Jazz Fusion Legends Spyro Gyra Perform Their Smooth Sounds
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The last date listed for Spyro Gyra was Sunday October 13, 2013 / 8:00pm (Doors at 7:00pm).
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With a decades-spanning career Spyro Gyra is one of the most prolific and influential jazz fusion bands around. Along with popular singles such as “Morning Dance” and “Shaker Song” the band has released over 30 albums selling millions of copies. The Alberta Rose is pleased to host Spyro Gyra for a rare Portland performance.
Approaching their fortieth anniversary as a group, Spyro Gyra have performed over five thousand shows, released twenty-nine albums (not counting “Best Of…” compilations) selling over ten million albums while also achieving one platinum and two gold albums. They show little sign of wanting to slow down either, gaining Grammy® nominations for each of their last four albums.
Spyro Gyra formed in the jazz clubs of Buffalo, New York during the late 1970s as a collaboration between bandleader Jay Beckenstein and keyboardist Jeremy Wall. “Not many people know it, but Buffalo was like a mini Chicago back then, with a smoking blues, soul, jazz, even rockabilly scene, of all things,” Beckenstein muses. “After being confined to classical music for so long, it was heaven. I was in the horn sections around town, backing some great vocalists.”
Spyro Gyra, whose odd name has since become world famous, was first known simply as “Tuesday Night Jazz Jams,” a forum wherein Beckenstein and Wall were joined by a rotating cast of characters. Tuesday just happened to be the night when most musicians weren’t playing other gigs to pay their bills. Around this time, a young keyboardist named Tom Schuman began sitting in when he was only sixteen years old. This young man, of course, remains a member to this day.
“Don’t forget the interminable Dead-like solos we were taking,” Beckenstein cracks. “We were the kings of self-indulgence, but eventually we earned our right to charge a quarter at the door. It was a complete shock when word of our psychosis got out and we started packing them in!”
The group’s increasing popularity – combined with the purchase of a new sign for the club – prompted the owner to insist that Beckenstein come up with a name for his band. “It began as a joke. I said ‘spirogyra,’ he misspelled it, and here we are thirty years later. In retrospect, it’s okay. In a way, it sounds like what we do. It sounds like motion and energy.”
In their earliest days, Spyro Gyra took their cues from Weather Report and Return to Forever – bands whose creative flights were fueled by a willingness to do things that had never been done before. “I believed that we were springing from what Weather Report did,” says Beckenstein. “I never thought in commercial terms. I just thought they were the next step in the evolution of jazz, and that we would be part of it.”
In 1977, they foreshadowed the DIY movement of the punks of the 1970’s by self-releasing their eponymous debut album. From the samba rhythms and Caribbean feel of their early hits to the latest album, they have made it a point to embrace the music of the places they have visited. Their new album, A Foreign Affair, is ready to take you around the world from the Caribbean to South America, and even to South Africa, India and Japan. Besides the memorable instrumentals, there are also three vocal tunes, one of which features Grammy® winning Keb’ Mo’.
“My hope is that our music has the same effect on the audience that it does on me,” says Beckenstein. “I’ve always felt that music, and particularly instrumental music, has this non-literal quality that lets people travel to a place where there are no words. Whether it’s touching their emotions or connecting them to something that reminds them of something much bigger than themselves, there’s this beauty in music that’s not connected to sentences. It’s very transportive. I would hope that when people hear our music or come to see us, they’re able to share that with us. That’s the truly glorious part of being a musician.”