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Jazz do it

Jay Beckenstein, saxophonist and founder of Spyro Gyra, spins some jazz copy with Lalita Iyer.

music Updated: Nov 21, 2008 09:57 IST
Lalita Iyer
Lalita Iyer
Hindustan Times

Jay Beckenstein, saxophonist and founder of

Spyro Gyra

, spins some Jazz copy with

Lalita Iyer


Your band has had 11 Grammy nominations so far.. do you feel jazz has got its due in the music world?

We’ve never won a Grammy after 11 nominations, but we still feel that jazz has a lot of recognition. We travel all over the world.. it’s an international language, partly from being more based in instrumental music rather than lyrics. At its best though, it has subtlety, so maybe it’s not meant for everyone. <b1>

You are often known as the Steely Dan of Jazz... how do you respond to that?
That actually came from the early years of the band, when our albums were the product of a few people writing and
producing the music. We would record with the help of a large number of musicians including many who were also playing on Steely Dan records. After a few years, that changed. We wanted more of band identity even if our line-up has changed occasionally over time. Of course, Steely Dan is great, so I don’t think anyone would mind being compared to them.

What can we expect from your India tour?
People will come to the show and they’ll have a really good time. Generally, we try to play a lot of music from the most recent CD. That will be the case this time around too. We also dip into the band’s history to play some early favourites.

What keeps a jazz group growing strong even after 30 years?
We’re lucky in that we all get to write the music we play, we get to try new things all the time, we genuinely like each other and we have a lot of fun every time we step on stage. That’s a pretty good recipe for keeping a band together.

You prefer to be called a non-defined genre rather than a jazz band? How does that help?
It’s not that we prefer to be called that. Labels used to describe a band are limiting and that’s what we reject. If being a ‘jazz band’ means that you can’t have a loud electric guitar occasionally, then that way of thinking doesn’t help you to be yourself. Labels limit you because then you have to fit in. That said, we do think of ourselves as a jazz band, but we think of jazz as a music with a long history of incorporating outside influences.

What do each of you bring to the group in terms of cultural influences, other than your basic skills of course?
All of the guys are really great players but each has his own influences which he brings to the band. Tom is steeped in traditional jazz, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us didn’t grow up with it too. Julio was born in Havana and learnt guitar from his father. So you might think that he’s the strongest Latin influence in the band, but I grew up in New York where you heard Latin music all the time. Scott has a strong background in R ‘n’ B, but I spent my college years in soul and blues bands.

Your band travels a lot. How different is the international scene from performing in the US?
It’s not that different really. The world has become so much smaller.

Which new artistes do you listen to?
I’ve spent this year making two Spyro Gyra records, a Christmas record that just came out and a new Spyro Gyra album that’s coming out some time next year, so I really haven’t been listening to much new music outside of what I hear from my daughters.

First Published: Nov 20, 2008 20:17 IST