Jazz Is Dead has been playing instrumental jazz-tinged versions of Grateful Dead songs since 1998, making 2023 its 25th anniversary year. Since its inception, the band has been a rotating cast of characters, but there from the beginning has been bassist Alphonso Johnson, best known for his work with the jazz fusion outfit Weather Report. Alphonso is no stranger to the Grateful Dead world, having been an original member of Bob Weir’s Bobby and the Midnites in the early 1980s and the 2000 incarnation of the post-Garcia Dead spin-off The Other Ones, where he crossed paths with guitar wizard Steve Kimock.
Kimock is himself an integral member of the Grateful Dead extended family, having played in Keith and Donna Godchaux’s Heart of Gold Band, Kingfish, and later Ratdog featuring Bob Weir and the late ’90s version of Phil Lesh & Friends. He shared the stage with Jerry Garcia in 1988 when Jerry sat-in with Zero, another psychedelic San Francisco band with lyrics penned by Robert Hunter and whose membership included Martin Fierro, who played with Jerry in Legion of Mary and was a guest saxophonist on the Grateful Dead album Wake of the Flood. Subsequently, Kimock tapped Johnson to be the bass player in the early 2000s for his fondly remembered, mind-melting project, Steve Kimock Band.
Notably, 2023 happens to be the 50th anniversary of the classic 1973 Grateful Dead album Wake of the Flood, so to celebrate the dual anniversaries of Jazz Is Dead and that album, Johnson put together an extensive coast-to-coast Jazz Is Dead tour. Reunited once more for the current incarnation are Alphonso and Steve Kimock with the addition of drummer Pete Lavezzoli, probably best known for his longtime stint in Melvin Seals & JGB, and Bobby Lee Rodgers, formerly of The Codetalkers on guitar and banjo.
The stop in Denver at the swanky Paramount Theatre on January 15, 2023 was a mostly sit-down affair, though the band had the audience leaping up to dance at multiple points in the evening. The first set consisted of the album Wake of the Flood played in its entirety instrumentally, but jammed out to reach avant garde spaces not normally heard in renditions of its songs. Replete with incredible bass solos by Johnson, jazz-flavored psychedelic guitar solos by Kimock on hollow-body, electric, and lap steel guitars, Rodgers’ otherworldly-sounding guitar and banjo played through a Leslie speaker, and Lavezzoli keeping the beat with precision, the audience was treated to an hour-and-45-minute set of exploratory magic.
Particularly notable was the seldom-covered funky rendition of the Keith Godchaux- and Robert Hunter-penned “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away”, a hauntingly beautiful “Stella Blue” played by Kimock on lap steel, and the entire B side of Wake of theFlood, consisting of “Here Comes Sunshine”, “Eyes of theWorld”, appropriately played in the Grateful Dead’s jazzy 1973–1974 style, and the full Weather Report Suite. The 40-plus-minute second set consisted of just two songs, “Dark Star” and the full Terrapin Station Suite, each jammed out to the max. The band then retook the stage for the encore of another jazzy, psychedelic song, the odd-time signature tune “The Eleven”.
As the lights went up in the beautiful Paramount Theatre, numerous jaws were agape at what the audience had just experienced. The current Jazz Is Dead tour is so much more than a Grateful Dead tribute. It is a unique, wildly exploratory leap into the Grateful Dead repertoire that should absolutely not be missed!
The tour continues this Tuesday in Phoenix, with upcoming stops in Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New York. Click below to view a list of upcoming tour dates. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster and AXS.
Jazz Is Dead – “Stella Blue” – 1/15/23
[Video: Recreate Magazine]
Jazz Is Dead Wake Of The Flood 2023 Tour:
1.17.23 Phoenix AZ/ Celebrity Thr.
1.19.23 Madison WI/ Barrymore Thr.
1.20.23 Des Plaines IL/ Des Plains Thr.
1.21.23 St. Charles IL/ The Arcata
1.22.23 Cleveland OH/ The Agora
1.24.23 Boston MA/ The Wilbur
1.25.23 Glenside PA/ The Keswick Thr.
1.26.23 Tarrytown NY/ Tarrytown Music Hall
1.27.23 New York NY/ The Palladium at Times Square
1.28.23 Jim Thorpe PA/ Penns Peak
Setlist: Jazz Is Dead | Paramount Theatre | Denver, CO | 1/15/23
Set 1: Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo, Let Me Sing Your Blues Away, Row Jimmy, Stella Blue, Here Comes Sunshine, Eyes of The World, Weather Report Suite
Set 2: Space, Dark Star, Terrapin Station Suite
Encore: The Eleven