The Savannah Jazz Festival welcomes fusion jazz legend Spyro Gyra to the Lucas Theater as part of an exciting annual concert series. With 35 albums released, multiple platinum and gold sales records, and multiple Grammy nominations, Spirogyra marks another career milestone as the band approaches its 50th anniversary. I’m tryingth In 2018, they were one of the hardest touring bands in contemporary jazz.
Bandleader and saxophonist Jay Beckenstein co-founded Spiro Gyra in 1974 while working in Buffalo, New York’s modest but burgeoning club scene. This unusual band name was given to Beckenstein when asked by a club promoter for a band name and he jokingly replied that it was ‘spirogilla’, a type of algae he learned about while majoring in biology in college. rice field. A promoter misspelled the name and stuck with it, but even the odd band name didn’t prevent Spyro Gyra from becoming a huge success in the jazz world.
“Buffalo has always been a small club town,” says Bekenstein. “Back in the day, the advantage of being in Buffalo was being able to make $25 a night and live off it. , it’s great to work with us.I still identify with the place.I’m still a Bills fan.”
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Spyro Gyra’s melodic compositions and tight arrangements may be partially attributed to Bekenstein’s classical music-surrounded education (his mother was an opera singer) and classical music performance education.
“As a writer and producer, classical music takes a rather finicky approach,” Bekenstein explained. “It should be beautifully tuned, beautifully done. Things have to be somewhat orderly and solid. I think those are the elements of Spiro Gyra’s music, and it necessarily comes from the world of jazz. I don’t think it’s anything.”
Another aspect of Spyro Gyra’s infectious jazz is their use of sun-drenched Latin grooves and Caribbean vibes that have stood out since their early hits (such as 1979’s platinum album Morning Dance). .
“It’s from Buffalo, of course,” Bekenstein said with a laugh. Perhaps Caribbean music helped them survive the frigid Buffalo winters.
“I grew up in New York City, which had a vibrant Latin music scene,” Bekenstein continued. “The biggest thing was that New York had great Latino radio.”
A little help from Rick James
Spyro Gyra had help from an unlikely source early in his career, but if ‘The Chappelle Show’ has taught us anything, it’s sharing the story of Rick James. It’s always worth doing.
“The band was making their first record in a small studio in Buffalo,” Beckenstein said. “We had a production company and we were doing five or six small projects, so we had months of studio time. It was a project that we went to. We had more free time than we could use.”
Super freak-funk artist Rick James offered to buy out much of the studio time to help complete Spyro Gyra’s first record. In return, Beckenstein played the horn section on Rick Jaime’s first album.
“We encountered this larger-than-life category, dressed up and dressed up, in a big limousine, with girls in short skirts like schmanzys and pansies in their arms,” Bekenstein recalls. bottom. “This was amazing to us because we were just a buffalo yoke bunch. He was a wild guy, no doubt, jumping like crazy, but I As far as I’m concerned, he was just an incredibly dedicated and creative guy.”
The story continued years later when Beckenstein was in Los Angeles and reunited with James. James invited Beckenstein to Motown Records to meet legendary Motown founder Berry Gordy.
Beckenstein said: “After three minutes of chatting, Rick excused himself by saying he was definitely going to be smoking cocaine in the bathroom, and Barry leaned across the table and said, ‘Hey, you’re with this guy. You don’t want to be seen. I’ll introduce you to someone you want to know.’ He took me down the hallway and introduced me to Smokey Robinson, which was an honor, but it was Motown’s The president warned me to stay away from Rick James.”
I continued challenging the category of the jazz for 50 years
Following in the footsteps of adventurous fusion luminaries like Weather Report and Return to Forever, Spiro Gyra combines pop, rock, funk and salsa into highly melodic and marketable instrumental jazz. rice field. Since then, genre labels such as ‘contemporary jazz’ and ‘smooth jazz’ have emerged to claim the band.
“We’ve been making music without saying it fits this category,” Bekenstein said. “We’re just moving forward. Sometimes we’re alone in the water, sometimes we have other people around us.”
“There is a commercial smooth jazz ecosystem, a regular jazz ecosystem, a European jazz ecosystem, and we are working on all three. Are we influencing smooth jazz? Perhaps, but it certainly wasn’t what we thought.”
After writing hundreds of songs over the decades, Spyro Gyra’s latest album, 2019’s Vinyl Tap, was surprisingly a cover record.
“We were fed up with the process,” Bekenstein said of his switch to covers. “After so many records where it was my requirement that every piece be original, this was a cool idea. It was fun and we focused on a different creative side. It wasn’t about writing, it was about making new songs.”
One thing that hasn’t changed in 50 years is the Spyro Gyra’s reputation as a ‘well-oiled road machine’. What keeps Beckenstein on the road for so many years?
“You don’t get old,” Bekenstein replied. “It keeps me moving youthfully. It’s great to be out on the road and have high energy and work at a high level.”
That high energy hasn’t abated, and Savannah music fans can expect a great show at the Lucas Theater on July 15th.
“If you come to the show and haven’t heard of us, I almost guarantee you’ll be shocked at how energetic and downright tight it is. We’re really proud of ourselves.” I am thinking.”
If you want to go>>
what: Spyro Gyra
when: July 15th at 7pm
where: Lucas Theater, 23 Abercorn St.
information: savanna jazz.org