Spyro Gyra

Spyro Gyra /ˌsprˈrə/ is an American jazz fusion band that was formed in Buffalo, New York in 1974. The band's music combines jazz, R&B, funk, and pop music. The band's name comes from Spirogyra, a genus of green algae which founder Jay Beckenstein had learned about in college. The band has released over 30 albums and sold over 10 million copies.

Spyro Gyra
Spyro Gyra in concert
Background information
OriginBuffalo, New York, U.S.
GenresJazz, jazz fusion, smooth jazz
Years active1974–present
LabelsAmherst, MCA, GRP, Windham Hill, Heads Up
Websitewww.spyrogyra.com
Members
Past members

History

Early years

Saxophonist Jay Beckenstein and keyboardist Jeremy Wall formed a band with jazz and rock musicians who were playing in the Buffalo bar and club circuit. In 1974, when a bar owner asked for the band's name, Beckenstein said, "spirogyra", a type of algae he had learned about in school. The bar owner wrote the name incorrectly, "Spyro Gyra", but it stuck. The founding members of the band were Beckenstein, Wall, bassist Jim Kurzdorfer, drummer Tom Walsh, and keyboardist Tom Schuman.[1] In 1977, they released Spyro Gyra independently before making a deal with Amherst Records,[2] which re-released the album with a different cover. It included "Shaker Song," which reached No. 90 on Billboard's Hot 100.[3]

Morning Dance (1979) was partly recorded in New York City and included guest musicians such as guitarist John Tropea, bassist Will Lee, drummer Steve Jordan, saxophonist Michael Brecker, trumpeter Randy Brecker, and synthesizer player Suzanne Ciani. In the course of recording Morning Dance, drummer Ted Reinhardt and guitarist Rick Strauss joined the group, but by the album's completion Eli Konikoff became the band's drummer and Chet Catallo joined on guitar, with Gerardo Velez becoming the band's percussionist. Jeremy Wall left the touring lineup but would continue to compose for the band. The sextet of Beckenstein, Schuman, Catallo, Kurzdorfer, Konikoff and Velez became the band's touring lineup as Morning Dance introduced the group to an international audience.

Morning Dance reached No. 11 in the UK Albums Chart and No. 27 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart. The song "Morning Dance" reached No. 17 in the UK Singles Chart[4] and No. 1 on the Adult Contemporary singles chart.[5] The album was certified gold in 1979, then platinum in 1987 by the RIAA.[6]

1980s

When Infinity Records folded, Catching the Sun was released on MCA in February 1980, becoming the No. 4 jazz album of 1980 and peaking at No. 31 in the UK.[4] Bassist Jim Kurzdorfer left the group in 1980, replaced by David Wofford. The group released their next album, Carnaval, in late 1980. Like Catching the Sun before it, Carnaval was a gold selling album. Carnaval became Billboard 's No. 7 jazz album of 1981.

Incognito (1982) featured as guests bassist Marcus Miller, drummer Steve Gadd, saxophonist Tom Scott, pianist Richard Tee, harmonica player Toots Thielemans, and pianist Jorge Dalto. City Kids introduced bassist Kim Stone as the replacement for David Wofford. The live album Access All Areas was the first album of Beckenstein's new "band-centric" approach to Spyro Gyra. It also introduced vibraphonist Dave Samuels (who had guested on earlier tracks including the hits "Shaker Song" and "Morning Dance") as a full-time member of the band. Eli Konikoff and Chet Catallo left the band just before release, replaced by drummer Richie Morales and guitarist Julio Fernández.

It was this core unit that recorded 1985's Alternating Currents, which featured the hit "Shakedown." After percussionist Manolo Badrena, a veteran of Weather Report and a previous guest musician on Spyro Gyra's albums, joined the band as a full-time member, replacing Gerardo Velez, the group released the 1986 follow-up Breakout. Alternating Currents (1985) and Breakout (1986) would be among the top 15 Jazz Albums in Billboard in 1986. Longtime co-producer Richard Calandra died in October 1986 of pancreatic cancer.

In 1987 Roberto Vally replaced Kim Stone on bass for the Stories Without Words album, which would also be Manolo Badrena's final album with the band. Rites of Summer (1988) introduced bassist Oscar Cartaya. Both Stories Without Words and Rites of Summer were among Billboard's top 15 Contemporary Jazz Albums of 1988. In 1989, Point of View provided another turning point for the band, as Julio Fernández was replaced by guitarist Jay Azzolina. Spyro Gyra ended the decade as Billboard's most successful jazz artist of the 1980s.

1990–present

Percussionist Marc Quiñones joined the group for Fast Forward (1990), though it would be his only album, and the last album for Richie Morales and Jay Azzolina. Guitarist Julio Fernandez rejoined the band for two new tracks included on the "best of" album, Collection, which also marked the debut of drummer Joel Rosenblatt.

Three Wishes (1992) introduced bassist Scott Ambush. The following year's Dreams Beyond Control included guest appearances by former Santana vocalist Alex Ligertwood, marking the first appearance of lyrics on a Spyro Gyra album. After this album, Dave Samuels left the band to pursue solo projects, although he would appear with the band on later albums.

In 1995, the band released Love and Other Obsessions with guests Deniece Williams, Barrington Henderson, Billy Cliff, and a host of other backing vocalists and musicians, including Dave Samuels. This album marked the group's last flirtation with traditional R&B vocals. It was the first of a series of albums with the quintet lineup of Beckenstein, Schuman, Fernandez, Ambush and Rosenblatt, which lasted until 2004.

Drummer Joel Rosenblatt left the band during the making of The Deep End, leaving room for two other drummers, guest Billy Kilson and drummer Ludwig Afonso, who became Rosenblatt's replacement. The band's next album, 2006's Wrapped in a Dream, was the first Spyro Gyra album in twenty years to be nominated for a Grammy Award. Trinidadian Bonny Bonaparte (Bonny B) joined as drummer for Good to Go-Go (2007), which areceived a Grammy nomination, as did A Night Before Christmas and Down the Wire (2009).

A Foreign Affair was released in 2011 and included Beckenstein, Schuman, Fernandez, Ambush, and Bonny B, as well as guest vocalists Arijit Singh and Keb' Mo'. The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard jazz album chart. Bonaparte left the group due to health issues in November 2011 and was replaced by Lee Pearson.

The Rhinebeck Sessions (2013) included Beckenstein, Schuman, Fernandez, Ambush, and Pearson. According to the group, it was written and recorded over three days in a recording studio in Rhinebeck, New York. In 2015, there was yet another change of drummers with Lionel Cordew replacing Pearson.

Bassist Jim Kurzdorfer died of cancer in 2011.[7] Former drummer Ted Reinhardt died in an airplane crash on March 4, 2015, at the age of 63.[8] Marimba and vibraphonist Dave Samuels died on April 22, 2019, after a long illness at the age of 70.

Discography

Studio albums

TitleYear of ReleaseLabel
Spyro Gyra1978Amherst
Morning Dance1979MCA
Catching the Sun1980MCA
Carnaval1980MCA
Freetime1981MCA
Incognito1982MCA
City Kids1983MCA
Alternating Currents1985MCA
Breakout1986MCA
Stories Without Words1987MCA
Rites of Summer1988MCA
Point Of View1989MCA
Fast Forward1990GRP
Three Wishes1992GRP
Dreams Beyond Control1993GRP
Love and Other Obsessions1995GRP
Heart of the Night1996GRP
20/201997GRP
Got the Magic 1999Windham Hill
In Modern Times2001Heads Up
Original Cinema2003Heads Up
The Deep End2004Heads Up
Wrapped in a Dream2006Heads Up
Good to Go-Go2007Heads Up
A Night Before Christmas2008Heads Up
Down the Wire2009Heads Up
A Foreign Affair2011Amherst
The Rhinebeck Sessions2013Crosseyed Bear
Vinyl Tap2019Amherst

Live albums

TitleYear of ReleaseLabel
Access All Areas1984MCA
Road Scholars1998GRP

Compilations

TitleYear of ReleaseLabel
Collection1991GRP
The Best of Spyro Gyra – The First Ten Years1998GRP
The Very Best of Spyro Gyra2002GRP

Awards and nominations

Grammy nominations

Other awards

  • George Benson Lifetime Achievement Award, Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards (2007)

References

  1. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Spyro Gyra | Biography & History | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  2. Widran, Jonathan. "AboutHistory & Bios – Spyro Gyra". Spryo Gyra. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  3. "Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  4. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 522. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  5. "Spyro Gyra - Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 16 May 2017.
  6. "Gold & Platinum - RIAA". RIAA. Retrieved 16 May 2017.
  7. "R.I.P. Jim Kurzdorfer". Retrieved 2016-07-19.
  8. Doc Rock. "January to June 2015". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved 2015-03-07.
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