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Spyro Gyra, an American jazz fusion band founded in Buffalo, New York, was the headlining band at the Bahrain Jazz Fest and GulfWeekly sat down with co-founder Jay Beckenstein to talk about their 45-year history and what they see in store for the Bahrain music scene.
The band, founded in 1974, was named after Spirogyra, a genus of green algae which Jay had learned about in college and has released more than 30 albums, selling more than 10 million copies.
Jay added: “Even though it was a mistake, people liked the name and 45 years later, here we are. We have built quite a collection of music, and it’s been a challenge compressing that down to 60 minutes. But we are glad to be playing in Bahrain. It’s my first time on the island and everyone has been really nice so far.”
The band has had a core unit of five members, currently Jay, Tom Schuman, Scott Ambush, Julio Fernández and Lionel Cordew. Earlier this year, Dave Samuels, the band’s vibraphonist passed away.
Through the years, the band has had numerous guest musicians play with them, including Steve Gadd, Arijit Singh and Keb’ Mo’. The band’s last album, Vinyl Tap, was released last month and is mostly composed of their riffs on existing songs.
Jay explained: “We have always worked hard on coming up with original compositions. But an idea I have had rolling around for a bit was doing a twist on existing songs. So we sat down and one of the main concerns was that we did not want to become a wedding band that did cover songs. So we took each song, reworked it almost from the ground up and it was a fun project that we ended up quite happy with.”
The band’s set at the Jazz Fest was a blend of old and new songs. As they have reached cult band status within the jazz world and travelled the world, they have started to work with musicians from different regions to explore variants on jazz fusion, based on the local scene.
Their 2011 album, A Foreign Affair, featured the first ever song released by a Western band with lyrics entirely in Hindi. And the surprising bit is that the song titled Khuda was done all overseas with the aid of famous composer and music director Sandeep Chowta.
Jay noted: “It’s one of the few ways after 45 years of trying to come up with new music. One of the best ways we found is to listen to music in places we go and try to hear something that it’s possible to incorporate. And it’s very much possible that we’ll do a whole record some day of Middle Eastern influenced music.”