Garrett Harris 4:56 p.m., Feb. 19
The Peter Sprague String Consort
Sound description: Pairing up a jazz rhythm section with a classical string quartet.
RIYL: Fattburger, Spyro Gyra, Pat Metheney, Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, Joni Mitchell, Solas, Chris Potter
- Blurt: "Sprague-o-meter" · Feb. 15, 2007
- Musician Interviews: "Bird Savior" · Aug. 18, 2005
Current Status: Performing and recording. He also teaches guitar and operates his own North County recording studio.
Influences: Pat Metheney, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, Wes Montgomery, Chick Corea, Bartók, Debussy
Peter Sprague was eight when his family moved from Cleveland to Del Mar, where surfing and music became, as he puts it, his “life and religion.”
“Though I hate to admit it, I don’t really like surf music,” he says. “The Beach Boys? Well, I used to like it when they’d mention Del Mar in their ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ tune, but the music that really moved me between surf sessions [was] the Beatles; Joni Mitchell; Jimi Hendrix; Crosby, Stills, and Nash; Buddy Miles; and Santana. Try putting on ‘Black Magic Woman’ and then paddling out at Eighth Street in Del Mar. That combination works for me.”
Sprague picked up the guitar at age 12. He turned to jazz and formed the Minor Jazz Quintet with like-minded schoolmates. “When we played gigs, we had to legally stay on the stage during breaks to keep the ABC [Alchoholic Beverage Control] from busting the club for minors roaming in an over-21 environment.”
He later studied with Pat Metheny in Boston and performed with Chick Corea’s band. “Here I am, a young musician, and I’m hanging with my idol, Chick Corea. I’m thinking everything is just right in his world, and as far as I can see he’s living the great ride. He’s playing insane music with off-the-Richter musicians and plays concerts for audiences that devour his every note. Then he tells me that he wishes he could fill large arenas instead of small concert halls. Wow. That human trait of always wanting more and always being a little dissatisfied with what you have.”
Sprague eventually returned to Del Mar and has become a fixture in the local jazz scene, along with brother Tripp (sax and flute) and father Hall T. Sprague (percussionist).
Regarding the Peter Sprague String Consort, Sprague says, “In the mid-1980s, after hearing Chick Corea’s group with Gary Burton and a string quartet, I decided to explore this style of music through
creating a group of my own. I took some time off to study scores by Chick, Bartók, and Debussy and then set out to come up with a body of my own music. A central thought I was working with was to make the string quartet’s role in the group be front and center instead of operating the way I’d heard it done before in which the strings take a background string pad approach. Instead, I really wanted them in the middle of the hurricane carrying the melody and immersed in the syncopation.”
“It’s a gathering of two different worlds, a group comprised of a classical string quartet and a jazz trio. The two worlds come together to explore a soundscape rich in harmony riding on the rhythmic pulse of the Brazilian samba and jazz swing.”
A debut album, The Wild Blue, was released in November 2009. In addition to originals by Sprague, songs include Bach’s “Prelude Number 9,” “Day Danse” by Chick Corea, and “The Duke” by Dave Brubeck.
Dr. Einstein's Spin was released in early 2013. Composed and recorded through a grant from Chamber Music America, the album represents a true marriage of jazz trio with string quartet. “My process for composing the Einstein music was to first start out on the guitar to come up with big structural ideas,” Sprague says. “From there, I transferred this information to the computer. I was able to hear a midi version of the composition and that guided me into what I ultimately think are the right moves.”
The rhythm section of Bob Magnusson on Bass with Duncan Moore on drums shadow Sprague's dancing nylon-string improvisations. Weaving seamlessly throughout are the violins of Bridgett Dolkas and Jeanne Skrocki, Pam Jacobson's viola, and the cellos of Lars Hoefs and Carter Dewberry.