Spyro Gyra brings its smooth soundsWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When it comes to Grammy Awards and Spyro Gyra, Jay Beckenstein has a sense of humor.
“I’m starting to think of us as the Susan Lucci of jazz,” said the saxophonist. “But Susan Lucci finally won one, so I guess we’re not Susan Lucci.”
Even though Beckenstein and company were shut out for the 10th and 11th time for their 26th release, “Good to Go-Go,” which received two nominations last year, the group and the daytime soap opera star have something in common — staying power.
Spyro Gyra’s fusion of jazz, funk, pop and R&B flows on. The band founded by Beckenstein and keyboardist Jeremy Wall in the mid-1970s continues to create with different lineups over the years. The two began playing in a bar in Buffalo, N.Y., and were joined by various musicians during Tuesday Night Jazz Jams. Keyboardist Tom Schuman became a regular. The club owner pressed the guys for a name to put on a new sign. Beckenstein, a former biology major in college, jokingly offered spirogyra.
“It’s an algae,” he said. “Spirogyra is very, very pretty under a microscope, but in our world, it just turns the pool green.”
The bar owner misspelled the moniker — and it stuck.
“To me, our music has always been very upbeat and energetic, and spirogyra — take the algae out of it — it sounds like an onomatopoeia for movement.”
Beckenstein, Schuman, guitarist Julio Fernandez, bass player Scott Ambush and percussionist Bonny Bonaparte will bring Spyro Gyra to the River Raisin Centre for the Arts in Monroe, Mich., at 7:30 p.m. May 2 with special guest Shelby Brown. General admission tickets are $25 for adults, $40 for couples, $22 for seniors and $15 for students.
Beckenstein answered some questions while driving on the Palisades Interstate Parkway home to New York.
Toledo Free Press: Spyro Gyra is such a prolific band — are you working on a new disc?
Beckenstein: We’re just finishing up a new Christmas record [“A Night Before Christmas”]. We did an acoustic, straight-ahead jazz Christmas album, like old-fashioned, almost 1950, and I love it. Right after we finish that, we go back into the studio, back into writing mode, for another CD that we’re going to put out next year.
TFP: You’ve said you like jazz because of the freedom, that it allows you to mix musical elements.
Beckenstein: I think starting from its very inception, when we were in our 20s and this thing was being born, we had so many great musical influences. We grew up when there was Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix, James Taylor and The Beatles, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley and Tito Puente. It was a very rich and eclectic era. And so when it came time for us to make music, we had grown up — all of us as musicians — with this enormous palette of styles. And speaking for myself, I never thought, well, jazz is hipper than The Beatles or The Beatles were hipper than jazz; they were both fabulous musical manifestations, right along with Stravinsky and Beethoven. So it was natural when we made music that it would be this big collage of styles. In establishing that, we did ourselves a big favor in that we established the right to do anything we want.
TFP: Talk a bit about the writing process — what inspires you?
Beckenstein: More often than not, my writing starts with playing piano for myself alone. I entertain myself — when I’m sad I play piano; when I’m happy I play piano. I just improvise and noodle and just enjoy myself, and every now and then some little idea pops up by accident that’s the kernel to a composition. … In terms of what inspires me — I’ve had tunes that were definitely inspired by events — every one of my daughters has a tune — and there’s been places that inspire me … but more often than not, it’s my moods more than anything else.
TFP: What do you want fans to take away from your music?
In terms of the live show, we have such a darn good time with each other. The band is always up there enjoying themselves, and I think it’s very infectious, and that’s what the audiences tell us afterwards is the thing they love the most is how we love what we were doing.
On the Web visit www.spyrogyra.com and click on links for more information.