Whoever coined the adage about not being able to teach old dogs new tricks never met Spyro Gyra.
The group, which has straddled the jazz and instrumental pop worlds since the mid’70s — hitting big in 1979 with the Top 30 single “Morning Dance” — takes pride in reinventing itself with personnel changes and stylistic experiments. Its latest is the addition of Trinidadian percussionist Bonny “B” Bonaparte, who Spyro Gyra found playing in Las Vegas and added to the lineup to infuse some new flavors into the group’s latest album, “Good to Go-Go.”
“He’s the engine, and everything else springs from that engine,” explains saxophonist and co-founder Jay Beckenstein. “Some of the direction of the album came from our initial chances to play with him; the kind of energy he was bringing made us all sort of go, ‘We’ve got to make an energetic record, and a record that’s got a lot of drive and funk to it.
“Of course, there’s that island thing, too, which is kind of an obvious connection he’s got going on. He brings an enormous amount of vitality to the table that I think has helped the band.”
Beckenstein wouldn’t mind if that becomes a kind of X factor that helps Spyro Gyra win its first Grammy Award. The group has been nominated nine times in the past but has no trophies for the members’ mantles — yet.
Beckenstein, however, takes a sanguine view towards the group’s track record.
“Y’know, the food is really good at the parties,” he says with a laugh. “I’m happy getting nominated all those times; it means I get to go to these really nice events and meet interesting people and be part of that community.
“As far as a win, it’s a blessing and a curse that we don’t neatly fit into any one category. We’re not traditional jazz. We’re not really smooth jazz. We’re not pop instrumental or R&B. The Grammys are very much about fitting into a category, and I think that’s held us back from winning.
“But I’m happy we keep getting nominated.”
Spyro Gyra performs at 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday (Oct. 12 and 13) at Arturo’s Jazz Theatre in the Southfield AMC movie complex, 25553 W. 12 Mile Road. Tickets are $42.50 for the early shows and $37.50 for the late shows. Call (248) 357-6009 or visit www.arturosjazz.com.