Over the course of 35 years, jazz-fusion pioneers Spyro Gyra have released 30 albums, scored one platinum and two gold selling-recordings, and have continually created widely-appealing, exceptional music.
Their latest release, "A Foreign Affair," finds these jazz veterans spanning the globe with a tasty musical travelogue that journeys from the Caribbean to Japan, India, the Middle East, Africa and South America.
"It was inspired by our travels around the world," explains Spyro Gyra's saxophonist/bandleader Jay Beckenstein. "We've been really lucky to have a worldwide following. We've been just as popular in the Philippines as Philadelphia. When we travel we get to hear a lot of interesting music, so we were writing things inspired by our travels."
Spyro Gyra saxophonist and bandleader Jay Beckenstein will appear along with the rest of the band Sept. 1 as part of the three-day Kaanapali Fresh festival.
BRIAN FRIEDMAN photo
Crafting such a diverse range of material, the musicians employed a few guests to enhance a few songs. Blues musician Keb' Mo' sings on the poignant "Last Call" and the lovely "Khuda," by Bollywood composer Sandeep Chowta, which features Hindi vocals by Arijit Singh.
While Spyro Gyra is sometimes boxed into the smooth jazz label, tracks like the fiery "Falling Walls" reflect influences from fusion legends like Weather Report.
"That's always been a bit of an absurdity," Beckenstein notes. "Ten years before there was a radio format called smooth jazz, before anybody had any idea about calling something smooth jazz, we and a number of other artists were hybridizing a bunch of different things. At the time we were doing Latin music and world music and hybridizing R&B, doing jazz R&B things. That was a piece of what we were doing and some people give us credit for being an innovator in smooth jazz, but frankly that's a tiny piece of what we do."
Born in Brooklyn, Beckenstein grew up surrounded by jazz and started playing the saxophone at 7. "My father was a real jazz aficionado," he explains. "As a little kid my house was filled with great jazz and to some extent my desire to be a jazz musician was to please my dad. But it was also because the music he introduced me to was so compelling - Charlie Parker and Miles Davis and Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins - those people he played for me when I was a little kid and they were incredible masters. Many of these heroes were saxophonists and it seemed to be the primo instrument of jazz, the lead vocalist of jazz."
Spyro Gyra emerged from jam sessions held at clubs in Buffalo, NY. "I was working with a lot of commercial bands and some of the better players in town started getting together in a no-vocalists-welcome environment," he continues. "That off-night jam session started forming into a band and that core became Spyro Gyra."
The band broke nationally with their second album, "Morning Dance," which still sells well today. The title track, an infectious Caribbean-flavored instrumental, became a radio hit.
"It was a ridiculous surprise," he says. "It was like winning the lottery. It was a nice song and it resonated with people. What we were doing was timely and it was a good quality. When I look back over the years what I'm proud of is not so much that we had that platinum album or the gold albums on either side of it, but it's that we've had 30 albums and they're all good. Regardless of whether they sell platinum or they sell 20,000, we've made a really large volume of good music."
And that's been a hallmark of the band since their formation, a consistent stream of excellent, engaging jazz music.
"I'm not sure how many people realize how vital we are after all these years," he concludes. "We've come from being a platinum and gold-selling act to maybe playing in a club. We're a long way from the days of radio glory, but the quality of the music we're playing is the best stuff we've ever done and the general feeling in the band is one of a great deal of pride that after all this time we feel like we are just peaking."
* As part of the three-day Ka'anapali Fresh festival of food and music Aug. 31 to Sept. 2, Spyro Gyra will headline the Ka'anapali Fresh Food & Wine Festival event on the Royal Ka'anapali Golf Course. Sept. 1 with Makana opening. Tickets are $150. And alt/rock band Third Eye Blind will perform on Sept. 2 at the Kaanapali Moonlight Concert at the Royal Lahaina Resort. Tickets are $89. For more details, visit ww.kaanapalifresh.com.
Fleetwood's on Front St. kicks off a series of grand opening benefit parties tonight with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Johnny Lang performing with the Mick Fleetwood's Island Rumours Band. The festivities continue Friday with the Island Rumours Band again in a benefit for Lahainaluna High School. Guitarist/vocalist King Paris (aka Rick Vito) and The Hypnotics perform on Saturday. Call 669-Mick for more information and reservations.
It's going to be one of the shows of the year when the supergroup The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue, featuring Donald Fagen, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs team for a historic night on Oct. 25 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
The three legendary artists perform together and individually in a concert featuring their signature mix of blue-eyed soul, rock, jazz and R&B. Rolling Stone hailed their show as, "a loose blast through the stars' hits ('Reelin' in the Years,' 'Lowdown,' 'Takin' It to the Streets') and revved-up covers that had the crowd twisting in the aisles."
This summer's set lists have included Dan's "Peg" and "Pretzel Logic," Band of Gypsys' "Them Changes," Arthur Conley's "Sweet Soul Music," Muddy Waters' "The Same Thing" and James Brown's "People Get Up."
Tickets go on sale to MACC members on Saturday. Public sale begins Aug. 31.
Thirty years ago this summer, MTV premiered the music video for the song "I Ran (So Far Away)" by a then-little known British band named A Flock of Seagulls. The video quickly became a hit, and helped propel the band to international stardom. By 1983 they were touring the world opening for The Police.
A pioneering new wave band, A Flock of Seagulls were known for their striking imagery with wild hairstyles and upbeat, catchy songs that artful blended synthesizers and guitars and often involved sci-fi and futuristic themes.
Making their Maui debut on Sept. 1 performing at a "Totally '80s Live" show with When in Rome, the Seagulls were initially inspired by the showmanship of David Bowie and Alice Cooper.
"David Bowie had such a strong look, the Ziggy Stardust thing and all that," explains Seagulls co-founder Mike Stern. "And his thing was basically sci-fi and I was really into sci-fi. Then seeing Alice Cooper live in Liverpool, it showed me what a show could be. The whole idea was if we wanted to be big we had to be as good image wise as those people. And so we went for the sci-fi image and luckily MTV came along at the right time and put that image in everybody's living room."
Formed in Liverpool by brothers Mike and Ali Stern, the musicians brightened up a rather dull scene in their home town.
"It was what we called the raincoat brigade with Echo and the Bunnymen," Stern continues. "The music was good, but the whole look was very drab and dark and we weren't like that. We used to go out and dress up in girls' clothes and go to clubs and get crazy."
Singing lead vocals and playing keyboards Stern drew on his hairdressing career to fashion their look. "I was a hairdresser and Frank Maudsley, the original bass player, worked in my shop and we had time to mess about with our image when the shop wasn't busy," he recalls.
"Other kids who were in bands came in and we would try designs on them. We'd cut their hair kind of punky and color it," remembers Stern.
"The whole punk thing was starting to mingle with what became new wave."
Best known for hits like "I Ran (So Far Away)," "Space Age Love Song" and "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You)," they were a natural for MTV exposure. "It was like fate," he says. "I merged with a lot of musicians because of hairdressing and merged with a lot of fashion people through hairdressing and then got into music, and all of a sudden there's MTV at exactly the right time.
"All the ducks, as we say, lined up. And the funny thing was when it did happen we thought this is going to be great fun for the next two or three years, but now, for me, it's 30 years and it still carries on."
The Seagulls hit at a fertile time in Britain when many new wave bands were charting from the Human League, Soft Cell and Haircut 100, to Culture Club, ABC, Yazoo and Spandau Ballet.
With the passage of time there's renewed interest in this pivotal movement.
"I've been touring for 30 years and there's always been a good reaction," Stern reports. "The '80s was like the '60s, it has its own atmosphere, and certain people love it. The '90s got very dark and some people don't like that, they want the band to be fun and not so depressing. I think that it's on its way back because of the state of the nation."
* The Totally '80s Live show features A Flock of Seagulls and When in Rome on Sept. 1 at 7:30 p.m. in the McCoy Studio Theater. Tickets are $35 and $45 (plus applicable fees).