- This event has passed.
Saturday, April 8 @ 7:00 pm - 9:30 pm$50
American jazz fusion band Spyro Gyra has long been known to its peers in the contemporary jazz world as a “well-oiled machine” due to its relentless schedule of 49 years of touring! To date, the band has logged more than 10,000 shows on six continents, while releasing 35 albums, garnering platinum and gold records along the way with their combination of jazz, R&B, funk, and pop music.
SG rose from humble beginnings in Buffalo, NY in 1974 to their current international prominence in jazz. Every year, the group continues to exhibit how to remain among a relatively small handful of artists who are able celebrate five decades in the business. Their energy and joy in concert matches their exceptional musicality.
You might think that Spyro Gyra’s leader and saxophonist Jay Beckenstein would welcome a break after five decades of year-round performances. It was renowned Late Night with David Letterman bass player Will Lee who said the group was a “well-oiled road machine” given its daunting schedule for fans around the globe.
So what has it been like to have this road beast in the garage due to the pandemic? “Good!” Beckenstein laughingly replies. “A little more oil couldn’t hurt. But you know, it’s too long now. The first few months of it, after over 45 years of touring without really having a break, it felt good to not be touring. Even if it was to realize how much I love being out there.
“It made me appreciate my previous social world. So much of my life was the band. Because we’re geographically distant from each other, it has been a very hard time being apart. If the pandemic has done anything, it’s made me appreciate how much the band had become my family.”
When Spryo Gyra began nearly 50 years ago in Buffalo, a few area working musicians arranged for a weekly gig of playing less commercial music in a local club for the “Tuesday Night Jazz Jam.” Once word got around, the core players were joined by many of Buffalo’s top cats. Then customers started showing up, too, prompting the club owner to press Beckenstein for a band name for the club’s new sign. Jay offered up this late night, tipsy answer: “You can call it ‘spirogyra,’” an algae he had studied in college. The next week, Beckenstein came back and there it was, misspelling and all on the marquee. So it began in 1974 with other legendary and dearly missed Buffalo music legends, including founding bassist Jim Kurzdorfer and drummer Ted Reinhardt (beginning with the release of smash record Morning Dance).
Speaking of his long-time collaborator keyboardist Tom Schuman, Beckenstein describes him as “the most underestimated musician I have ever known. The guy is a musical genius. That term gets thrown around a lot but he’s the real deal. And that’s been matched over the years with his great motivation, great attention to detail and an incredible work ethic. Then there’s this complete musical fluidity.”
Prompted to capsulize the rest of this musical family, guitarist Julio Fernandez is “’Mr. Esprit,’ the guy who brings spirit to the band, playing every note with pure emotion.” Bassist Scott Ambush is “an amazing musician and technician and is always encouraging us to push the envelope.” Drummer Lionel Cordew “is the engine that always works, and the backbone of the band as we all rely on him providing us rock solid structure to play on.”
These are also the musicians responsible for SG’s latest release Vinyl Tap, a collection of mostly Classic Rock covers, the promotion of which was cut short by the health crisis. “I see Vinyl Tap as being a bit of a one off,” Beckenstein observed. “I’m very proud of it. I think we did really nice job on interpretations. It was great fun doing other peoples’ material but that’s ultimately not how I identify Spyro Gyra. Ultimately, we’re a band that writes its own music.”
With respect to the long-term future for a band with a 50th anniversary not too far off, Beckenstein allows, “As long as I can perform at a high-level, I would never think of retiring. So all I am thinking about right now is that I can’t wait to see the audiences again.”