Print Shortlink

Spyro Gyra

Fusion-jazz group that originated in Buffalo, New York, co-founded by alto saxophonist, Jay Beckenstein, and keyboard player, Jeremy Wall.  The two of them were friends in high school and although they went to separate colleges, they reunited in the summertime to play outdoor venues.

Upon graduation, Jeremy moved back to Buffalo, where Jay had been working the club circuit.  The twosome hooked up with bassist Jim Kurzdorfer and drummer Tom Walsh and the band went without a name until a club owner pressed them for one and Jay blurted out the first thing that came to mind:  “spirogira”.  Spirogira is a form of algae that he had penned a paper about in a biology class at Buffalo’s State University of New York.  The owner misspelled it—although he was not off by much—and the name stuck.

Another keyboardist, Tom Schuman, was added shortly thereafter.  The band was a fixture at Buffalo’s Tralfamadore Café and then branched out to open for other artists in Cleveland, Ohio, and Rochester, New York.  They added a pair of guitar players, Alfred Rapillo and Rick Strauss, and then Tom Walsh relocated to the Golden State and was supplanted by an alternating cast of drummers that included Tom Duffy and Ted Reinhardt.

In the mid-to-late ‘70s, the band started what would become an incredibly prolific recording career, beginning with a self-titled album on the Amherst label.  The album featured guest artists such as Rubens Bassini and Dave Samuels, who became staples of Spyro Gyra’srecordings.  It was followed by 1979’s Morning Dance, which went platinum thanks to the title track, a top-forty gem that topped the adult contemporary charts.

In 1980, they released a pair of records, Carnaval and Catching the Sun, both of which went gold.  They used their free time by recording Freetime, and it hit the shelves in 1981.  In 1982, they released Incognito, although the all-star guest musicians, such as Steve Gadd, Richard Tee, and Toots Thielemans, belied the album’s title.  Dave Samuels joined the band on a full-time basis in 1983 and added marimba and vibraphone to the mix for about ten years.  He was on board for the 1984 live affair, Access All Areas.

In 1985, they enjoyed some chart success with “Shakedown”, on the Alternating Currentsalbum.  The band’s personnel continued alternating and 1986’s Breakout featured the addition of Manolo Badrena, a Weather Report alumnus.  In 1987, Roberto Vally supplanted Kim Stone as the bassist on Stories without Words.  Rites of Summer, released in 1988, eschewed an extra percussionist for a sole drummer.  In 1989, the musical chairs continued on Point of View, with Jay Azzolina replacing Julio Fernandez and Roger Squitero making the first guest appearance on an SG album in half a decade.

GRP gobbled up MCA’s jazz arsenal in 1990 and Spyro Gyra’s first recording for the label, Fast Forward, fast-forwarded to the top of the Contemporary Jazz chart.  A best-of Collection was issued in 1991.  In 1992, Scott Ambush joined the group on bass for their Three Wishes CD.  Dreams Beyond Control featured a plethora of guest artists and its big sound went against the grain of radio’s smooth-jazz format, a format, ironically, that SpyroGyra had helped create.  Hence, they mellowed out a bit on 1995’s Love and Other Obsessions.  Heart of the Night, released in 1996, fell somewhere in between.

Their swan song on GRP was 20/20, so-called for the group’s dizzying pace of twenty albums in as many years.  They had the foresight to cast Chris Botti as their guest trumpet player, and even did a cover of James Taylor’s signature song, “Sweet Baby James”.  In 1998, they released another live recording, Road Scholars, and The Best of Spyro Gyra—The First Ten Years.  They ended the decade with Got the Magic, which spawned the #1 Smooth Jazz hit, “Silk and Satin”, featuring vocals by Basia.

The new millennium found the band on a new label, Heads Up, a Telarc spin-off, and with a new album, In Modern Times.  In 2003, they raised the curtain on Original Cinema and then added drummer Ludwig Afonso for 2004’s The Deep End.  Good to Go-GoA Night Before Christmas and Wrapped in a Dream all won Grammys for Best Pop Instrumental Album.

In 2009, they released Down to the Wire and went on a U.S. tour in support of the album.  Fans who attended these concerts also had a chance to buy Spyro Gyra’s latest release, Live at the North Sea Jazz Festival.

Ludwig Afonso (Drums) 2004
Scott Ambush (Bass) 1992-Present
Jay Azzolina (Guitar) 1989-1991
Manolo Badrena (Percussion) 1986-1987
Jay Beckenstein (Saxophone) 1974-Present
Bonny Bonaparte (Drums/Percussion) 2007-Present
Oscar Cartaya (Bass) 1987-1992
Chet Catallo (Guitar) 1978-1984
Tom Duffy (Drums) 1975-1978
Julio Fernandez (Guitar) 1985-1989, 1991-Present
Eli Konikoff (Drums) 1978-1984
Jim Kurzdorfer (Bass) 1974-1980
Marc Quinones (Percussion) 1989-1991
Alfred “Fast Freddy” Rapillo (Guitar) 1975-1978
Ted Reinhardt (Drums) 1975-1978
Joel Rosenblatt (Drums) 1991-2004
Dave Samuels (Marimba/Vibraphone) 1983-1994
Tom Schuman (Keyboards) 1974-Present
Kim Stone (Bass) 1983-1987
Rick Strauss (Guitar) 1975-1978
Roberto Vally (Bass) 1987
Gerardo Velez (Percussion) 1978-1986
Jeremy Wall (Keyboards) 1974-1984
Tom Walsh (Drums) 1974-1975
David Wofford (Bass) 1980

Spyro Gyra recordings
Morning Dance (Jay Beckenstein)