Many fans in the jazz world know pianist Greg Spero for his work touring with the Miles Davis Electric Band, a multigenerational all-star collective led by Davis band alumnus Vincent Wilburn Jr. (who is also Davis’ nephew).
But Spero has been equally successful creating music content for TV and film, and touring with the pop stars The Weeknd and Halsey in the past.
Others might know Spero because of his jazz band Spirit Fingers (formerly known as Polyrhythmic), which has amassed hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.
The 12 Spero compositions on the band’s self-titled debut (released by Shanachie) are largely groove-based, with the leader’s acoustic piano serving as the main delivery vehicle for melodies both sweet and salty. His bandmates are bassist Hadrien Feraud, guitarist Dario Chiazzolino and drummer Mike Mitchell (aka Blaque Dynamite).
“All music is the same at its core,” Spero said, when asked about the multitude of musical styles at his command. “I found this [out] when studying Arnold Volpe next to Radiohead, and Charlie Parker next to Schoenberg,” he added, speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “Pop music is simple. Jazz music is complex. Our culture needs something that can be understood within the first five seconds—maybe three. However, that doesn’t make it any better or worse than jazz.
“The musical tenets of pop music relate directly to jazz, in all facets, including rhythm, harmony and melody. The past three years working with Halsey—designing all the sounds for the live shows, curating all the live keyboard parts and experiencing the music of all our collaborators—has given me an understanding of the simple side of great music.”
Spero certainly doesn’t shy away from complexity on Spirit Fingers, as the track titled “being” illustrates. “The time signature is 17/16,” he explained. “The melody winds around the chords and rhythm in a complex syncopation. However, over that 17/16 is an elongated backbeat of kick-snare that’s shrouded in the complexities. If you sit with it, you can understand that you feel the music much more deeply because of that elongated backbeat. This is the rhythmic concept on which much of The Weeknd’s music is based, minus the complexities. You can hear it if you put ‘being’ next to ‘The Hills’ by The Weeknd. At its core, we are using some of the same vocabulary, because that’s the vocabulary that draws you in and helps you feel the rest of the music.”
Spero’s bandmates enjoy the challenges inherent in their leader’s compositions.
“Spirit Fingers embodies a conceptual mindset that combines elegant and refined writing with utterly flabbergasting musicianship,” Feraud said.
Mitchell noted, “It’s really great to combine brains with great musicians to challenge the listener to be smarter.”
Guitarist Chiazzolino takes a philosophical view of the band’s chemistry: “Spirit Fingers’ main feature is the interaction—it’s a constant conversation, a life experience,” he said.
For Spero, the cross-fertilization of jazz with pop is an ongoing process. “I’m working with pop musicians through my video series Tiny Room,” he said, referring to clips that are posted at the site tinyroom.live. “I’m bringing pop artists into the studio to collaborate with skilled jazz musicians to create more open, expansive versions of their songs, utilizing tenets of jazz, such as improvisation and harmonic exploration. Being immersed in pop over the years has expanded my vision to see the foundation on which the two musics are built. I’m excited to explore the genuine synergy between the two in their most modern form.”