As Spyro Gyra contemplates upcoming milestones in its storied career, it's tempting to fall back on the Grateful Dead lyric, "What a long strange trip it's been," to describe the band's journey. During its career, the band has performed over five thousand shows, released 29 albums (not counting "Best Of" compilations), and sold over 10 million albums, while also achieving one Platinum and two Gold releases. As the band celebrates 35 years since its first release and looks forward to celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2014, it slows little sign of slowing down, gaining Grammy nominations for each of its last four albums.
In its earliest days, Spyro Gyra took its 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 saxophonist and founding band member Jay Beckenstein. The first few years saw the group's identity split into a dynamic live act and a producer-centric recording process, borne out of the rotating cast of characters springing from the band's jazz jam beginnings. The group's early albums were the product of the core band and a great number of the top session players in New York.
In 1983, Beckenstein made the decision to make the albums the work of the band members he shared the stage with night after night, only supplementing with occasional guests. Although the band underwent several personnel changes in the '80s, these shifts slowed down about 20 years ago. Julio Fernandez became the group's guitarist in 1984, Scott Ambush assumed the bass chair in 1991, and Bonny Bonaparte took over the drums in 2006, making him the "new guy" at just over five years with the band.
After stretches releasing albums on the MCA, Amherst, GRP, and Heads Up International imprints, Spyro Gyra returned to Amherst for its latest release, 2011's A Foreign Affair. "I've always felt that music, and particularly instrumental music, has this non-literal quality that lets people travel to a place where there are no words," says Beckenstein. "I would hope that when people hear our music or come to see us, they're able to share that with us. That's the truly glorious part of being a musician."