Spyro Gyra

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Spyro Gyra
Spyro Gyra in concert
Spyro Gyra in concert
Background information
OriginBuffalo, New York, U.S.
GenresJazz, jazz fusion, smooth jazz
Years active1974–present
LabelsAmherst, MCA, GRP, Windham Hill, Heads Up
Past members

Spyro Gyra /ˌsprˈrə/ is an American jazz fusion band that was formed in Buffalo, New York, in 1974. The band's music combines jazz, R&B, funk, and pop music. The band's name comes from Spirogyra, a genus of green algae which founder Jay Beckenstein had learned about in college.


Early years[edit]

Saxophonist Jay Beckenstein and keyboardist Jeremy Wall formed a band with jazz and rock musicians who were playing in the Buffalo bar and club circuit.[1] In 1974, when a bar owner asked for the band's name, Beckenstein said, "spirogyra", a type of algae he had learned about in school.[1] The bar owner wrote the name incorrectly, "Spyro Gyra", but it stuck.[1] The founding members of the band were Beckenstein, Wall, bassist Jim Kurzdorfer, drummer Tom Walsh, and keyboardist Tom Schuman.[1] In 1977, they released Spyro Gyra independently before making a deal with Amherst Records,[2] which re-released the album with a different cover. It included "Shaker Song," which reached No. 90 on Billboard's Hot 100,[3] No. 99 on the pop chart in Canada,[4] and No. 26 on the Canadian AC chart.[5] Jay Beckenstein and Richard Calandra co-produced the record, while Beckenstein and Wall each wrote an equal number of compositions.[6] After the success of "Shaker Song," the band went on tour in 1978 with a lineup including Beckenstein on sax, Wall and Schuman on keyboards, Kurzdorfer on bass, Freddy Rapillo on guitar, Eli Konikoff on drums and Gerardo Velez on percussion.[7]

The band's second album Morning Dance reached No. 11 in the UK Albums Chart, No. 27 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, and No. 47 in Canada.[8] The song "Morning Dance" reached No. 17 in the UK Singles Chart,[9] No. 1 on the US Adult Contemporary singles chart,[10] No. 45 on the Canadian pop charts,[11] and No. 6 on the Canadian AC charts.[12] The album was certified gold in 1979, then platinum in 1987 by the RIAA.[13] In addition to the band, the album featured guest musicians including trumpet player Randy Brecker, saxophonist Michael Brecker, guitarists John Tropea and Hiram Bullock, bassist Will Lee, drummer Steve Jordan and percussionist Rubens Bassini. Drummer Ted Reinhardt and guitarist Rick Strauss were in the band lineup during recording, but by the album's completion Chet Catallo joined on guitar. Jeremy Wall left the touring lineup but would continue to compose for the band.[14] The sextet of Beckenstein, Schuman, Catallo, Kurzdorfer, Konikoff and Velez became the band's touring lineup in 1979, continuing into 1980.[15]


When Infinity Records folded, Catching the Sun was released on MCA in February 1980, becoming the No. 4 jazz album of 1980, peaking at No. 31 in the UK,[9] and No. 80 in Canada.[16] This album included the first composition for the group by Tom Schuman, who would become a regular writer along with Beckenstein and Wall, while other band members also contributed compositions.[17] Bassist Jim Kurzdorfer left the group in 1980, replaced by David Wofford, and for a tour of Japan Sheila Escovedo temporarily replaced Velez on percussion.[18] The group released their next album, Carnaval, in late 1980.[19] Catching the Sun was certified gold in 1985 by the RIAA, followed in 1987 by Carnaval.[20] The group's next release was Freetime, in 1981.[21]

Incognito (1982) featured as guests bassist Marcus Miller, drummer Steve Gadd, saxophonist Tom Scott, pianist Richard Tee, harmonica player Toots Thielemans, and pianist Jorge Dalto.[22] City Kids (1983) introduced bassist Kim Stone, replacing Wofford. It was the first Spyro Gyra album recorded at BearTracks Studios, a studio in Suffern, NY established by Beckenstein in 1982.[23]

The live album Access All Areas, recorded in Florida in November 1983, introduced marimba and vibraphone player Dave Samuels (who had guested on earlier tracks including the hits "Shaker Song" and "Morning Dance") as a full-time member of the band.[24] After this album, Eli Konikoff and Chet Catallo left the group, to be replaced by drummer Richie Morales and guitarist Julio Fernández.

The new lineup (Beckenstein, Schuman, Fernández, Samuels, Stone, Morales and Velez) recorded 1985's Alternating Currents, the band's first studio album to feature only the core lineup with no guest musicians.[25] After percussionist Manolo Badrena, formerly of Weather Report and a previous guest musician on Spyro Gyra's albums, joined the band as a full-time member, replacing Velez, the group released the 1986 follow-up Breakout.[26] Alternating Currents (1985) and Breakout (1986) would be among the top 15 Jazz Albums in Billboard in 1986. Longtime co-producer Richard Calandra died in October 1986 of pancreatic cancer.[citation needed]

In 1987, Roberto Vally replaced Stone on bass for Stories Without Words, which would also be Manolo Badrena's final album with the band.[27] Rites of Summer (1988) introduced bassist Oscar Cartaya, replacing Vally.[28] Both Stories Without Words and Rites of Summer were among Billboard's top 15 Contemporary Jazz Albums of 1988.[citation needed] On the 1989 album Point of View Julio Fernández was replaced by guitarist Jay Azzolina.[29] Spyro Gyra ended the decade as Billboard's most successful jazz artist of the 1980s.[citation needed]


Percussionist Marc Quiñones joined the group for Fast Forward (1990), though it would be his only album as a band member, and the last album for Richie Morales and Jay Azzolina.[30] In 1990 the group performed temporarily without a guitarist, and with Tony Cintron replacing Morales on drums. [citation needed] Guitarist Julio Fernández rejoined the band for two new tracks included on the "best of" album, Collection, which also marked the debut of drummer Joel Rosenblatt.[31]

Three Wishes (1992) introduced bassist Scott Ambush, replacing Cartaya.[32] The following year's Dreams Beyond Control included guest appearances by former Santana vocalist Alex Ligertwood, marking the first appearance of lyrics on a Spyro Gyra album.[33] After this album, Dave Samuels left the band to pursue solo projects, although he would guest with the band on later albums.

In 1995, the band released Love and Other Obsessions with guests Deniece Williams, Barrington Henderson, Billy Cliff, and a host of other backing vocalists and musicians, including Dave Samuels.[34] This album would be the band's final 90's release to feature traditional R&B vocals. It was the first of a series of albums with the quintet lineup of Beckenstein, Schuman, Fernández, Ambush and Rosenblatt, which lasted until 2004.

Recent years[edit]

Spyro Gyra performs in Richmond, Virginia on February 23, 2017.

Drummer Joel Rosenblatt left the band during the making of The Deep End,[35] leaving room for two other drummers, guest Billy Kilson and Ludwig Afonso, who became Rosenblatt's replacement.[36] The band's next album, 2006's Wrapped in a Dream, was the first Spyro Gyra album since 1990's Fast Forward to be nominated for a Grammy Award.[37] It would be the band's final album recorded at BearTracks Studios, which Beckenstein closed in 2006. Trinidadian Bonny Bonaparte (Bonny B) replaced Afonso as drummer for Good to Go-Go (2007),[38] which received a Grammy nomination, as did A Night Before Christmas and Down the Wire (2009).

A Foreign Affair was released in 2011 and included Beckenstein, Schuman, Fernández, Ambush, and Bonny B, as well as guest vocalists Arijit Singh and Keb' Mo'.[39] The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard jazz album chart. Bonaparte left the group due to health issues in November 2011 and was replaced on drums by Lee Pearson.[citation needed]

The Rhinebeck Sessions (2013) included Beckenstein, Schuman, Fernandez, Ambush, and Pearson. According to the group, it was written and recorded over three days in a recording studio in Rhinebeck, New York.[40] In 2015, there was another change of drummers with Lionel Cordew replacing Pearson.[citation needed] Vinyl Tap (2019), the band's most recent record to date, was a departure as it had no original material, instead featuring the band's interpretations of classic rock and r&b songs from the 60's and 70's.[41]

In 2020, with the band forced to stop touring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the band uploaded a video to YouTube on June 23, 2020, featuring a medley of early hits "Shaker Song," "Catching the Sun" and "Morning Dance" synchronized from recordings of each band member at home.[42] In 2021, the group resumed touring.[43]

On December 19, 2022, the band announced on Facebook that Tom Schuman planned to move to Europe and would play his final shows with the band in February 2023.[44] On December 28, 2022, the band announced that Chris Fischer would be their new keyboardist starting in March 2023.[45]

Former members[edit]

Original bassist Jim Kurzdorfer died of cancer on April 26, 2011.[46][47]

Former drummer Ted Reinhardt died in an airplane crash on March 4, 2015, at the age of 63.[48]

Mallet player Dave Samuels died on April 22, 2019, due to an undisclosed long-term illness.[49]

Original former guitarist Freddy Rapillo died on March 24, 2021.[50]



Studio albums[edit]

Title Label Year released
Spyro Gyra MCA, Amherst 1978
Morning Dance MCA, Amherst 1979
Catching the Sun MCA, Amherst 1980
Carnaval MCA, Amherst 1980
Freetime MCA, Amherst 1981
Incognito MCA, Amherst 1982
City Kids MCA, Amherst 1983
Alternating Currents MCA, Amherst 1985
Breakout MCA, Amherst 1986
Stories Without Words MCA, Amherst 1987
Rites of Summer MCA 1988
Point Of View MCA 1989
Fast Forward GRP 1990
Three Wishes GRP 1992
Dreams Beyond Control GRP 1993
Love and Other Obsessions GRP 1995
Heart of the Night GRP 1996
20/20 GRP 1997
Got the Magic Windham Hill 1999
In Modern Times Heads Up 2001
Original Cinema Heads Up 2003
The Deep End Heads Up 2004
Wrapped in a Dream Heads Up 2006
Good to Go-Go Heads Up 2007
A Night Before Christmas Heads Up 2008
Down the Wire Heads Up 2009
A Foreign Affair Amherst 2011
The Rhinebeck Sessions Crosseyed Bear 2013
Vinyl Tap Amherst 2019

Live albums[edit]

Year recorded Title Label Year released
1983 Access All Areas MCA, Amherst 1984
1998 Road Scholars GRP 1998


Title Label Year released
Collection GRP 1991
The Best of (The First Ten Years) / 1977-1987 (GRP) GRP, Amherst 1997
The Very Best of Spyro Gyra GRP 2002
(20th Century Masters) The Best Of Spyro Gyra: The Millennium Collection Verve 2007
Best Of The Heads Up Years Crosseyed Bear 2016

Awards and nominations[edit]

Grammy nominations[edit]

Other awards[edit]

  • George Benson Lifetime Achievement Award, Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards (2007)


  1. ^ a b c d Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Spyro Gyra | Biography & History | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  2. ^ Widran, Jonathan. "AboutHistory & Bios – Spyro Gyra". Spryo Gyra. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  3. ^ "Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  4. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles - July 29, 1978" (PDF).
  5. ^ "RPM Top 50 AO - August 19, 1978" (PDF).
  6. ^ "Spyro Gyra". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  7. ^ "Concert Vault". Concert Vault. Retrieved 31 December 2022.
  8. ^ "RPM Top 100 Albums - July 14, 1979" (PDF).
  9. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 522. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  10. ^ "Spyro Gyra - Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 16 May 2017.
  11. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles - September 1, 1979" (PDF).
  12. ^ "RPM Top 50 AC - September 8, 1979" (PDF).
  13. ^ "Gold & Platinum - RIAA". RIAA. Retrieved 16 May 2017.
  14. ^ "Morning Dance". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  15. ^ "Spyro Gyra - Live In Concert 1980". YouTube. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  16. ^ "RPM Top 100 Albums - May 24, 1980" (PDF).
  17. ^ "Catching The Sun". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  18. ^ "Spyro Gyra - Live In Japan '80". YouTube. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  19. ^ "Carnaval". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  20. ^ "Gold & Platinum - RIAA". RIAA. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  21. ^ "Freetime". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  22. ^ "Incognito". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  23. ^ "City Kids". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  24. ^ "Access All Areas". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  25. ^ "Alternating Currents". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  26. ^ "Breakout". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  27. ^ "Stories Without Words". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  28. ^ "Rites Of Summer". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  29. ^ "Point Of View". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  30. ^ "Fast Forward". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  31. ^ "Collection". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  32. ^ "Three Wishes". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  33. ^ "Dreams Beyond Control". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  34. ^ "Love & Other Obsessions". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  35. ^ "A Valentine for much-loved Spyro Gyra". The Blade. Retrieved 2023-12-21.
  36. ^ "The Deep End". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  37. ^ "grammy.com". grammy.com. Retrieved 31 December 2022.
  38. ^ "Good to Go-Go". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  39. ^ "A Foreign Affair". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  40. ^ "The Rhinebeck Sessions". Discogs. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  41. ^ "musicplayers.com". musicplayers.com. Retrieved 3 July 2022.
  42. ^ "Early Hits Medley". YouTube. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  43. ^ "Orlando Weekly". Orlando Weekly. Retrieved 19 June 2022.
  44. ^ "Spyro Gyra-Facebook". Facebook. Retrieved 19 December 2022.
  45. ^ "Spyro Gyra-Facebook". Facebook. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  46. ^ "R.I.P. Jim Kurzdorfer". Retrieved 2016-07-19.
  47. ^ "James Kurzdorfer obituary". Retrieved 2023-05-20.
  48. ^ Doc Rock. "January to June 2015". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved 2015-03-07.
  49. ^ West, Michael. "Dave Samuels 1948-2019". Jazz Times. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  50. ^ "Freddy Rapillo orbituary". Retrieved 2021-03-24.

External links[edit]