The Contemporary Jazz, Fusion, Jazz-Funk and World Music act Spyro Gyra is scheduled to make appearances in Europe this fall. In October and November of 2019, the legendary band from New York state will hit stages in Germany, Ireland and Italy. More European gigs might be confirmed in the coming weeks.
Founded in 1974, Spyro Gyra was a house band at a Buffalo, NY, Jazz club at first. Within a few years, saxophonist Jay Beckenstein and pianist Tom Schuman turned the group into a very successful life project. It did not take long until a big fan base developed around the world.
No Alarm Systems
In the second half of the 1970s, Weather Report, George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin and, in a different way, bands like Santana or Earth, Wind & Fire came up with high quality music which included several genres from Jazz to Rock and Funk, some with a clear African or Latin American influence.
Spyro Gyra did so too, but their approach was unique. It was mostly smooth, but not the way the Americans use that word today. Jay Beckenstein’s saxophone playing style was smooth, as opposed to some other renown players of that instrument who caused headaches.
Spyro’s pieces have always been smooth in the sense that they did not have to rely on loud drum beats. Neither did they scare people away with crazy 30-minute guitar solos, nor with squeaky sax sounds resembling burglary alarm systems.
Creating Instrumental Hits
Spyro Gyra managed to include all of its influences with many details and killer arrangements in an inventive blend of music. Their very own style is recognizable until today. And hardly anyone has even come close to their musical quality level in the 45 years they have been active.
The main thing is that Spyro Gyra’s music is audible throughout, in spite of all ingredients and details which make it so special. In other words: Their sounds are not just for overly intellectual Jazz listeners with their shelves full of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Mahavishnu records, but also people like you and me with an ear for excellent music. This applies to both their recordings and their concerts.
There is a lot more. Spyro Gyra have gotten as many as 12 Grammy award nominations and the ‘George Benson Lifetime Achievement Award’. And they have achieved something hardly any other Jazz acts managed to do, which is hitting the Pop charts with two instrumental tunes. In this regard, they are in line with Ramsey Lewis, Herb Alpert and Barry White’s Love Unlimited.
‘It Doesn’t Matter’
Spyro Gyra’s instrumental hits are ‘Shaker Song’ and ‘Morning Dance’, compositions by Jay Beckenstein. ‘Shaker Song’ was interpreted by The Manhattan Transfer, who successfully converted it into a good Vocal Jazz track. ‘Morning Dance’ is still the tune absolutely all Spyro Gyra fans can name. Everyone else above the age of 40 has heard the piece.
But so many of their less famous tracks deliver even more fascination. In the early days, their 1979 album ‘Morning Dance’ contained the most brilliant Contemporary Jazz tunes ever. ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ is an excellent example for a killer Jazz piece which seems to be telling a story.
‘Starburst’ and ‘Heliopolis’ are two more brilliant compositions which just need to be mentioned in this context. All of these congenial pieces, plus more, are part of this album.
Sophisticated Jazz-Funk Included
‘Carnaval’, released in 1980, is another album of theirs with more milestones. Listing them all would triple the length of this article. But that recording delivered yet another overdose of very well sounding creativity. ‘Foxtrot’ and ‘Sweet and Savvy’ are just too good to be real. The thing is that this also applies to a lot of the other 30 studio albums they have recorded since 1977.
And they are diverse. Spyro Gyra has recorded sophisticated Jazz-Funk tunes (‘Freetime’ is a good example), a few AOR songs (‘Fine Time to Explain’) and truckloads of Contemporary-Latin-Jazz-Fusion-World-Music tracks. Here is another ‘Real Music’ band which created its own genre.
Their personnel has changed over the years. But band leader Jay Beckenstein and Tom Schuman are founding members who have been running the project ever since. Genius guitarist Julio Fernandez has been with them for so long that even he is almost like an original member. The same applies to Scott Ambush, a truly gifted slap bass hero.
Spyro Gyra Hitting Europe
Recently, tragedy struck when a long-time contributor and former member, vibraphonist Dave Samuels, died. After leaving Spyro Gyra early on, in order to pursue his solo career, he joined them in the studio on a regular basis. His playing is still part of the band’s signature sound.
Fifteen years ago, the author of these lines booked a European tour for them. When they hit the stage at the ‘Fabrik’ in Hamburg or the ‘National Palace of Culture’ in Sofia, they spread fascination from the second they started performing. The same applied to that after show party in Sofia during which Julio Fernandez played a stunning version of Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’. ¡Gracias, hermano! In 2014, they came to Europe for the second time since this millennium commenced.
This time around, in 2019, not all planned gigs may have been confirmed, so far. But it looks like Spyro Gyra will be hitting the ‘Quasimodo’ venue in Berlin on November 10th. Two weeks earlier, on October 26th, they will raise the roof at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival in Cork, and on November 6th, Spyro Gyra, one of the most brilliant Fusion acts ever, will be at yet another ‘Real music’ oasis called Blue Note Milano in Milano.