Last night Peter Sprague, guitar, performed at Dizzy's Club in San Diego in a group featuring the vocals of Leonard Patton in a Tribute to Stevie Wonder. A biographical note about Leonard Patton taken off Peter Sprague's website can be found here. All the music was Stevie Wonder's, and Peter did all the arrangements, a herculean task. Stevie is a pop music phenomenon having churned out hit after hit such as "Boogie on Reggae Woman," "I Was Made to Love Her," "Living for the City," "You Are the Sunshine of my Life," "I Wish," "Sir Duke," and my favorite, "Isn't She Lovely" in honor of Stevie's baby daughter. More importantly, Stevie's music is loved by jazz aficionados as his music has a meaning and depth not always found in pop music. It's music that will last the test of time, for sure.
The key to this night's performances were the arrangements by Peter Sprague. Whether it was a written out, improvised line played in unison by saxophone and guitar or an interjected, snake charmerish, promordial theme from John Coltrane's "Resolution," this was excellent music with great arrangements and popular appeal, as evidenced by the enthusiastic reception by young people from Bishop's School who were much in attendance, and it flowed effortlessly from these top-notch performers. Leonard's voice carried much of the vocal chores, and he was in fine form more than doing justice to Stevie's fine compositions. The back-up singers, Rebecca Jade and Eric Lige added a harmonic depth and visual appeal that gave this music an immediacy and direct human connection. Tripp Sprague honked, screamed and wailed on tenor saxophone and, when called for, executed ensemble parts with precision. Pianist Josh Nelson soloed well while bassist Bob Magnusson and drummer Dave Anderson immersed themselves in solid ensemble work.
I've never heard Peter sound better on guitar. His solo work was full-bodied and powerful. I could clearly hear every note, and every note certainly deserved to be heard. Peter had his amp up where it belonged, and, as the leader, kept the group grounded. The duet with just Leonard's voice and Peter's guitar was exquisite!
Peter is the epitome of versatility. Last week he was playing for Bob Magnusson's CD release party. Last night he did a Stevie Wonder tribute gig. But Peter is not only a great guitar player. As mentioned earlier, he did all the arrangements and this is a prodigious amount of work.
Not only that, but Peter is ubiquitous in his collaborations with different kinds of musicians in every configuration from solo guitar to symphony, playing every kind of music from Bach to Be-bop. Tonight rock and roll ala Stevie Wonder was on the menu. His very ubiquitousness though is made possible by Peter's behind the scenes arranging and producing efforts in order to bring these various projects to fruition. Each one is special and, therefore, each gig is special and unique. Too many jazz musicians approach a gig as a blowing session with a standard format. Play the head, improvised choruses all around, trade 8s with the drummer, play the head again and out. Not Peter! So you know you're always in for a treat because Peter has done his homework!
He has a little help though from his musical assistant: Finale. Peter was an early adapter of the Macintosh computer and music software that makes his prodigious output of different projects and arrangements possible. The tools that today's musicians have at their disposal also include Sibelius. I'm sure that the various parts the musicians read from were produced with a little help from Finale or Sibelius. Melody and harmony can be played into the computer on guitar and the software can do the grunt work of the arrangement which then can be tweaked and finally multiple parts can be printed out with the push of a button. Peter also makes good use of the internet, having put together an excellent website, and uses email newsletters to inform his fans of upcoming concerts. So you see folks there's a lot more to it then simply learning to play an instrument well. Peter covers all the bases, and that's why his versatility leads to his ubiquitousness.
Note to Peter: Get your music played on Cox Cable channel 930, the jazz channel. Why? This is really the channel for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition. I have heard some great musicians on there who I had never heard of before, and can instantly tell who they are because the information is displayed on screen as well as biographical backgrounds. I can then go to the computer and Google or Amazon them and put the album on my wish list. I've discovered some excellent musicians this way.
With FM radio, unfortunately, too many times after hearing a great piece of music, it's impossible to identify who performed it especially if the DJ doesn't come on and tell you or if an airplane happens to fly over when the DJ mentions the name. With digital media you have the artist's name available for the full length of the song. This applys to XM and Sirius satellite-based radio as well. You only have to look down at your car radio to get the artist's name. This has done more to make lesser known artists known to wider audiences than any other recent development. In the old days record companies promoted artists. In the digital age, with jazz being such a small percentage of the overall market, each artist is responsible for his or her own promotion as you know, and the digital media like jazz-only TV channels and satellite radio are a help in this respect.