Peter Sprague on Jazz Guitar, Surf, & Breaking Even

Peter surfing in Hawaii in 1970.

 Born in Cleveland, Ohio Peter’s early life to he and his family to Boulder, Colorado, and again to to Del Mar, California in 1963 where he ocean became his way of life and surfing became his religion. Peter was raised in a creative home environment that included his piano playing Mom, and his sister Terry, who became a world class dancer and choreographer. His brother Tripp is revered as a saxophonist; and his father Hall, was a spirited drummer in the style of Philly Joe Jones.

Peter Sprague started playing guitar at age twelve. Music—namely, the onset of the 60’s rock evolution of Hendrix, Crosby Stills, Nash & Young, The Beatles—became the soundtrack to living life as a surfer in Southern California He became interested in jazz around 15 years old under the influence of his folks, who we’re constantly listening to Miles Davis, Bennie Carter, and Stan Getz. He recalls his father pulling out the bongos and zenning-out for hours with the Miles recording Mile’s Ahead.

And this Became His Portal to the Jazz World

This is the earliest shot of me playing the guitar. Way before the beard and already into intense concentration. UCSD outdoor concert 1974.

Over the next several years, Sprague and his mates all tutored with jazz masters, and crashed classes at UCSD, where they discovered the universe of Charlie Parker. Sprague remembers being young high school beatniks soaking it up on the college campus. “We formed a band and called ourselves The  Minor Jazz Quintet. When we played gigs we had to legally stay on the stage during breaks to keep the ABC from busting the club for minor’s roaming in an over 21 environment.

With this, Peter became bored with the slow motion of high school and switched gears by attending  Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan for a year. Suddenly, he found himself surrounded by gifted musicians from all over the world illuminating a bigger picture of what devoting one’s life to music might look like.

Peter refers to Coltrane that when asked, “what’s the secret?” Coltrane responded, “practice and practice.” Thus, Peter lived in the basement practice rooms of Interlochen, sheltered from the freezing winter of Traverse City, immersed in a world of scales, arpeggios and the constant forward and rewinding of an old reel-to reel-tape recorder decoding Chick Corea’s piano moves. Spragues shares, “I witnessed new forms of humans doing odd dorm living rituals, the bass player who ate toothpaste, the Japanese genius violinist who got away with bad behavior because his music was so good, and the old world music theory teacher whose ear training tapes resembled the soundtrack of a Fellini movie. We had jazz groups, performances, and before I knew it, spring had appeared.”

A Path Takes Flight

Sprague received this post card from Pat Metheny after hearing Peter on the radio.

His path took him to Boston where he studied with various guitar gurus, most notably, with Pat Metheny of whom Sprague feels was instrumental in his own personal evolution. Returning to Del Mar in 1978, Peter initiated The Dance Of The Universe Orchestra. The band featured Kevyn Lettau singing, John Leftwich on bass, Tripp Sprague playing the saxophone, Kelly Jocoy on drums, and Peter on guitar. The group recorded their frist album entitled You Make Me Want to Sing. They were a hit, playing all the clubs and concert venues in the San Diego area. Life was good filling it with Chick’s Light as a Feather album, Ram Dass’ book Be Here Now, and early morning Ashtanga Yoga classes at an old church in Cardiff. “We were young musos playing jazz, doing headstands on the breaks, living in a commune of sorts (the band house, fou

Dance of the Universe taking a break from doing headstands and eating dal.
From left to right, Tom Aros, John Leftwich, Peter, Tripp, and Kevyn. Del Mar, 1978

r blocks from the ocean), and enjoying the ride to the hilt!”

Around this time, while playing with the great saxophonist, Charles McPhereson, Xanadu records engaged an interest in Peter’s music and signed him to a 4 record deal, where he played with many of the greats. After a healthy 3 year tenure with Xanadu, Peter moved over to Concord Records and did two albums for them. He cites his favorite effort as Na Pali Coast, which was recorded at Correa’s Mad Hatter Studio with Steve Kujala, Bob Magnusson, brother Tripp, and Peter Erskine in the mix. Peter

offers that he’s felt much affinity for the music of Chick Correa—enough to permeate Peter’s music in such efforts as his Xanadu recording called Bird Raga where he played a twenty-minute solo guitar medley of Chick’s tunes. Chick approved enough to write the liner notes for Peter’s album, and invited Peter into the Chick Correa world, where he became acquainted with folks like Al Jarreau, Herbie Hancock, Roger Williams (“Autumn Leaves”), Wayne Shorter, Steve Kujala, Hubert Laws, Victor Feldman, a young John Pattituci, and other artisans. Peter eventually was hired to play in the band of his hero. After debuting with the band for a series of concerts at Disneyland on memorial day weekend, Los Angeles Times, jazz critic Leonard Feather wrote , ”…One of the emergent great guitarists.” A pretty stellar moment for the kid who got to play with his hero!”

Another golden moment that stand’s out in Peter’s recall came in Washington D.C. playing with Chick and Al Jarreau. And then doing film work with Chick on the movie The Cat Chasers, starring Kelly McGillis. The band included Vinnie Callouta on drums, Chick, Pattittuci, Kujala. The trust he earned with Correa was such that Sprague became the one to organize Chick’s music in book form for publishing purposes. When invited by Chick to arrange the classic, “Spain” for a GRP Records All Star Big Band CD, he arrive to the session to find himself flailing and directing traffic in front of the likes of Lee Ritenour, Dave Weckl, Tom Scott, Ernie Watts, Kenny Kirklan and more. Go here to see the video clip online.

That’s Tom Brechtlein’s drum kit on the left and Jamie Faunt on the bass. Peter with Chick, 1984

Education and Music

Throughout Sprague’s musical life he’s always taught private guitar lessons. In 1985 accepted teaching positions at both the Musicians Institute in Hollywood and the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. He taught for three years and really enjoyed these times with the students from all over the world. To be around people excited and grateful for music was an energy that made sense to Peter.

Somehow, through the connections at the schools, he landed a two consecutive year setup where he would go to Argentina for a couple of weeks and play concerts in Buenos Aires; and then teach at a music camp in Las Lenas. Nothing Sprague relates that, “Nothing was stranger than being a vegetarian in a country that prides itself on it’s beef, trying to explain the beauty of Charlie Parker’s lines through an interpreter, and being stranded in the airport to head home because of Pan AM’s (fly first class but only on stand by) flight rules. All of these hiccups disappeared in the light of the wonderful Argentinean souls. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!”

 

Through the experiences of teaching he accumulated exercises and explanations of jazz music coming from his own viewpoint. Along with the reams of transcribed solos that he’d worked on since the early days motivated him into organizing all of this material into book form offering a theory book called The Sprague Technique. Further, he brought together the sheet music on his songs and created several song books; (SpragueSongs, Blurring the Edges Songbook, BrazilJazz Songbook, Nikki’s Rose Songbook, and Soliloquy Songbook) and a number of transcribed solo books of his heroes; (Jazz Solos of Charlie Parker, Jazz Solos of Sonny Rollins, Jazz Solos of McCoy Tyner, and Assorted Jazz Solos).

The Rise of Sragueland

Peter eSprague

Moving on to forming a new group called BrazilJazz, Sprague toured extensively and recorded an album by the same name. This led to meeting and playing with Sergio Mendes. In 1992 Sprague joined pianist David Benoit’s group and recorded two records with him called Letter To Evan and Shaken, Not Stirred, both on GRP records. The group toured extensively for three years all over the U.S., to the Philippines, and to Japan. Saxophonist Eric Marienthal was also in Benoit’s band and Sprague was pulled into his project, along with Russell Ferante, Jimmy Haslip, Alex Acuna, and Ivan Lins on Eric’s GRP record One Touch. Sprague recalls playing Brazilian style Joao Gilberto guitar and Ivan sang in Portuguese. That was gorgeous!

A

Sprague

fter these ambitious years, Peter left Benoit’s band and reclined back to Del Mar to be present with his wife as they had a brand new baby on their hands. At this time Sprague had developed an interest in producing and recording and, thus, opened Spragueland. The recording facility according to Peter was influenced by Jimi Handrix’s Electric Lady Land Studio in NYC—and he views the facility as Lady land’s west coast cousin.

By 2002 the success of Sprageland evolved into forming a record company with his mates involved in his current project of the time Burning the Edges. Peter along with his brother Tripp, his father Hall and guitarist Fred Benedetti they formed SBE Records. Through the company they continue to this day to produce and release work.


Chromatic Lesson with Peter Sprague

Bassa Nova Lesson with Peter Sprague

Pentatonic Fourths with Peter Sprague


Learn with Peter

Find out how to take lessons with Peter Sprague, here.


Peter Sprague Merchandise

Peter Sprague Recordings:

Peter Sprague books:

Peter Sprague sheet music:

Peter Sprague  video courses:


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Chuck Schiele

http://www.ChuckSchieleMusic.com

Making Music Magazine Content & Creative Director, Chuck Schiele is an award-winning musician, producer, editorialist, artist, activist and music fan. He still plays every day. www.ChuckSchieleMusic.com

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