Spyro Gyra

Scott Ambush
Tom Schuman
Julio Fernandez

Jay Beckenstein was born May 14, 1951 in Brooklyn, NY and grew up surrounded by music.

My mother was an opera singer and my father’s love of jazz introduced me to Charlie Parker and Lester Young before I could speak. I started piano at the age of five when my family moved to Farmingdale, LI. I was given my first saxophone through the music program in elementary school at age seven.
Photo of Jay

From there I took saxophone lessons, and played in school bands up to my senior year of high school. At that point I met Jeremy Wall and we started my first band. My senior year of high school was spent in Nurnberg, Germany where my father was working and I went to school on a U.S. Army Base. I played in R&B bands there that performed both for the Army and in German clubs. By then, I had been introduced to a lot of R&B and rock and started to mix those concepts together with my jazz base.

I returned to the States and enrolled at State University of New York at Buffalo. I studied a good deal of classical and avant garde music in the music program there and played in some interesting avant garde ensembles. I studied saxophone in school with Edward Yadzinski, but I also studied outside with John Sadola who worked on my jazz technique.

By my junior year in college, I had started working in the clubs in Buffalo and by the time I graduated I had steady work in the clubs. The next few years was spent playing in some great blues and R&B bands. Buffalo had a booming music scene at the time, but after awhile I wanted to do something other than be a sideman. I then started doing some off night instrumental sessions in small clubs with Jeremy Wall. This work slowly (over a year) evolved into the band Spyro Gyra. In the band’s second year, Tom Schuman joined the band and started to share the keyboards with Jeremy. Tom has been the sole keyboardist since 1978.

Around 1976, I went into business with Rich Calandra, a local drummer who had aspirations to be a record producer. The two of us produced a number of local acts and, when there was studio time left over, we would record Spyro Gyra. The band’s first album slowly came together in this way.

Rich and I met with little successwith our efforts with other groups, so we pressed 500 LP’s of Spyro Gyra on our own label with what little money we had left,. Within a year we had sold tens of thousands of records, signed a record deal and launched the band’s career. In 1979, I moved to NYC to produce Morning Dance and lived there for four years. Catching the Sun, Carnaval and Freetime were also recorded during this time. My life was consumed with touring around the world, recording and writing.

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