Pop, Jazz and Dance: In Conversation with Spencer Ludwig

Vortex Music Magazine

Before opening for Bebe Rexha at Portland’s Wonder Ballroom on March 13, rising star Spencer Ludwig sat down backstage for a conversation about touring, his inspirations, and the power of jazz.

Spencer Ludwig opening for Bebe Rexha at the Wonder Ballroom on March 13, 2017—click to see more photos by John AlcalaSpencer Ludwig opening for Bebe Rexha at the Wonder Ballroom on March 13, 2017—click to see more photos by John AlcalaNothing will stop a crowd of pop fans, not even a torrential downpour. This much was evident walking up to the Wonder Ballroom on a Monday night in March where hundreds, soaked by the rain, waited for doors to open for the night’s show with Bebe Rexha. The pop sensation has been on tour for the better part of two weeks in support of her latest EP, All Your Fault: Pt. 1, with two very promising opening acts in tow: Daniel Skye and Spencer Ludwig.

Ludwig is first up tonight, and as doors open and the crowd comes pouring into the ballroom, I catch up with him backstage as he prepares for his set. Being the first opening act on a tour can be a tricky slot, but thus far, Ludwig has been pleased with the crowds.

“I honestly cannot imagine a better first tour,” he says. “The crowd shows up right on time. Doors open, room’s full. And that’s really great for me. Bebe’s fans are music lovers. They’re ready to dance, ready to party, ready to sing, ready to have a good time. I’m lucky to play in front of the right people.”

Ludwig is no stranger to tour life. From 2012 to 2015, he spent his time on the road playing trumpet for Capital Cities, quickly earning acclaim for his energy and becoming a fan favorite. He’s always aimed to bring an unmatchable energy to the stage, and watching him both with Capital Cities as well as playing his own music, there’s no denying he’s succeeding. His electric presence doesn’t come out of nowhere, though. Ludwig has many idols he’s looked up to, and many inspirations that have molded his onstage persona.

“The first performer that really captured me live was Cedric Bixler-Zavala, lead singer of The Mars Volta. They were one of the first bands I saw live, and I was just blown away by his bravery to climb amps and speakers and scaffolding and just wail on his instrument, the vocals.”

Spencer Ludwig at the Wonder Ballroom on March 13, 2017—click to see more photos by John AlcalaSpencer Ludwig at the Wonder Ballroom on March 13, 2017—click to see more photos by John AlcalaIt’s easy to find the parallels during Ludwig’s set: He jumps on amps, climbs speakers, leans into the crowd, and shoots energy through the room as he performs on his signature instrument, the trumpet. Though The Mars Volta singer may have inspired the energy, watching him onstage and listening to his music immediately brings to mind another name, who Ludwig also lists as one of his biggest influences: the King of Pop.

“Michael Jackson was the first artist that kind of drew me into music, when I was four years old,” Ludwig says. “I had his video, ‘Moonwalker,’ on repeat, and I loved watching the way he moved. Every single beat had a movement... in his shoulder or his elbow or his wrist. And I feel like if you are internalizing the beat in your body, then you’re really connecting with the music.”

“When I was given the opportunity to pursue a solo project, one of the things I thought was, ‘What’s a sound that’s going to live forever?’” Ludwig explains. “So I looked to the sounds that feel that way to me, like Michael Jackson, Prince, Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder. They all fit in that timeless category. I feel like those influencers are the ones that are gonna live forever.”

Ludwig’s desire is to make music with that same timeless quality. Listening to his music, it appears he’s on the right track. His first single, “Diggy,” released in July of last year (listen below), has since garnered much acclaim. It’s a big tune, and its sound and style brims with a timeless, upbeat quality. There’s a definite pop accessibility to Ludwig’s music, although the singer’s sound packs a dose of texture and substance, likely due to his jazz leanings.

Growing up in California, Ludwig joined his middle school jazz band and played the French horn. Later though, in high school, he developed an interest in the trumpet. During his senior year, Ludwig taught himself the instrument, practicing enough to earn himself entrance to the prestigious California Institute of the Arts. From there, jazz took over.

“Jazz has always been a very academic experience for me, as well as a passion,” Ludwig says. “I studied jazz and went to school for jazz trumpet. I learned a lot there in four years. I just drowned myself in music, and listened to all the great trumpet players of the era where jazz was the prominent music: Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Chet Baker, Lee Morgan.”

Jazz is still a daily routine and a way of life for Ludwig. Every day, he wakes up and listens to these same greats. “I’ll spend a lifetime listening and I’m still gonna miss some things,” he says. “I love how intellectual jazz is and I love how challenging it is. I practice jazz everyday. I feel like I can always do better.”

Spencer Ludwig at the Wonder Ballroom on March 13, 2017—click to see more photos by John AlcalaSpencer Ludwig at the Wonder Ballroom on March 13, 2017—click to see more photos by John AlcalaLudwig is one of many artists who is truly embracing the power of jazz and funk in the modern era of music, and if his passion for music continues, his name could be written down alongside these timeless artists. The qualities are all there in his singles, and an album will surely prove his ambition to be the wall of greats. Luckily, it shouldn’t be long until a full-length makes an appearance.

“The album is coming. We’re looking at this summer,” Ludwig says, adding that the record has been finished since April of last year. “It takes a while to get all of your ducks in a row so that you can release things properly. It’s really important to my whole team that we build my story correctly, and the people are introduced to who I am and my sound at a pace that’s manageable in this era.”

If his previous work is any indication, Ludwig’s debut is one to look forward to, and he should have no problem recruiting fans, especially after this tour.

“Our goal is to just fill the room with as much energy as we can,” he says. “We’re not afraid to engage with the audience. I believe a concert is a shared moment or experience. It’s not me playing at you, it’s me playing with you.”

After our conversation, Ludwig shows just what this means during his half-hour set, channeling his inspirations, showcasing choreography with his trumpet, involving the crowd, and filling the room with an electric energy brought on by his own brand of pop, jazz and dance.

For a night’s first opener, Spencer Ludwig had a presence that captivated. There’s a bright future ahead for the rising star.

See more photos by John Alcala of Spencer Ludwig with Bebe Rexha and Daniel Skye at the Wonder Ballroom—and read a review!

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