For the past 35 years, Spyro Gyra has existed in its own jazz world. When leader and saxophonist Jay Beckenstein discusses the group’s longevity, the Buffalo native feels the group enjoyed the right amount of success to sustain a career.
“The best thing that ever happened to this band was having a hit single [‘Morning Dance’],” said Beckenstein, calling from Upstate New York. “And the second best thing that happened to this band was not having another hit single. We got established early on and had a lot of people know who we were. That was great, but the fact that the hit was a one-off, the rest of our career has basically been not about hits but just making the music we want. That’s worked great for us,
“At this stage in our career, we don’t find ourselves doing a nostalgia act. We’re basically making some of the best music we ever made. In fact, our last four CDs that we put out have all gotten Grammy Award nominations.”
In reality, talk of the Grammy Awards and Spyro Gyra should be a sore subject or even off limits for Beckenstein considering his act has been nominated 11 times without ever taking home the hardware. The latest bridesmaid experience came earlier this year with the group’s newest release, 2009’s “Down the Wire,” which was nominated for Best Pop Instrumental Album. So, yeah, Spyro Gyra has become the Susan Lucci of the recording industry.
“But she finally won,” Beckenstein said, laughing.
In reality, the 59-year-old brass musician takes the Grammy snub as a compliment to Spyro Gyra’s creativity and unique sound, which has been spread out over 25 albums that have sold more than 10 million copies.
“Our entire career has been marked by the difficulty people have in categorizing us,” Beckenstein said. “Are we a traditional jazz band? A smooth jazz band? Are we a fusion jazz band? Are we a jazz band at all? It’s been very, very, very hard to categorize us, so we find ourselves often up against people in the Grammy process that you couldn’t imagine. The last couple of Grammy Awards we’ve lost to Peter Frampton and The Beastie Boys. So it’s kind of cool to have this band that sells one-tenth of the records of these other people, and we’re nominated in similar categories. But we really don’t expect to win against people with that kind of name recognition.”
Still, Spyro Gyra has plenty of name recognition itself, with yet another tour bringing the act to Northeast Ohio for a show Saturday at the Summer Festival of the Arts. Looking to the future, how long does Beckenstein feel Spyro Gyra can continue to tour?
“I think the band has a really good support base and an international support base,” Beckenstein said. “We work in Manila as often as we work in Youngstown. We’re out there all around the world, so from the standpoint of people still being interested in what we’re doing, we’re really lucky, and I don’t see any particular shelf life. So as long as everybody in the band maintains their health, I don’t see it ending.”
By JOHN BENSON firstname.lastname@example.org
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