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Spyro Gyra

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Since their earliest recordings and gigs in the mid-1970s, Spyro Gyra has always been about looking ahead and not backward. The very title of their new release, Good To Go-Go, suggests a relentless forward movement and an infectious enthusiasm. "It's a very upbeat record," says Spyro Gyra saxophonist and co-founder Jay Beckenstein. "The title comes from the title of a track by bassist Scott Ambush, and it's just right for a record with this kind of vibe. This is a band that's on the move and firing on all cylinders."  

 

Beckenstein and his four colleagues have the independent industry-wide cred to back up his claim. Good To Go-Go, due in stores in June 2007, arrives on the heels of a GRAMMY nomination (Best Pop Instrumental Album) for their previous record, Wrapped in a Dream, released in 2006. Clearly, the three decades since those early days have not touched this band's creative and competitive edge. Born in Brooklyn, Beckenstein grew up listening to the music of Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie, and started playing the saxophone at age seven. Beckenstein attended the University at Buffalo, starting out as a biology major before changing to music performance. During summer breaks, he and an old high school friend, keyboardist Jeremy Wall, played gigs together back on Long Island. Wall attended college in California, and after both graduated, Beckenstein stayed in Buffalo's thriving music scene, where Wall eventually joined him. This band, whose odd name has since become world famous, was 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 the two musicians weren't playing other gigs that paid their bills.   Around this time, a young keyboardist named Tom Schuman began sitting in when he was only sixteen years old, and remains a member to this day. The group's increasing popularity - combined with the purchase of a new sign for the club - prompted the owner to insist that Beckenstein come up with a name for his band. "It began as a joke. I said 'spirogyra,' he misspelled it, and here we are thirty years later. In retrospect, it's okay. In a way, it sounds like what we do. It sounds like motion and energy." In their earliest days, Spyro Gyra took their cues from Weather Report and Return to Forever - bands whose creative flights were fueled by a willingness to do things that had never been done before. "I believed that we were springing from what Weather Report did," says Beckenstein. "I never thought in commercial terms. I just thought they were the next step in the evolution of jazz, and that we would be part of it."  

 

Morning Dance, released in 1979, included the title track which became a Top 40 single and proved to be the band's breakout song. To this day, the Calypso-inspired track is still in heavy rotation on contemporary jazz stations. Meanwhile, the heavy touring that began around this same time has yet to stop, and a few new faces have entered the picture along the way: guitarist/vocalist Julio Fernandez joined the band in 1984, while Scott Ambush has been the bassist for 16 years.   Spyro Gyra signed with Heads Up International in 2001 and recorded In Modern Times, an album that spent 64 weeks on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz chart, peaking at #2. Two years later, the band released Original Cinema, followed by The Deep End in 2004. Both albums logged considerable time on the Billboard's Contemporary Jazz charts. The GRAMMY nomination for Wrapped in a Dream in 2006 reaffirmed the undeniable fact that these veterans are still formidable contenders in the contemporary jazz arena. The band continues to reinvent itself with the release of Good To Go-Go. The album captures a more live groove with the help of the band's newest member, Trinidad-born drummer/percussionist Bonny B. "We've always had this belief that the thing we're doing in any given moment is the best we've ever done," says Beckenstein. "And we always want to maintain that philosophy, because that's what drives us forward. We haven't succumbed to the mentality of 'Let's just play the hits and collect the check.' We never saw ourselves as a pop band. We've always seen ourselves as a forward thinking creative outfit. After 30 years, it's still very interesting and exciting." 

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