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Greg Spero

Greg Spero

Progressive jazz pianist | Toured with Halsey, founded Spirit Fingers | Class of 2007

Renowned pianist that he is, it only figures that the most important chapter of Greg Spero’s Illini story is set at the School of Music.

But with one unexpected twist.

“My most life-changing encounter in the music department at UIUC was with a professor whose focus wasn’t music,” the leader of the jazz band Spirit Fingers says from Los Angeles.

Guy Garnett was a composition teacher, but his primary focus was on mixed media and collaborative creativity through a combination of engineering and art. Music was a part of this, and Guy was a brilliant composer, but he straddled obligations to the Siebel Center and the music department, spearheading initiatives like motion-tracking interactive audio-visual displays before the technology was consumerized.

“Guy understood and was able to explain music from a perspective that no other professor in my experience could. While music professors generally focused on how to use their particular vocabulary and their musical preferences to create what they felt were compelling compositions, Guy looked below the surface of preference and style to find the root of what made music universally compelling.

“He taught me the underlying gears behind all art, what made it speak and how each individual genre formed its preferences and vocabulary on top of those basic human universalities.

“In retrospect, I think it was the diversity of his expertise that allowed him to see deeper into the music than most, and to explain it so effectively that it would change the course of my creative life. His guidance in our private lessons formed the basis of how I think of music, art and beauty in many aspects of life —still, 12 years after my graduation, and I see the thread continuing for my lifetime.

“I am eternally grateful for his willingness to step out of the box of tradition and ego that most people unawarely stick within.”