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Spyro Gyra's Grammy Snub

In February, Spyro Gyra was nominated for their ninth Grammy award in the best pop instrumental album category for Wrapped in a Dream. However, even though four of the five nominees were smooth jazz artists, the award was given out to rocker Peter Frampton's instrumental album Fingertips. Jay Beckenstein, leader and sax man of the group, says, The Grammys have always had a hard time figuring out the categories of jazz, quite frankly. There's plenty of Grammy attention paid to more traditional forms. You'll find big band and swing and all sorts of other jazz categories. The smooth jazz people were generally not getting nominated in that category. We tended to predate smooth jazz so we did have a lot of nominations at one time. But the nominations were always not about at least the new smooth jazz artists.

Jay Beckenstein says the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences made changes to try and find a niche for this kind of music. He says, The Grammys went on to come up with another category and that didn't work either. So I think they're just confused. Perhaps they actually need a smooth jazz category cause when they call it instrumental pop, that has to be open to any instrumentalist that makes pop music and that's not just smooth jazz. Clearly, that was Peter Frampton as well doing an instrumental record and there has to be a space for that.

In other genres of music, the Grammys have various awards given out to honor specific areas. Beckenstein says, Classical music has, I think, 12 categories because they were musical forms from the past, and at a certain time, had a little bit more clout in the music industry. They had a lot of categories and simply retained it over the years. The academy doesn't want to drop a category because that's like cutting a whole musical form off. Those categories continue to have more separations. It's just the way it is.

In terms of their own Grammy nominations, Spyro Gyra has been placed in different categories as well. Beckenstein says, We're a band that's been nominated in the straight ahead jazz thing. We've been nominated as best R&B instrumental in the R&B category. We've been nominated in this case for a pop instrumental. We also don't necessarily fit smoothly into either jazz or smooth jazz or any of it. We're unique so we defy categorization and as such, they have to have a Spyro Gyra category for us because we don't fit any of them.

The Grammys aren't the only place where the music of Spyro Gyra gets confused. Jay Beckenstein says, Because they use a lot of influences in our music. It works for us creatively, it keeps us interested, but it's always been a little bit of a barrier. People, whether it's from radio or even the record companies, have often scratched their heads as to where exactly to put us and hence market us. We just don't fit in easily into any category. Obviously from an artistic standpoint from a musical standpoint, that's exactly what you want. You want to be unique, but sometimes being unique doesn't make it easy for people to find which pile to put you in.

Even though it has been over 30 years since Spyro Gyra released their crossover hit Morning Dance, they have continued to bring unique music to their devoted fans. Their marathon run continues with their 26th release Good to Go Go. Beckenstein says the group continues to record and do concerts there is no end in sight. In a lot of ways, the band feels very vital right now. We feel like we're doing good work, good music and we like the new material we're putting out. All other things being willing, we're going to go do this for a long time.

With Good to Go Go, Spyro Gyra is introducing a new member to the band. He's drummer-percussionist Bonny B, which is short for Bonaparte, and Beckenstein says, He's terrific and he's brought a lot of new energy into the band. He's a terrific musician and quite an all around musician. He's a very good singer as well, which is going to bring a new dimension to the group.

Spyro Gyra fans know when they go to a concert, they will be able to hear what the group is into today. Beckenstein says, We've been really, really fortunate to have fans that actually look forward to us doing things that are new and have never called us on stretching the boundaries of what you call the Spyro Gyra sound. We're really capable of and it's okay to stretch out to places we've never been before. In fact, after 26 CDs, to do anything else would just repeating one's self.

Even though Spyro Gyra tries to surprise their fans, one thing remains constant. Jay Beckenstein says, What we specialize in doing is kind of keeping a jazz base. A jazz foundation, but always building on top of that using outside elements and always keeping our ears open for new outside elements. Whether they come from the pop world or the R&B world or whether they come from the world, anything that's got a little bit of a new twist to it we love to incorporate. Our audiences always kind of coming for the jazz aspect of what we're doing and being surprised that how well suddenly there's a little zydeco there or there's salsa there or there's a world beat here. Keeps it interesting for us and apparently keeps it interesting for them because people keep showing up for concerts.

Spyro Gyra will continue to keep making music on its own terms. It's the reason why people continue to buy their releases and also enjoy them in concert. They have even gone and tried new versions of their classic hit Morning Dance so that it gets fresh air every time. After over 30 years, they don't reinvent themselves, but do what they have always done, making great music that challenges the listener. Let's hope we see hopefully 30 more years of Spyro Gyra.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Spyro Gyra
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