Best Of The First Ten Years CD


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1. Shaker Song 4:51
2. Morning Dance 3:58
3. Catching The Sun 4:40
4. Autumn Of Our Love 5:11
5. Cafe Amore 5:02
6. Cashaça 4:17
7. Freetime 6:07
8. Summer Strut 5:05
9. Old San Juan 6:39
10. Incognito 5:57
11. Conversations 5:34
12. Shakedown 4:21
13. Bob Goes To The Store 4:38
14. Del Corazon 6:30

Liner Notes by Jay Beckenstein

When Amherst Records asked me to write liner notes for this collection of songs from Spyro Gyra’s first ten years, I wasn’t sure what Iwanted to say. Although I certainly have memories and opinions about what that period of time means to me, I wasn’t enthusiastic about trying to sum it all up. This is partly because I think you do that, if at all, at the end of your life or career or whatever. I’m not at the end of anything at this point, on the contrary, I feel in mid-stride. Some people credit Spyro Gyra with being the first this or the originators of that. While it’s nice to hear, and while I think we made some contributions, modesty prohibits one from thinking that way for long. What I do know from the inside is that the first ten years of Spyro Gyra was an incredible time that saw the band go from a bar band in Buffalo to something much bigger. Those years were like a dream come true as possibilities opened up to us. It was also a time when our musical thoughts were realized to an extent we never imagined possible. To illustrate, the first album “Spyro Gyra” really was intended to be a farewell statement to our local following in Western New York as we went on (we hoped) to the proverbial “bigger and better things.” Its success as a local Western New York record started us on this unexpected journey of over twenty records as of this writing. So, rather than trying to say more than that and wrap all of it up into a tidy package, I figured I would just tell you something about the songs on this album.

Shaker Song – When we recorded our first album in a small sixteen track studio outside of Buffalo, we were learning as we went. That gave us the benefit of considering anything possible because we didn’t know that “you just don’t do it like that.” We would take unanticipated approaches to things that we didn’t know if anyone had tried before. For example, on “Shaker Song,” drummer Tom Walsh took what should have been an ordinary drum performance with a shaker overdub and did it all at once with a shaker in his left hand while he played the kit. It was this performance that gave “Shaker Song” both its name and its groove.

Morning Dance – “Morning Dance,” from the album of the same name, is undeniably our most well known song. Making that record was one of the highlights of my life. It represented so many doors opening to us. Although we had no idea of the success to come while we recorded it, we already felt we had made it. The boys from Buffalo were in New York City in a real recording studio with a record deal and resources to try to make the record of their dreams. All of that joy and enthusiasm showed up in the music and nowhere more than in the warm sweetness of this song.

Catching The Sun – During the early years, we had the pleasure of meeting and working with some of the best musicians in New York. By the time we made this album, studio musicians like Dave Samuels and Rubens Bassini had already contributed to the group’s sound. Spyro Gyra had begun as a band, but in the studio, it was always a producer’s project. It was almost as if we started making the albums in the style of Steely Dan. That is, to use a central creative core, but on top of that to utilize all the great studio talent in New York City to augment the music. In fact, many of the same musicians appear on the discs of both bands and more than once musicians such as Michael Becker, Will Lee and Hiram Bullock would be recording on both Steely Dan and Spyro Gyra projects the same day. When we recorded this album, if we were in the studio and someone heard a section that could use a trumpet solo, we would simply say, “Who’s the best trumpet player in town?” For us, the answer for years to come was Randy Brecker. Randy takes a great solo on this cut, played through a Wah Wah pedal, to get that great sound. It’s just one of the contributions a number of great New York musicians made to our music in the 80’s. It’s also another reason why I remember the great time we had working with some of the best musicians in the world.

Autumn Of Our Love – This is a contribution of Spyro Gyra’s original keyboardist Jeremy Wall. Jeremy and I founded the band in the mid 70’s. By the time we recorded this, Tom Schuman was the sole keyboard player for the live band but Jeremy still played on songs occasionally. Jeremy and I had first met in high school where I was knocked out by all the natural talent he possessed. We would put on shows and we formed bands during our school days that in many ways foreshadowed what we would do together later. When we both graduated college (he from the California Institute of the Arts and I from State University of New York at Buffalo), Jeremy came to Buffalo to pick up where we had left off in high school. It was from this musical friendship that Spyro Gyra was to spring and Jeremy’s writing and “ears” are part of the band’s sound to this day.

Cafe Amore – Sometimes Spyro Gyra is credited with being a forerunner of “Smooth Jazz”. We were one of several artists that pioneered mixing pop and R&B with jazz, the brew that would become in one form or another the radio staple that it is today. At least ten years before there was even the label Smooth Jazz, you could find that sound on Spyro Gyra’s albums, although it was only a part of what the band was about. “Cafe Amore” is one of those songs that show this so clearly. A cool melody, a sensuous vibe and lush production make this one sound like you could hear it more than fifteen years later and not know it wasn’t a recent radio favorite.

Cashaca – On our early albums, the late Brazilian percussionist Rubens Bassini helped us out a lot. He gave songs like Morning Dance a lot of their flavor and groove. But, in addition to that, he was a great friend. Among other things, he introduced me to this very strong Brazilian drink, Caipirinha. Its source of alcohol is a sugar cane product called Cashaça. Cashaça is pure fire water, but if you add enough sugar and lime you get a drink that tastes like candy but it will make you very stupid very quickly. (Kids: Do not try this at home.) This song was my tribute to Brazil, and I wanted to capture a little of the fire to be found both in the drink and the country. The rhythm section of Will Lee and Steve Jordan along with John Tropea’s guitar solo delivered that fire and then some.

Freetime – I think that this song started as a rhythmic idea from Eli Konikoff and that he brought that to Tom Schuman and they fleshed it out together. What is indisputable is that it became the title cut to our fifth album and a big part of our live shows over the years. The title has a great deal of irony for me because we have recorded twenty albums as of this writing, toured constantly over that time period and almost every one of the songs on our albums was written by somebody in the group. I’m not complaining, but sometimes it feels like this is the only “freetime” I have.

Summer Strut – The signature of this song is its joyous feeling. I can remember recording it and getting caught up in its feeling. It was somewhat world beat with its sounds and rhythms before that became a music business buzz term. All the while I was playing this, I was mentally at some beach party on a Caribbean shore. Jeremy has always been into the music of other cultures. As I said, he came to the band with a degree from the California Institute of the Arts, a school whose specialty was world music. Musical flavors from Africa, South America and Asia have often found their way into his music. It’s some more spice for our musical stew.

Old San Juan – I spent my thirtieth birthday in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a place I love and where I’ve always had good times. Being there cheered me up on a birthday that has the opposite effect for many people. Perhaps not coincidentally, the song starts off almost melancholy but ends up high and cruising. Spyro Gyra has always had a love affair with the music of the Caribbean and Latin America and contributions by such great musicians like Manolo Badrena and the late great Jorge Dalto give this song a special air of passion for me. This album was also the first time we worked with horn arranger trumpeter Jerry Hey, one of the top names in the business. This song is a good showcase for his talents as well.

Incognito – This song by Tom Schuman was the title cut from our sixth album. Tom has often written the most technically challenging music we play. His songs are more naturally complex and sectional and quite frankly represent the flip side of the Smooth Jazz coin. He likes writing hard charging compositions that are clearly connected to the much more angular fusion of past groups like Weather Report. “Incognito” fits all of these descriptions. Tom’s writing has always given the band a balance to its prettier side. I felt that the title referred to our experience at the time, that while the band was very well known, the individual players were not. I remember walking through a crowd at one of our shows at Ravinia outside Chicago at the time. There were over 13,000 people there and not a single person recognized me. I certainly felt incognito.

Conversations – Talk about challenging the band’s musical chops! In addition to real standout Dave Samuels on marimba, who could complain about a rhythm section of Steve Gadd and Eddie Gomez? Back in those days, before there were radio stations playing smooth jazz, more of the music was about energy. Sometimes listening to some of today’s instrumental music, it seems musicians have forgotten about improvising and playing with fire. High energy is a big part of what we’re about and “Conversations” is about just what the name implies, musicians interacting spontaneously.

Shakedown – In the 70’s, when Jeremy and I were living in Buffalo before we started Spyro Gyra, we worked mostly in R&B and blues bands. Buffalo’s music scene had the feel of a small Chicago. That is to say, it was great! It wasn’t a complete night without a ripping blues shuffle. A shuffle is kind of a swing in 6/8. Shakedown hearkens back to those barroom days of late sets, shots and beers. It captures a bit of those jams in Buffalo bars with people dancing and swaying while we played. That spirit of wanting to party with our audience has been part of our vibe ever since. It was just before this time that I decided to make the records with only the band members and the occasional guest. The days of using lots of studio musicians were traded for a regular recording unit that had proven itself in hundreds of live shows. That’s the way it’s been ever since. It proved to be the way to go.

Bob Goes To the Store – This is actually a mini-opera by Kim Stone, our bassist from 1982 through 1986. One of the highlights of our shows from 1986 was when we played this song. Kim would step to the microphone to explain about how he wrote this about the time his dog, Bob, ran away to the local convenience store “to scarf burritos from strangers”. When we played that year’s show at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado close to Kim’s hometown, Bob came to the show and came onstage during “his” song. The audience began chanting, “Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob….” You have to wonder what he thought as he walked to the edge of the stage to get a closer look at the 9,000 people calling his name. Who knows, maybe he was only checking to see if he could smell any burritos.

Del Corazon – Julio Fernandez, the composer of this song, has been the guitarist for Spyro Gyra since 1984 except for a brief hiatus in the late 1980’s. Julio was born in Havana, Cuba and his family came to settle in New Jersey when they fled Castro’s regime. His musical influences are broad but much of them fit into one or the other of those places. This mini-epic is from the Cuban side and has been another concert standout. It’s notable that the title translates literally to “from the heart”, which is how he does everything.

Well, that’s it. Hope you like it.

Jay Beckenstein
August 1997