June 14, 2024

Jazz is Dead
Live, April 28th, 1999
Crystal Ballroom, Portland Oregon
by Bill Simpson

When this assignment came along I was saying to myself “Oh no, not another takeoff band on the Grateful Dead!” I must, however, report that I was more than just pleasantly surprised at the outcome of this group’s appearance. It is the psychedelic sounds of the Grateful Dead, the Electric Prunes, and Buffalo Springfield that evoke the memories upon entering the Crystal, and this night was amongst the strongest flashbacks I’ve had.

Some 2000 deadhead and jazz lovers packed into the Ballroom with their funky jeans and tie-died apparel, in preparation for an evening of good time Jazz ‘n’ roll. Although alcohol and smoking was allowed, there were no reported incidents of violence as the crowd bunched together and gyrated as this dynamic group warmed up and started in with the groovy jazzed-up sounds of The Grateful Dead.

These four remarkable musicians transformed the Crystal Ballroom into a déjà vu experience reminiscent of the old Autzen Stadium performances of the past Dead concerts. T. Lavitz, co-founder of the legendary and six-time Grammy-nominated band Dixie Dregs, brought in some exhilarating chord changes that gripped the soul of all that attended. Veteran drummer Rod Morgenstein, having played with Miles Davis, the Brecker Brothers, John Abercrombi, and the Grateful Dead injected an incredible sense of timing and rhythm. Jimmy Herring ‘s guitar solos were mesmerizing. Bassist Alphonso Johnson has accumulated so many performing, recording, producing, and composing credits during his illustrious career, they read like a “Who’s Who” of jazz. They all lived up to their respective reputations this night.

For Jazz aficionados and Grateful Deadheads alike the evening slipped away too fast as Jazz is Dead delivered stunning renditions of classic Garcia’s tunes. I highly recommend that their CD title “Blue Light Rain” be included in your collection! Catch them in concert if you can; the incredible magic this group brings to stage is worth every penny and ounce of effort .

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