WILLIAMSTOWN -- Few young musicians growing their careers can boast appearances at the Red Sea Jazz Festival and a Unesco-sponsored concert in Istanbul. Tonight at 8, jazz piano virtuoso and Pioneer Valley native Miro Sprague, 28, will add Williams College to his solo performance resume when he appears at Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall in Williamstown.
Sprague, whose family owned Sprague Electric Co. in North Adams, traveled as part of the Thelonius Monk Institute Ensemble to Israel and also to Turkey with Herbie Hancock for International Jazz Day. Their goal was to "highlight the international presence of jazz, a kind of music that connects people of very different cultures and bring peoples together," Sprague said.
A Manhattan School of Music graduate, he has performed with the Miro Sprague Trio, Samirah Evans and Her Handsome Devils, Michael Zsoldos Quartet and vocalists Evelyn Harris of Sweet Honey in the Rock and Sonya Kitchell, among others.
He attends the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz Performance in Los Angeles, a two-year program where jazz luminaries mentor a carefully selected band of six to eight talented young musicians.
"It's very hard to get into," Sprague explained. "Two of my absolute heroes, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, are guest professors."
"It's regarded as one of the best experiences a young musician can have," he added. "For two years, you're supported by the Institute and completely focused on artistic development."
Sprague is no stranger to Williams; he performed there two years ago as part of the Charles Neville Quartet with the veteran New Orleans saxophonist.
"[Neville] has lived in the area for a while now and started asking me to do shows with him," Sprague said. "He's a wonderful person, a very generous and beautiful spirit."
Considered an inspired improviser, Sprague also composes for himself and the Institute ensemble. In recent years, he has developed his solo career.
"When you're playing by yourself, you can take the music wherever you want without worrying about someone else trying to follow you," he explained. "There's a certain joy and freedom to it."
At tonight's concert, he plans to play a mix of original compositions, arrangements of standards, "and a lot of free improvising," he said, blending those three things together to create one sound.
"I take an intuitive approach," he said. "I think about what pieces I might play, but when the concert comes, I allow myself freedom to follow the inspiration in that moment."
He had no classical piano lessons as a child, preferring instead to write science fiction stories, he said. At age 13, he heard the album "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis.
"It's like a light bulb went off," he recalled. "We had a piano in the house, and I just dove into it."
"My primary learning has come from listening and teaching myself," he said. "But I definitely wouldn't be where I was if it wasn't for some of the guidance I've had."
One such mentor is pianist composer Andy Jaffe, who for the past quarter century has led the Williams College jazz program. Sprague joins a long line of distinguished artists invited to perform there, such as Branford Marsalis, Yusef Lateef, Lionel Loueke and Regina Carter.
"I've known Miro since he was a young prodigy," Jaffe explained. "He has gotten exponentially better -- he's just a spectacular talent, very eclectic and virtuosic. I've wanted to hire him for a long time."
He described Sprague as an original voice steeped in tradition.
"He's developed a technique and a touch where he really plays piano more fluidly than almost anyone I can think of," Jaffe said.
Jazz has a long history at Williams, evolving from a student ensemble to today's dedicated jazz faculty and programs. While visiting artists support the curriculum, Jaffe said, he hopes the concerts, which are always free, "will be accessible and enriching for everyone in the community."
"Jazz is moving over to a new generation," he said. "Happily that generation is being produced in a number of places around the country and around the world."
From Williams, Sprague will return to Los Angeles to resume his studies, stopping on the way in the nation's capital to play in a Monk Institute tribute to Wayne Shorter at the Kennedy Center.
From his small-town roots, Miro Sprague is on track for a big-time career.
If you go ...
What: Miro Sprague solo jazz piano concert
When: Tonight at 8
Where: Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall, Williamstown
Information: music.williams.edu (413) 597-3146.