Spyro Gyra takes Jazz Fest spotlight


Spyro Gyra saxophonist and founding bandleader Jay Beckenstein figures the group’s jazz fusion style is pretty well known in jazz circles by now.

“We’re going on our 50th year. It’s surprising if someone who likes jazz hasn’t seen us before,” Beckenstein said. “We are conscious of playing music that reaches people. Our form of jazz is lyrical and combines a lot of styles, and people like it.”

Spyro Gyra is the headliner for the Carmel Jazz Fest, capping the two-day festival with an 8 p.m. concert Aug. 12 at the Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts. It is a separate ticketed event, available through thecenterpresents.org.

“Something about jazz festivals is they attract an audience that is really nice,” Beckenstein said.

Spyro Gyra has received 13 Grammy nominations.

Beckenstein said the band will likely perform one song from recent albums of cover songs.

“We’ve done 33 albums and only one had the covers,” Beckenstein said. “At this stage of our career, we find that at least a percentage of the audience wants the music to be from our heyday. An average set for us will be 10 songs, and five of them will be classics.”

Beckenstein said there are three songs that are musts:  “Shaker Song,” “Catching the Sun” and “Morning Dance.” He said all three were played heavily on the radio in the 1970s and 1980s.

The band started in clubs in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1974 before it emerged as a national act.

“We got our first record out in 1976,” Beckenstein said. “We did our best to distribute that, but we had very low expectations being from Buffalo. In many ways, players in the band, who were very good, were starting to get offers to do other things. It felt like it was a farewell record to Buffalo and a farewell record to the band. The first record did so well that it not only kept the band together but got us a national deal for a second record.”

Keyboardist Tom Schuman, who joined the band when he was 16 before the release of the first album, retired in March to move to Barcelona, Spain.

Beckenstein, 72, said he understands the 65-year-old Schuman’s decision because traveling is hard, and he wants to spend more time with his wife.

“We have found a fantastic player, Chris Fischer, and in the end a little change is stimulating,” Beckenstein said.

In the early days, Beckenstein said there were years when the group played 150 concerts. In recent years, the band has cut back to 60 to 70 shows.


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