the United States was a fabulous experience." In the late 1980s he joined pianist David Benoit's group, with whom over a three-year period he recorded two albums and toured extensively throughout the United States, the Philippines, and Japan.
Marriage and a daughter; SpragueLand Studios
He married Stefanie Flory in 1991 and, when their daughter was born two years later, he decided being away on tour so much of the time was not what he wanted so he left the Benoit band and refocused on music closer to home. For some time he had been interested in composing, recording, and producing, and—inspired by Jimi Hendrix's (another of his heroes) Electric Lady Land Studios in Greenwich Village, New York—he created his own recording and production studio at his home, SpragueLand Studios. There he continues to record, engineer, and produce albums for a variety of artists and genres, from jazz to classical, folk to new age. Musicians from all over the U.S. and the world—including Hawaii, New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Denver, Mexico, Australia, Japan, Belgium, and Argentina—have come to SpragueLand Studios to record and work with Sprague.
He also continues to compose and perform frequently, most often in the San Diego region but occasionally travels to play with (most recently) Dianne Reeves (other U.S. cities, Europe, Japan), or to perform concerts in Mexico, the Caribbean, or at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York. Especially when playing locally, he often plays with drummer Duncan Moore, bassists Gunnar Biggs and Bob Magnusson, and vocalists Leonard Patton and Kevyn Lettau.
Life-music balance; SBE Records
Although almost certainly Sprague could have found greater fame and financial success long ago by moving to one of the world hubs of the American jazz scene, Los Angeles or New York, he made a conscious decision to stay in Leucadia, just a few miles north of where he grew up in Del Mar. As he put it when interviewed in the spring of 2008 for an article published in The Ocean Magazine, "My wife and daughter keep me grounded. I wouldn't have that connection if I was constantly on the road or living in another city. Leucadia is my home. I love it here. I can walk down the street and in a matter of minutes be surfing excellent waves, come back home, shower, record excellent music, all the while fully enjoying my family, not missing a beat. How much does a person need? This does it for me." A similar ethos is apparent in the name he and partners Fred Benedetti (another highly accomplished local guitarist), brother (and saxophonist) Tripp Sprague, and father Hall Sprague chose for their record label, SBE, which stands for "Striving to Break Even." "'Our philosophy,' Sprague explains, 'goes like this: most of the time, people want to make a financial killing on their artistic endeavors. Most of the time, especially if it's "artistic", this won't ever happen. Just doing the project is loads of fun and our idea is to make enough dough to do it again. Aim low enough to break even and then free the mind of its turmoil so you can experience the process. Zen and the art of the record business.'"
Sprague also enjoys giving back to the community in which he lives. Since 1978 he has staged a free outdoor annual Christmas Eve concert in nearby Del Mar, bringing in many of his friends and professional fellow jazz musicians (including brother Tripp Sprague) as well as new young up-and-coming artists. For decades he has also been performing solo almost weekly at the nearby Roxy restaurant, inviting a few friends to sing or play with him second set.
One of his most recent projects is his Peter Sprague String Consort group which combines four string players (Bridgette Dolkas and Jeanne Skrocki on violin, Pam Jacobson on viola, and Lars Hoefs on cello) with himself on guitar along with frequent longtime collaborators Duncan Moore (drums) and Bob Magnusson (bass). He has composed for this group a number of unique and complex "fusion" pieces which combine elements of classical, jazz, and even American folk genres, and has recorded and released one album of that music, The Wild Blue (2009). In 2010 he won a Chamber Music America grant to compose a new major piece; he chose to compose it for the String Consort and completed it in 2011, titling it "Dr. Einstein's Spin." On December 2, 2011, the group gave its premiere performance in San Diego where local jazz critic Robert Bush rated it third among his top fifteen favorite concerts of the year, and he selected the album on which it was later studio recorded and produced, Dr. Einstein's Spin, as #1 of the "Top 10 SD Jazz Releases of 2013". Lately he has been touring with pianist-composer Billy Childs and vocalist Dianne Reeves. In October 2015 he was awarded San Diego Music Awards' "Lifetime Achievement Award."  His latest album (with vocalist Leonard Patton) is Dream Walkin' (2015), and it was nominated for 2015 Best Jazz Album by San Diego Music Awards.
|2015||Lifetime Achievement Award||San Diego Music Awards |
|2013||Top 10 SD Jazz Releases of 2013||NBC 7 San Diego|
|2011||International Top Ten Jazz Releases 2011||San Diego Reader|
|2007||Best Jazz Artist||San Diego Music Awards|
|2004||Best Jazz Artist||San Diego Music Awards|
|2003||Best Jazz Artist of 2003 (poll)||San Diego Reader magazine|
|2000||Best Mainstream Jazz Artist||San Diego Music Awards|
|2000||Best Jazz Artist of 2000 (poll)||San Diego Reader magazine|
|1994||Best Pop Jazz Group (Blurring the Edges)||San Diego Music Awards|
|1988||Best of 1988—Musician's Choice||San Diego Entertainer magazine|
|1988||Best of 1988—Best Local Musician||San Diego Reader magazine|
|1986||Best of 1986—Best Jazz Act||San Diego Entertainer magazine|
|1984||Best of 1984||San Diego Newsline newspaper|
|2011–2012||Peter Sprague Concerts/First Friday Club, Inc.: Creative Concerts in Encinitas||Encinitas and Mizel Family Foundation Community Grant Program|
|2010–2011||Peter Sprague Concerts/First Friday Club, Inc.: Peter's Diverse Universe of Music||Encinitas and Mizel Family Foundation Community Grant Program|
|2010||New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Ensemble Development||Chamber Music America|
|2009–2010||Peter Sprague Concerts/First Friday Club, Inc.: From Gershwin to Bach to Beatles and Back||Encinitas and Mizel Family Foundation Community Grant Program|
- "Peter Sprague."
- "Peter Sprague."
- "New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Ensemble Development."
- "Peter Sprague – Guitar."
- Bush. "Top 15 SD Jazz Concerts for 2011."
- Bush. "Top 10 SD Jazz Releases of 2013."
- Bush. "Top 10 SD Jazz Releases of 2013."
- Bush. "The International Top Ten Jazz Releases 2011."
- Bush, Robert. "The International Top Ten Jazz Releases 2011." San Diego Reader. December 27, 2011. Web. January 3, 2012. <http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/jam-session/2011/dec/27/the-international-top-ten-jazz-releases-2011/>.
- Bush, Robert. "Top 10 SD Jazz Releases of 2013." NBC 7 San Diego. January 5, 2014. Web. January 14, 2014. <http://www.nbcsandiego.com/blogs/sounddiego/Top-Ten-San-Diego-Jazz-Releases-of-2013-238640591.html>.
- Bush, Robert. "Top 15 SD Jazz Concerts for 2011." San Diego Reader. December 20, 2011. Web. December 21, 2011. <http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/jam-session/2011/dec/20/top-15-sd-jazz-concerts-for-2011/>.
- Feather, Leonard. "Tabackins Test N.Y. Touch At Disneyland's 'All That Jazz.'" Los Angeles Times May 28, 1984: E1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Web. December 8, 2011.
- Fisher, Nancy. "Tie a Bow On It!" Sandpiper December 2011: 8. <http://petersprague.com/reviewz/ReviewSubPages/XmasSandpiper.html>.
- "New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Ensemble Development." Chamber Music America. Web. November 28, 2011. <http://www.chamber-music.org/programs/recipients.html#new_works>.
- "Peter Sprague." All About Jazz. Web. November 28, 2011. <http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php?id=4563>.
- "Peter Sprague – Guitar". UC San Diego Extension. Web. December 8, 2011. <http://jazzcamp.ucsd.edu/index.cfm?vAction=profileSprague>.
- Sprague, Peter. "Peter and the Twin Neck: A Unique Guitar." PeterSprague.com. September 16, 2008. Web. December 10, 2011. <http://www.petersprague.com/SkyTwinNeck/PeterSpraguePhotos/The_Sky_Nine.html>.
- Varga, George. "Sprague Given Lifetime Achievement Honor." San Diego Union-Tribune. October 6, 2015: B1. Print.
- Wald, Robert. "Peter Sprague: Soaring Strings". The Ocean Magazine, May–June 2008: 12–13. Print.
- Official site
- "An Extraordinaire from the Land of Extraordinary Guitarists" Biographical article (August 16, 2012)
- Peter Sprague Interview NAMM Oral History Library (2015)