Thursday, May 20, 2010

Spyro Gyra

Spyro Gyra became a famous jazz fusion group during the late 1970's, with a unique, instrumental sound that combines smooth jazz with elements of R&B, funk, and pop music.  Their cheerful blend of percussion, piano, saxophone, and guitar immediatly caught my own ear, as I remember listening constantly during my college years....and bying their first three albums!

My favorite was "Morning Dance" which played on every popular radio station back then, as its hit single helped propel them to national, and international fame. Spyro Gyra went on to release 25 albums, selling over 10-million copies.... which made them one of the most prolific, commercially successful groups on the jazz scene.

The band was originally formed by alto saxophonist and song writer Jay Beckenstein, who met keyboardist Jeremy Wall in highschool, where the two began playing outdoor, summer concerts in their hometown of Buffalo, New York.

They performed instrumental covers of mostly R&B songs before finally hitting the Buffalo club scene in their college years, adding bassist Jim Kurzdorfer and drummer Tom Walsh to the group, as well as asking guest players to join their early jam sessions. 

"Buffalo was like a mini Chicago back then", says bandleader Beckenstein--"with smokin blues, jazz, soul, and even rockabilly scene, of all things"..  After a few years, the 'Spyro Gyra' sound evolved into what pianist Wall called a "gutbucket of rhythmic oddball mix of simple music, and esoteric stuff that became our own groove".

Sharing that groove were other artists, many becoming  intermittant and short term band members over the years....including Umbopa Latimer, Tom Schumann, Alfred Rapillo, Rick Strauss, Tom Walsh, Tom Duffy, Dave Samuels, Rubens Bassini, Ted Reinhardt, Gerardo Valez, Mark Quinonez, Scott Ambush, and Chet Catallo.

As Spyro Gyra's popularity sky-rocketed, they began playing everywhere, not just New York, but around the country, and the world....averaging over 100 touring dates a year-- a pace that continues to this day!

Over the past 30-years the majority of thier 25 albums and 3 compilation box-sets have cracked 'Billboard's' top 20 list, along with 12 "Grammy Award" nominations!

With the exception on founder Beckenstein and keyboardist Tom Schulmann, Spyro Gyra's personnel has changed somewhat over time, however, thier touring stamina has not! 

They're playing in Washington, D.C. right now, and then off to Jacksonville, Atlanta, Temecula, California, and Mexico...before heading up to Canada, back east through July....and on to Norway by mid-August. 

Let's just hope they never change that name!  I've often wondered how they ever came up with "Spyro Gyra"?  I finally found out while writing this blog! 

"Spirogyra" is actually a sickly-green colored algae that Beckenstein wrote a paper on in college biology class.  One night in Buffalo, a club owner forced him to name his band (immediatly) for some promotional sign! Beckenstein quickly blurted out the name of that algae, and the club owner miss-spelled it SPYRO GYRA.

The name, and the band, stuck..around-- to entertain jazz audiences for three decades, and for many more decades to come!

Thanks, and tune into the JAZZ CAFE on Streetwise Radio!

Sincerely, PeteCam4

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