Mr. Everything

UB alum Samuel Vespone balances his passion for music and his love for medicine

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When Samuel Vespone isn’t studying for a chemistry exam or volunteering in Honduras, he’s working on his next song.

Vespone, a UB ‘18 alum, can hit riffs on the saxophone, blow the harmonica, toot the trumpet and strum the ukulele.

In short, he can play it all.

Vespone spends half his day making music in his studio apartment, working both with instruments and his own vocals. He also loves to make beats for other student artists.

But Vespone isn’t just a musician. He graduated in May with a 3.74 GPA; now, he’s searching for a biomedical engineering position.

“School and music have always been my main priorities,” Vespone said. “Going out and having fun can be great, but nothing compares to the feeling I have when I get a good grade on a test or produce a beat that everyone loves.”

During his freshman year in high school, Vespone said he thought of music as just a hobby. But his passion blossomed when he realized his talent as instrumentalist and began working his voice into his craft. He began collaborating more and realized he was good enough to write music for other artists.

Vespone remains humble, and he often takes inspiration from others.

“I think the music I work on could be better, and I always tell people the more minds you have on a project, the better the project will be,” Vespone said.

Vespone was born and raised in Spencerport, a suburb of Rochester. He attributes who he is today to his family and the people around him –– people who help him through his insecurities.

“I will try to explain the whole caveats of the music industry to my parents, and they are so interested in learning, but I know a lot of other people are not in that situation, so I am just super grateful for that,” Vespone said.

In the studio, Vespone said he and his friends spend a lot of time writing “top lines” –– vocal melodies –– in their music.

Oluwafemi Popoola, a UB ‘17 alum, records with Vespone as part of their duo, JUSCOVA. Popoola, who was profiled by The Spectrumin 2017, goes by the stage name Frank Pierce. This summer, JUSCOVA is working on a new, eight-song EP.

The two rebranded their initial work from their freshman year at UB together. Vespone said the two are headed toward a more novel sound that fuses together different styles of music, like jazz and EDM.

“After our first session in the studio together, I knew I wanted to do something more permanent, so we ended up doing a project together,” Popoola said.

Popoola enjoys the carefree environment they create while working on music.

“Before we write, we spend an hour talking about everything we are excited about and then we start working,” Popoola said. “When we’re focused though, we can be in the studio for over eight hours without a break, but we always find a compromise [for] what we both want.”

Popoola said he does not usually use the word “gifted” or “talented” to describe other artists, but Vespone is an exception –– his creativity has no boundaries.

To his loved ones, Vespone is more than just a talented student and musician.

Brianna Vespone, Samuel’s sister, said their grandma always used to tell them Samuel had the “full package.” Brianna taught him how to play the piano at four years old. Since then, her brother’s talents quickly surpassed her own piano skills.

“Being the big sister, I would naturally take charge in trying to teach him how to read music so we could play duets together and impress our family,” Brianna Vespone said.

Vespone said he’s always embraced learning instruments besides the piano.

In the fourth grade, Vespone’s band teacher asked him to choose the three instruments he wished to play. He chose percussion, tenor saxophone and trombone.

“At the auditions, I couldn’t reciprocate a long rhythm on the percussion that the band director approved of, so I crossed that off my list,” Vespone said.

“Next, he gave me the mouthpiece of a tenor saxophone and a new reed to see if I could make any noise with it, and sure enough, I would later enter jazz bands playing the tenor saxophone in high school and college.”

Benjamin Osborne, Spencerport High School’s band director, said it did not take long for him to figure out Vespone had a “rhythm dying to get out from inside him.”

From that observation, Osborne recommended he join the high school drumline.

“I met Sam for the first time when he was a freshman in high school, and I could tell how musically gifted he was from the beginning,” Osborne said.

Vespone played the baritone saxophone in Osborne’s concert band. The first money Vespone ever made as a musician was from playing the saxophone.

“I played a six-piece jazz combo for [a member of] our jazz band’s high school graduation party,” Vespone said. “It was only $20, but I remember being like ‘Oh my God, mom, I just made $20 playing the saxophone. This is so lit.’”

Aside from the saxophone, Vespone has a knack for vocals.

In seventh grade, Vespone bought his first microphone and started practicing using Audacity, a free computer recording software.

“I don’t think I am a good singer by any means, but I am fascinated with the ways you can use the human voice,” Vespone said.

Vespone took full advantage of opportunities to use audio and visual elements in high school class projects, too.

Osborne said creativity is Vespone’s middle name.

“We would be playing percussion ensemble, and I could faintly hear Sam beatboxing in the back practice room,” Osborne said. “He was amazing at coming up with different musical ideas and rhythms on the fly.”

Vespone also uses his vocals to guide his harmonica.

Vespone enjoyed the sound of the harmonica in old blues records, so he ordered a set of them in high school. He manipulates recordings of him playing the harmonica when he needs a more structured performance for an idea he has.

Vespone hopes to go to a physician assistant school in New York and become a certified physicians assistant within the next three years. Vespone wants to pursue a career in music, but he said the music industry is “sketchy” and “nothing is guaranteed.”

“I have to plan a lot because of my focus surrounding music and school, but music is definitely secondary right now, and is not a means to support myself at the moment, but that does not mean music isn’t important to me,” Vespone said.

For Vespone, just the sight of someone tapping their foot to his music makes him satisfied.

“Music will be around forever,” Vespone said. “It is like dreaming because you can wake up from a dream terrified or wishing the dream never ended.”

Erik Tingue is the features editor and can be reached at erik.tingue@ubspectrum.com and @TingueErik.