Greg Spero and a million creative paths.
Greg Spero is a musician on a mission. A multifariously creative force who’s built an entire ecosystem that empowers self-expression, Spero creates music and tech that embodies limitless possibilities. A Los Angeles-based pianist/keyboardist, producer, arranger, composer, bandleader, YouTube educator, label-owner and internet entrepreneur, he’s devoted a good deal of his time to building vehicles that connect fellow artists with audiences.
“We all have this ability to be infinitely expansive, to be everything that we want to be,” he says. “It’s a matter of how we manifest our goals.”
What sets Spero apart isn’t so much his expansive vision as his combination of musical prowess and entrepreneurial acumen. As a recent piece for the Philadelphia public radio station WRTI declared, "Any notion that supremely talented musicians cannot be savvy, intentional entrepreneurs is upended by the idea of Greg Spero."
Familiar to a diverse array of listeners through his collaborations with the pop star Halsey and the funk/fusion Miles Electric Band, Spero has also composed music for film, theater and television, written songs with Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones, and co-produced tracks with Ski Beatz. In recent years he’s focused on Spirit Fingers, his powerhouse quartet featuring a cadre of the era’s definitive players, including bassist Hadrien Feraud (or Max Gerl), Italian guitarist Dario Chiazzolino, and drummer Mike Mitchell (aka Blaque Dynamite, a key Kamasi Washington collaborator). AllAboutJazz summed up the combo by describing Spero as “an undeniably gifted pianist” who has assembled “a veritable supergroup in terms of their prodigious talent...Imbued with preternatural levels of skill and a high replay value"
The group released an eponymous debut album on Shanachie Entertainment entitled Spirit Fingers, a project centering on a piece hailed by WGBO’s Nate Chinen as “a cinematic composition whose main attraction is the polyrhythmic groove [that] morphs and changes like a weather system.”
Seamlessly synthesizing his improvisational jazz aesthetic with his love of hip hop, modern classical music and pop, the album confirmed Spero’s reputation as an innovative artist who has forged a highly personal rapprochement between jazz and popular music. Co-produced by Makaya McCraven, the 2020 follow-up release, PEACE, adds the sultry, confidently blues-tinged vocals of Judi Jackson and alto sax master Greg Ward into the mix while displaying “an impressively expanded sonic palette,” according to Downbeat. Spero’s new album, 2022’s The Chicago Experiment, is a collaboration showcasing his hometown comrades Makaya McCraven, Marquis Hill, Joel Ross, Irvin Pierce, Jeff Parker, and Darryl Jones. Building on the Windy City’s long, vaunted history as a hotbed for blues, jazz, and experimental music, the Ropeadope album follows in the footsteps of a series of city-centric projects launched two decades ago by Questlove, Christian McBride, and Uri Caine’s The Philadelphia Project.
Since releasing his first album at 17 with his first band Bucket Shop, 2002’s Fossil Fuels in the House that Mouse Built, Spero has recorded a series of uncategorizable projects, like his mashup of Miles Davis and Radiohead, Radio Over Miles. A blazing live album featuring drummer Makaya McCraven and trumpeter Corey Wilkes, the project was praised by veteran music writer Steve Holtje as “adventurous and distinctive.”
Recognized as a rapidly rising star on the Chicago scene, he was named “Best Jazz Entertainer” in the 2013 Chicago Music Awards. Instead of building on that momentum Spero pivoted in a different direction, plunging into a full-time commitment as pianist/keyboardist and sound designer for Halsey during her ascendance to pop stardom from 2014-18. Spero’s key role in her evolving sound culminated with a heralded Saturday Night Live performance, after which he zagged back to jazz.
Always seeking outlets for creative expression, Spero responded to the isolation imposed by the pandemic by launching Tiny Records (an imprint of Ropeadope Records). The label’s L.A. studio became the home for Tiny Room Sessions, live streaming performances that pair top-shelf jazz instrumentalists with artists such as Lido, J’Von, Transviolet, Terreon “Tank” Gully, and MonoNeon, whose re-imagined, jazz-infused songs are expanding the frontiers of popular music. Their Tiny Room Sessions singles have been picked up by jazz stations across the world, from WGCX and WRTI to SourceFM, Radio France, NPR and JazzFM.
In another innovative pandemic-inspired initiative to open new channels for artists Spero launched a tech startup called weeBID, the first fan-initiated crowd-funding platform. With early supporters like Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock, the company reverses the crowd-funding dynamic by allowing an artist’s fans and supporters to solicit new work or projects. A model with the potential to transform the relationship between artists and fans, weeBID was described by Philadelphia public radio station WRTI as a paradigm shifting platform in an industry with “billions of dollars at stake and kings to be made. The Quincy Jones for this new age is out there, and it’s not hard to envision that person as a tech-and-business-savvy musician/producer like Spero.”
In many ways weeBID resolves the tension that defined Spero early career as he sought to choose between his abiding love of music and his need to express himself and his fascination with the communicative power of technology. Born February 22, 1985, Spero grew up in a Chicago-area family defined by thwarted musical ambitions. His mother taught piano and during his early childhood his father was a touring rock musician “trying to make a living,” Spero recalls. “My grandpa was a pianist/singer/songwriter, and great-grandfather was a pianist who led a band on a cruise ship. Music is in my whole lineage, and each one got a day job and gave up the dream.”
Drawn to technology, he taught himself to code in HTML in middle school, which led to a thriving trade as a teenager designing websites for business owners in the community. By the time he was attending the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign majoring in jazz piano performance, music composition and graphic design he had to “start employing people to keep up with the business I was receiving,” Spero said. “At school I worked with the entrepreneurship center to learn how my passion for creativity could have even more impact by using technology to build companies.”
His skills as a web designer led to his connection with pianist/keyboardist
Robert Irving III, who’d spent years as Music Director for Miles Davis. Looking for a mentor, he approached Irving and offered to build his website, an overture that led to Spero joining the talent-laden Miles Electric Band and a friendship that continues today. But by the age of 22, convinced he’d never make a living playing music, he was focusing instead on his booming tech business, a pursuit that left him increasingly unfulfilled. Spero desperately started to seek out a master musician for guidance “and the top of the pyramid was Herbie Hancock.”
An encounter with the maestro led him to embrace Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism, and renewed his focus to music. Returning to the States after a transformative backpacking trip to rural Thailand, Spero closed down his web business and plunged headlong back into jazz, woodshedding for 10 hours a day for several years. When word reached Hancock that he’d taken up chanting, he became a musical mentor as well. Spero has thrived ever since, steadily expanding his creative purview as a player, producer and composer. He’s shared his musical insights widely via his Weekly Piano jazz masterclass YouTube channel, with sessions focusing on practice rituals, his training methods for rhythmic precision, and his investigations of innovators like Hancock, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Oscar Peterson via rigorous transcription.
His holistic approach to creativity has also led him back to tech. Diving back into the world of business with Tiny Room and weeBID doesn’t conflict with his commitment to creative expression. They reflect his passion for unleashing “the infinite potential of every human,” he says. “It gives me great joy to facilitate people realizing that for themselves. Taking personal responsibility for your music or whatever you do is the essence of freedom, but we can all use some help.”