By John Lawrence
Peter Sprague brought an extremely talented all-star group into Dizzy’s last Saturday to play classics from the Golden Age of Rock.
Although he’s primarily known as a jazz musician, Peter has mastered the essentials of all musical traditions and genres. As a teenager growing up in Del Mar, Peter and his siblings were exposed to their father’s jazz record collection. But like most teenagers in their rebellious mode, they were attracted not to the music of their parents’ generation but to the sounds that were happening around them and listened to by their contemporaries. That would be rock ‘n roll, the music of the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Cream, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix. They also condescended to give credence to one of their father’s jazz rock albums by Blood, Sweat and Tears.
Peter is such a talented arranger that he took arrangements off these albums and created something wonderful for a septet of marvelous musicians spanning the generations including Leonard Patton and Rebecca Jade on vocals, Danny Green, piano, Justin Grinnell, acoustic and electric basses, Duncan Moore, drums and his brother Trip Sprague on sax, flute, and harmonica.
Peter must have a veritable library of arrangements for all the configurations of musical groups that he has created from duo gigs at Roxy’s ice cream parlor in Encinitas to symphonic arrangements he’s performed on the concert stage at San Diego’s Symphony Hall. In addition to local gigs, Peter travels all over the world as a sideman with Diane Reeves and others. From the concert stages of Europe, Peter will come home to do a local gig in San Diego. He’s never idle. I guess all that surfing revs up his energy level.
The sell-out crowd at Dizzy’s was treated to a melange of classic rock including BST’s arrangement of the jazz classic “God Bless the Child” written and performed by the great Billie Holiday. Despite the fact that this song was an arrangement of an arrangement of an arrangement, it retained all the power and soulfulness of Billie’s original recording. Rebecca Jade, who was superlative the entire evening, seemingly channeled Billie Holiday whose tragic life was cut short by the racism and police brutality of the 1950s.
As usual Peter’s sidemen were the best musicians in San Diego. Duncan Moore, sitting behind a brand new drum kit, anchored the band with his usual aplomb. I was impressed by the musicianship and expertise of bassist Justin Grinnell. As in most rock groups, the bassist plays a key role in setting the mood and revving up the energy. And speaking of energy, this band had it coming out their ears. Peter made his double-necked guitar sound like a multitude of different instruments with his synthesizer hook-up. Pianist Danny Green, who contributed some fantastic solos, could also make his instrument sound like everything from a Baby Grand to a Hammond B3.
In addition to his consistently professional sax work, Tripp Sprague covered all the bases as the only horn in the group. Leonard Patton gave voice to Stevie Wonder’s historic compositions. Peter can put these arrangements away in his library and pull them out again whenever he is in the mood to assemble a rock group and remember the classic era, the quality of which is not being produced by the rock musicians of today.
I’ve known Peter for a long time from the days that he would open his guitar case and play on the sidewalks of Del Mar for tips through the days when I was President of the San Diego Jazz Society in the 1980s. Peter was the only musician to take advantage of our non-profit status to send out a monthly newsletter. Today those newsletters are electronic emails, but young musicians should take note of Peter’s career to understand what it takes to build a successful life as a musician. It’s not enough just to play well. You need to be not only versatile like Peter is but you have to be a self-promoter as well or at least find someone else to promote you. You need to take any gig no matter how humble, and eventually you might make it, as Peter has, from being just a local musician to playing on the world’s most venerable concert stages.
Chuck Perrin, proprietor of Dizzy’s has been in the business of presenting and promoting musicians for 20 years. Say what you will, but his formula has been successful and has given aspiring musicians, as well as established ones, much-needed exposure to San Diego audiences who always seem very appreciative as this audience was. Peter’s arrangements and San Diego’s most talented musicians gave a performance worthy of the record books.
Chuck is an accomplished writer and performer himself. Korean reissue specialist Beatball Records is preparing to release the most comprehensive collection of Chuck and Mary Perrin’s original folk music yet assembled. The 7 CD box set contains remastered paper package replica versions of their long-sought after Webster’s Last Word LP’s: “Brother & Sister” (1968), “Next of Kin” (1969), and “Life Is A Stream” (1971).
Peter and Chuck are both lucky in the sense that they are doing and manifesting in reality what remains their passion in life. There are some lessons here too for young people just starting out. Contrast this with the jazz club, Anthology, that debuted a few years ago in San Diego’s Little Italy. This club had everything: high tech gear up the wazoo, three levels of seating and bars and food nonpareil. A lot of money went into it. But what happened? A couple years later it went defunct. I guess it wasn’t the owners’ passion; maybe money was.
So Chuck Perrin labors on, a labor of love. Dizzy’s in Pacific Beach is a jet ski rental place by day. And if you want to rent a U-Haul, you can do that there too. By night it’s a jazz club. The comestibles and aperitifs are somewhat limited – just coffee, hot chocolate and cookies, but the music is an essential part of the San Diego jazz scene.