In April 2013, Jay Beckenstein and the members of Spyro Gyra entered a recording studio in Rhinebeck, NY, a small town in the Hudson Valley not too far from Woodstock. Beckenstein and his bandmates set out to do something that they had never done before in their nearly forty year history – improvise with each other over three days and in the process write and record an entire new album.
“As I thought about doing another record, I asked myself, what is it that makes Spyro Gyra special?” Beckenstein explains, “I decided that it was the fact that we have been together so long that the communication between us has become almost mystical. Our ability to improvise on the fly has become so strong because we have played together so much. It was time to go into the studio with very little planned and see what might come out of it.” He concedes, “It was a bit of a gamble but we’re lucky to have a loyal fan base who are probably going to be interested in what we’re doing. I was also fairly confident that whatever came out of it would be pretty close to the way we have approached our live shows for years.”
Spyro Gyra, 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 most musicians weren’t playing other gigs to pay their bills. 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. 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 in the jazz jam beginnings. These albums were the product of the 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.
"When we first started," Beckenstein recalls, "a lot of the jazz purists got on our case about calling what we did jazz and now it's funny to hear us getting respect from the same people. Like, wow, what you guys did was so much more intriguing than some of the stuff they hear today…Art manifests itself in a multitude of styles and contexts. Isn't that why we started to play in the first place?"