Spyro Gyra leader Jay Beckenstein is the latest nice Jewish boy to make a Christmas album. But he won’t make a big deal out of it if you don’t.
“My association with Christmas is a little complicated,” says the saxophonist, who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. “My family is both Jewish and Catholic; I was brought up kind of Jewish, but we always had a Christmas tree. My kids have always celebrated both Jewish holidays and Christmas as well.
“So Christmas has always been part of my life, though I wouldn’t identify myself with any religion on this point.”
Beckenstein, 57, says each of Spyro Gyra’s five members chose holiday favorites to record for the group’s new “A Night Before Christmas,” and he wrote one new song, “It Won’t Feel Like Christmas.” The Manhattan Transfer’s Janis Siegel is one of the guest vocalists, and the 11-track project also gave Spyro Gyra a chance to step outside its usual electrified, fusion-oriented brand of jazz.
“I’ve always had a little bit of a yearning to do a ‘switched-off ’ Spyro album,” Beckenstein explains, “to just go a little bit more in the direction of traditional jazz with the band. It wasn’t really appropriate for one of our regular albums, but it seemed extremely appropriate for a Christmas record. It was very refreshing for us.”
Spyro Gyra performs at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday (Oct. 24 and 25), 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 26)at Arturo’s Jazz Theatre, 25333 W. 12 Mile Road in the Star Theatre Complex, Southfield. Tickets range from $35-50. Call (248) 357-6009 or visit www.arturosjazz.com.