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Jacobs School of Music

Alain Barker
Jacobs School of Music

Last modified: Friday, September 23, 2011

Renowned percussionist Michael Spiro joins IU Jacobs School of Music faculty

Sept. 23, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Following three years as a visiting faculty member, internationally recognized world percussionist, recording artist and educator Michael Spiro has been appointed associate professor of percussion at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

"Michael has added a new dimension to the Jacobs School, and what a world it opens to our students as a result," said Jacobs School Dean Gwyn Richards. "His knowledge of a broad range of repertoire has proven to be an asset for our students and their preparation for the profession. He rounds out the department in a most compelling way."

"We are thrilled that Michael Spiro is joining us in a full-time capacity at the Jacobs School of Music," said John Tafoya, professor of percussion and chairman of the IU Percussion Department. "Michael is a driving force in the realm of ethnic and world percussion, both as a world-class performing artist and devoted educator. He has performed with an incredible lineup of diverse artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, David Garibaldi, Bobby McFerrin, Charlie Watts and many others. His wealth of historical and practical knowledge will be invaluable to our percussion students at IU."

Known specifically for his work in the Latin music field, Spiro has received seven Grammy nominations, including a nomination earlier this year for his work with the Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet. He has performed on thousands of records and co-produced and played on several instructional videos for Warner Bros. Publications, including Talking Drums, Changuito, Giovanni Hidalgo and Ignacio Berro. He has produced seminal recordings in the Latin music genre, including recordings by Orquesta Batachanga, Grupo Bata-Ketu, Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge, and Grupo Ilu-Aña.

"Michael Spiro is at the very top of his field as a performer and a teacher," said Steve Houghton, Jacobs professor of percussion and jazz. "Having performed with Spiro on numerous occasions, I can definitely attest to him being a powerful, dynamic and tasteful musical force who makes anyone he plays with sound better. We are very excited to have the opportunity for Michael to share his vast knowledge of world music, not only with percussionists, but jazz and classical students as well."

The IU Jacobs School of Music provides students in the Percussion Department the opportunity to gain experience in a wide variety of musical settings, including symphony, opera and ballet orchestras; wind ensemble; concert and marching bands; percussion and hand-drumming ensembles; steel-drum band; jazz big bands and combos; and the New Music Ensemble. In addition, students have a host of solo and chamber music opportunities.

About Michael Spiro

A seven-time Grammy nominee, Michael Spiro has performed on thousands of recordings, many of which he also produced. These include several seminal recordings in the Latin music genre, such as BataKetu, Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge, Orquesta La Moderna Tradicion, Bata-Mbira and Grupo Ilu-Aña. He also has co-produced and/or played on several prominent instructional videos, including El Lenguaje del Tambor, Talking Drums, Changuito's The History of the Songo, videos by Giovanni Hidalgo Ignacio Berroa and his own 2008 DVD.

Spiro has performed with such diverse international artists as David Byrne, Cachao, The Caribbean Jazz Project, Dori Caymmi, Changuito, Richard Egues, Frank Emilio Flynn, Ella Fitzgerald, David Garibaldi, Gilberto Gil, Giovanni Hidalgo, Ray Holman, Toninho Horta, Bobby Hutcherson, Dr. John, Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge, The Machete Ensemble, Bobby McFerrin, Andy Narell, Ray Obiedo, Chico O'Farrill, Eddie Palmieri, Lazaro Ros, David Rudder, Carlos Santana, Grace Slick, Omar Sosa, Talking Drums, Clark Terry, McCoy Tyner, Wayne Wallace and Charlie Watts. He has recorded soundtracks to such major motion pictures as Soapdish, Henry and June, True Stories, Sworn To The Drum, Walker, Eddie Macon's Run and Dragon--The Life of Bruce Lee and has written several arrangements for the Tony Award-winning Broadway show BLAST!, which was released on DVD by PBS in 2002.

An acclaimed author, Spiro has published three books on Afro-Cuban percussion, including TimbaFunk, Tiempo and The Conga Drummer's Guidebook, the latter of which has become the standard for intermediate and advanced conga study. Three years ago, he launched two ground-breaking educational websites -- and -- both of which offer complete and comprehensive Internet instruction on Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian music and culture.

Spiro's formal education includes a bachelor's degree in Latin American studies with honors from the University of California and three and a half years of graduate work in ethnomusicology at the University of Washington. His practical education consists of a seven-year apprenticeship with the late Francisco Aguabella and extensive study throughout Latin America. He has studied annually in Cuba since 1984 with musicians such as Jose Luis Quintana ("Changuito"), Esteban Vega Bacallao ("Cha-Cha"), Daniel Diaz and Juan "Claro" Blanco of La Orquesta Ritmo Oriental, Regino Jimenez, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas and Grupo Afro-Cuba de Matanzas. In 1986, he spent two months training at the famous Escola de Samba in Rio de Janeiro, GRES Portela, has maintained regular study with Mestre Jorge Alabe since 1990 and returned to Rio in 2008 to deepen his knowledge of Carioca music and culture.

Spiro has developed the curriculum for Cuban and Brazilian music for both the Percussion and Jazz Departments at the IU Jacobs School of Music, where he is associate professor of percussion. In addition, he is a frequent visiting artist at universities worldwide. He has been a guest artist or artist-in-residence at over 150 colleges throughout North America and Europe, teaches annually at a variety of international music workshops and clinics, and continues to be a presenter at national and statewide conventions of the Percussive Arts Society each year.

While recording and producing in a wide variety of genres throughout the Unites States, Spiro remains an integral part of the West Coast music scene. In addition to his production work, he co-leads (with violinist Tregar Otten) the only surviving Charanga group in the United States devoted to preserving the classic Afro-Cuban "danzon" sound, Orquesta La Moderna Tradicion. This orquesta continues to play festivals throughout the country, including at New York's Lincoln Center, and, under his direction, has released three celebrated CDs over the last decade.

Five years ago, Spiro teamed with Santana veteran Karl Perazzo to form Conjunto Karabali, an 11-piece Latin band devoted to the traditional Afro-Cuban conjunto sound, which has become perhaps the most popular Latin dance band in the Bay Area.

Spiro holds the conga drum chair in the Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz quintet, which completed its sixth CD in the last five years in 2011, Bien, Bien!. The group received a 2011 Grammy nomination for the release and immediately followed it with its current album, From Hear to There, which is currently No. 1 on the world jazz charts and is garnering international critical praise.