Monday, May 1, 2017 at 10:15 pm
Spyro Gyra, owing its odd name to the green alga spirogyra, was founded in 1974 by saxophonist Jay Beckenstein and keyboardist Jeremy Wall. Indeed, they were 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 1974, the group was beginning to gel and cultivate a following. A club owner who wanted to advertise an upcoming appearance by the band asked Beckenstein for the group’s name. The saxophonist told him “Spirogyra,” a word he learned in a college biology course. The owner misspelled the word as Spyro Gyra, and the band fell into place, featuring Beckenstein, Wall, Jim Kurzdorfer, and Tom Walsh. Not long afterward, the group added keyboardist Tom Schuman (with Wall dropping out 1978). Today, Spyro Gyra consists of Beckenstein, Schuman, Scott Ambush (bass), Julio Fernandez (guitar) und Lionel Cordew (drums). Their music combines R&B, elements of pop and Caribbean music with jazz. Over the last 40+ years, they have performed over five thousand shows, released over thirty albums selling over ten million albums, but they didn’t make music for commercial purposes. When Beckenstein and Wall first started jamming back in Buffalo, they just did it because it was a blast, pure and simple. They made lyrical, jazzy music for a few folks at the club, developed a high energy live gig, one thing led to another, and suddenly, instrumental music was never quite the same. The fun was suddenly not just theirs, but the others as well. “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. There’s this beauty in music that’s not connected to sentences”, says Beckenstein.
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