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Peter Sprague does Pat Metheny, who returns the favor

Occasional collaborations inspire new two-volume set

Guitar giant get-together: Metheny, Sprague
Guitar giant get-together: Metheny, Sprague

Back in 1974, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny — who has won 20 Grammy awards in ten different categories — gave a few lessons to local player Peter Sprague. “I had just gotten out of high school, and I went to Boston for a summer, thinking I might possibly attend the Berklee College of Music,” says Sprague. “Pat was teaching there and playing a lot around town in a trio with Jaco Pastorius and Bob Moses. Over the years, we’ve stayed in touch. He recommended me for a gig with the late Charlie Haden and, every time he comes into town, he invites me to be a guest.”

Sprague has been primarily focused on livestreaming concerts for the past two years and he’s done several shows dedicated to Metheny’s music. It turns out that Metheny and his wife had caught a few of those streams.

Sometime last year, the jazz icon was hired to play a private birthday concert in L.A. Obviously, he could have hired anyone in the jazz world. However, he decided to use Sprague’s band featuring vocalist Leonard Patton, bassist Mackenzie Leighton, pianist John Opferkuch and drummer Duncan Moore. Sprague kept all of this under his hat, because of the inherent uncertainty of the pandemic times.

The client is obviously a person of means who threw a party in recent years where Sting was the musical guest. Once it became apparent that the gig was actually going to happen, Metheny sent Sprague a bunch of music, and once he arrived in Southern California the group met for some intense rehearsals. “I was impressed with how serious he took this gig,” says Sprague. “He treated it like it was at Royce Hall. He was dead serious. He brought his own sound system, his personal roadie and engineer. Even though it was a party, the people were really listening, and you could hear a pin drop.”

Sprague came away with even more respect for the jazz guitar legend. “I got to see him as a human being operating in those circumstances and how kind and helpful he was. It definitely goes on my highlight reel of life experiences.”

At just 34, Mackenzie Leighton is the junior member of the ensemble and he’s still trying to process the event. “The whole experience was surreal. We rehearsed for 5 hours the day before the gig and 2 hours before the show. Even after all that preparation, he still had a lot to say during the rehearsal about dynamics, orchestration, and pacing. To me the highlight was when he was soloing on the guitar synthesizer on 'Are You Going With Me?' because that is such a specific sound that only he does. We did about a 60-70 minute set, pretty short by his standards. Definitely not just another gig. I’m not sure it could be topped.”

There are rumors swirling that Metheny is giving local Leonard Patton a serious look as a potential collaborator. Patton didn’t mention it, but he was obviously moved by the experience. “It was amazing, and a dream come true,” says the vocalist. “He’s one of the most gifted musicians alive, and playing with him is a whole other experience that I can’t even explain. Personally, I’ve been singing the melody for [Metheny original] 'Minuano' for 30 years. To sing that melody with Pat and have him look and smile at me while it’s happening… well, that’s about as good as it gets.”

Volumes 1 and 2 of a new album set called Peter Sprague Plays Pat Metheny just dropped on Apple Music and Spotify.

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Guitar giant get-together: Metheny, Sprague
Guitar giant get-together: Metheny, Sprague

Back in 1974, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny — who has won 20 Grammy awards in ten different categories — gave a few lessons to local player Peter Sprague. “I had just gotten out of high school, and I went to Boston for a summer, thinking I might possibly attend the Berklee College of Music,” says Sprague. “Pat was teaching there and playing a lot around town in a trio with Jaco Pastorius and Bob Moses. Over the years, we’ve stayed in touch. He recommended me for a gig with the late Charlie Haden and, every time he comes into town, he invites me to be a guest.”

Sprague has been primarily focused on livestreaming concerts for the past two years and he’s done several shows dedicated to Metheny’s music. It turns out that Metheny and his wife had caught a few of those streams.

Sometime last year, the jazz icon was hired to play a private birthday concert in L.A. Obviously, he could have hired anyone in the jazz world. However, he decided to use Sprague’s band featuring vocalist Leonard Patton, bassist Mackenzie Leighton, pianist John Opferkuch and drummer Duncan Moore. Sprague kept all of this under his hat, because of the inherent uncertainty of the pandemic times.

The client is obviously a person of means who threw a party in recent years where Sting was the musical guest. Once it became apparent that the gig was actually going to happen, Metheny sent Sprague a bunch of music, and once he arrived in Southern California the group met for some intense rehearsals. “I was impressed with how serious he took this gig,” says Sprague. “He treated it like it was at Royce Hall. He was dead serious. He brought his own sound system, his personal roadie and engineer. Even though it was a party, the people were really listening, and you could hear a pin drop.”

Sprague came away with even more respect for the jazz guitar legend. “I got to see him as a human being operating in those circumstances and how kind and helpful he was. It definitely goes on my highlight reel of life experiences.”

At just 34, Mackenzie Leighton is the junior member of the ensemble and he’s still trying to process the event. “The whole experience was surreal. We rehearsed for 5 hours the day before the gig and 2 hours before the show. Even after all that preparation, he still had a lot to say during the rehearsal about dynamics, orchestration, and pacing. To me the highlight was when he was soloing on the guitar synthesizer on 'Are You Going With Me?' because that is such a specific sound that only he does. We did about a 60-70 minute set, pretty short by his standards. Definitely not just another gig. I’m not sure it could be topped.”

There are rumors swirling that Metheny is giving local Leonard Patton a serious look as a potential collaborator. Patton didn’t mention it, but he was obviously moved by the experience. “It was amazing, and a dream come true,” says the vocalist. “He’s one of the most gifted musicians alive, and playing with him is a whole other experience that I can’t even explain. Personally, I’ve been singing the melody for [Metheny original] 'Minuano' for 30 years. To sing that melody with Pat and have him look and smile at me while it’s happening… well, that’s about as good as it gets.”

Volumes 1 and 2 of a new album set called Peter Sprague Plays Pat Metheny just dropped on Apple Music and Spotify.

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