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Pala concert shows worldwide popularity of jazz

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

Peter White and Spyro Gyra performed Friday, Feb. 17, during a jazz concert at Pala Casino’s Events Center. Jazz is often associated with Mississippi River towns or large American cities, so the jazz musicians from England and Upstate New York show that the popularity of jazz is worldwide.

New Orleans, Kansas City and Harlem have jazz museums and the Smithsonian Institution also has a jazz component. White, who is now 68, grew up in England and credits bands referred to on this side of the pond as the British Invasion for his music aspirations.

Spyro Gyra was formed in Buffalo, New York, in 1974 and first released an album in 1977. The two members who have been with the band since the first album was released are saxophonist Jay Beckenstein and keyboardist Tom Schuman. Beckenstein, who is now 71, was actually born in Brooklyn and moved to Long Island in his early childhood.

While Beckenstein was a State University of New York Buffalo student he played in nightclubs with Jeremy Wall. Schuman, who is now 65, is originally from Buffalo and was 16 when he joined Beckenstein and Wall. Guitarist Julio Fernandez, who is from Cuba, successfully auditioned for the band in 1984. Scott Ambush, who was raised in Maryland, has been the band’s bassist since 1991. Current drummer Lionel Cordew is from Queens and joined Spyro Gyra in 2015.

White performed for approximately 50 minutes, Feb. 17, while Spyro Gyra was on the stage for about an hour. White, who plays guitar and harmonica, also had a saxophone player, a bassist, a keyboardist and a drummer.

During his childhood White often listened to the radio. He took interest in the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

“I wasn’t too interested in the Americans,” he said.

Jimi Hendrix changed that.

“I always wanted to be a rock star,” White said.

Al Stewart invited White to perform on the 1976 “Year of the Cat” album. Stewart’s next album was “Time Passages,” which was released in 1978; White and Stewart co-wrote the title track. White’s brother Danny was part of a band called Matt Bianco, and Peter White played guitar for some of that band’s recordings. White released his first solo album, “Reveillez-Vous,” in 1990. His most recent album, “Music for Starlux Airlines,” is his 16th solo album and was released in 2019.

Spyro Gyra has released 29 studio albums. The Pala concert showed another aspect of Beckenstein’s talent. Saxophones are produced in multiple ranges with curvature of the instrument allowing for the difference in octaves. The soprano saxophone is actually straight, and Beckenstein was able to play both a curved saxophone and a soprano saxophone at the same time.

Jazz music can be found nearly anywhere in the world, especially at nice enough restaurants where two or three musicians perform. Its appeal reached places like England and Upstate New York. With sufficient talent jazz musicians not from the hubs of the genre can transition from restaurants and local nightclubs to concert tours.

Submitted by Pala Casino Spa Resort.


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