Happy Birthday, Jay Beckenstein!

Jay Beckenstein of Spyro Gyra playing saxophone live
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Jay Beckenstein live in studioSpyro Gyra co-founder and leader Jay Beckenstein was born on May 14, 1951. The songwriter/saxophonist/producer has been the main man behind the legendary contemporary jazz band’s 30+ albums. He only recorded one solo record, Eye Contact, released in 2000.

Maybe something that maybe doesn’t get recognized enough about Jay is that he’s been a great bandleader. In my time listening to contemporary jazz, he had Spyro Gyra performing a regular schedule of recording and performing. He was always an effective face for the band. He gave credit to his bandmates and encouraged their input. Though the band isn’t as active today, it was a reliable powerhouse of good music almost every year for over two decades.

You can read more about Jay in his own words but outside of Spyro Gyra, the rest of his life is “filled with my love for painting, gardening, hiking and all things outdoors but most of all with my daughters Claire and Isabel and my son Alex. They, more than anyone or anything else, have brought me inspiration and contentedness.”

Some of my favorite quotes from Jay Beckenstein:

“When we first started, a lot of the jazz purists got on our case about calling what we did jazz and now it’s funny to hear us getting respect from the same people. Like, wow, what you guys did was so much more intriguing than some of the stuff they hear today. Purists tend to be protective of their art form, and at first they didn’t understand a band mixing in all these extraneous elements. But the reason I got into jazz at all was the freedom it gave me from the strict structures of pop. It’s ironic that it’s more the jazz community who is insisting on certain rules or forms in order to be considered jazz. If that now means that you can’t call what we do jazz, then call it something else. All I ask is to be judged not by style, but by content. Art manifests itself in a multitude of styles and contexts. Isn’t that why we started to play in the first place?”

“I like pushing myself and taking risks, like most musicians do. But the thing that gives me goosebumps is when I sing on the instrument. And ultimately, I think that’s also the thing that connects with the listeners.”

“If I have any goal concerning categories, it’s to defy categorization. I’m intrigued by so many different types of music. I like this scattershot approach where one thing sounds utterly Latin and the next thing sounds like it’s from Tunisia and the next could’ve come out of Ellington. I dig that. Musicians like myself are always looking for new juice, something intriguing.”

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