s Spyro Gyra contemplates upcoming milestones to its storied career, it’s tempting to fall back on the Grateful Dead lyric, “What a long strange trip it’s been” to describe it. During that time, they have performed over five thousand shows, released twenty-nine albums (not counting “Best Of…” compilations) selling over ten million albums while also achieving one platinum and two gold albums. These upcoming milestones include 2012, which will be thirty-five years since their first album release and 2014 will be forty years as a band. They show little sign of wanting to slow down either, gaining Grammy® nominations for each of their last four albums.
Born in Brooklyn, bandleader Jay 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 (read classical and avant garde). 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.
Not many people know it, but Buffalo was like a mini Chicago back then, with a smoking blues, soul, jazz, even rockabilly scene, of all things, Beckenstein muses. After being confined to classical music for so long, it was heaven. I was in the horn sections around town, backing some great vocalists.