Spyro Gyra has an optimistic commitment to the present and future as it simultaneously celebrates 25 years of recording and its first release of the new millennium.
"We're grateful to still be going strong, we're feeling great about ourselves and we're all healthy and in a good frame of mind, so there's a lot to celebrate," says saxophonist Jay Beckenstein. "People are still eager to hear what we're doing, and they've allowed us to make music that's both fun and fulfilling.
Had filmmaker Ken Burns decided to address the last thirty years of contemporary jazz in his recent PBS documentary Jazz, the influence of Spyro Gyra on the past generation would have been hard to ignore. The band's story is one of modern music's most oft-told tales, beginning with Beckenstein leading a group of revolving musicians around the Buffalo
jazz scene circa early '70s. When a club-owner wanted to advertise the increasingly popular ensemble, Beckenstein jokingly suggested the name "spirogira," a term he remembered from a college biology course. A misspelling of this odd scientific term gave this unique group a wacky moniker which would later come to signify excellence in contemporary jazz. Spyro Gyra broke onto the pop charts with 1979's "Morning Dance" (from the platinum-selling album of the same name), and has been one of instrumental music's most consistent sellers and dynamic live performers for more than two decades.
Spyro Gyra commemorated its 20th year and 20th album with 1997's release 20/20 and chronicled their one of a kind stage energy on Road Scholars that same year.
"Our music definitely fits into the stream of contemporary jazz, fusion and R&B based performers who mix various elements into a unique sound," he says. "Because we mix ideas, we've always been a bit difficult to peg, but there's always the spirit of improvisation that draws upon the jazz tradition. People love to try to label the music we make, but I look at
us simply as a group of five guys who play well together, who write good melodies and songs. All five of us are proficient writers, which helps keep the variety interesting. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
Spyro Gyra's goal with each album has always been to try to approximate in the studio the explosive excitement the band creates in live settings throughout the world. Yet Beckenstein admits that making use of the evolving technology does have its advantages.
Leader Jay Beckenstine says: "The recording process has changed and we've become products of the digital recording age. Using ProTools and other modern machines in the studio has allowed us to experiment some and saved time. But in terms of the basic idea of what the band does, my feeling is why change? Our music has never been static and our approach has always had a certain similar ethos about it.
"The bottom line," he adds, "is, even after all these years, it's just not going away. With each recording, I feel like I'm playing with a whole new band. When people ask me about the band's history, I have great memories but I can indulge in that for only so long. My inclination is always to be living in the moment, to really be In Modern Times."