As Spyro Gyra contemplates upcoming milestones to its storied career, it’s tempting to fall back on the Grateful Dead lyric, “What a long strange trip it’s been” to describe it. During that time, they 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. These upcoming milestones include 2012, which will be thirty-five years since their first album release and 2014 will be forty years as a band. They show little sign of wanting to slow down either, gaining Grammy® nominations for each of their last four albums.
Born in Brooklyn, bandleader Jay Beckenstein grew up listening to the music of Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie, and started playing the saxophone at age seven. 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. Spyro Gyra was picked up by Amherst Records, a local label who then made a deal for subsequent albums to go to Infinity Records, a label owned by MCA Records. After gaining Infinity its only gold (soon to be platinum) record with Morning Dance, Infinity folded and the group was picked up by MCA Records. There they stayed until MCA acquired noted contemporary jazz label GRP Records. Spyro Gyra moved to GRP in 1990 and put out all but one of their 1990’s output on that label. In 1999, they released a single album, Got The Magic on Windham Hill Jazz. The "aughts" had them returning to an indie mode, licensing their albums to Heads Up International. Most of those Heads Up albums have since returned to the band as self released independent releases. 2011 sees them returning to Amherst Records in Buffalo with A Foreign Affair.
"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."
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