ortlanders were treated with a 'Jazz is Dead' two-night run at the Alberta Rose Theatre in mid-August 2023. This tour commemorated the 25th anniversary of the band's inception and continued their tradition of playing instrumental jazz renditions of Grateful Dead songs. The band is led by Alphonso Johnson (the only original member of 'Jazz is Dead' on tour) and features Steve Kimock on lead guitar, Bobby Lee Rodgers on rhyhtm guitar/banjo, and Pete Lavezzoli on drums. This entire ensemble has a strong connection to the Grateful Dead but three of them have played with Grateful Dead members after Jerry Garcia's passing and one of them has even played with Jerry himself.
Let's start with Alphonso Johnson. He was an original member of Weather Report, a 70s jazz fusion band and was a founding member of Jazz is Dead in 1988. The original Jazz is Dead Band consisted of Billy Cobham (Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1987) on drums, Jimmy Herring (lead guitarist for the band Widespread Panic)on lead guitar, Alphonso Johnson on bass, and Terry Lavitz on keyboards. Alphonso Johnson has performed and recorded with numerous high-profile rock and jazz acts including Santana, Phil Collins, and Chet Baker. He also played in The Other Ones with Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Bruce Hornsby, Mark Karan and Steve Kimock in 2000.
Steve Kimock has played with almost every Grateful Dead member including Jerry Garcia. He also was catapulted to deadhead fame when Jerry Garcia mentioned him in an interview as his favorite underground guitarist. This became especially important to Phil Lesh and Bob Weir as they created their post-Grateful Dead acts that included Phil Lesh & Friends, The Dead, Ratdog, The Other Ones and many more. Kimock was looked upon as one of the only guitarists out there who could play like Jerry and that became increasingly valuable after Garcia's passing. To further prove his association to the Grateful Dead, Kimock also played in the Heart of Gold band with Donna Jean Godchaux and Keith Godchaux!
Pete Lavezzoli has also played with Phil Lesh & Friends and with Bob Weir's Rat Dog. He's played with Oteil & Friends and has his own Grateful Dead cover band called Crazy Fingers. Lavezzoli co-founded Crazy Fingers in 1990 and the 33-year-old band just played with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in February 2020!
Bobby Lee Rodgers is a jazz savant who studied at the University of Georgia and later became the youngest instructor at Boston's Berklee College of Music at 23. He was also an original member of The CodeTalkers which included Col. Bruce Hampton in the lineup. He also has opened for acts like Bush and Lynryd Skynrd.
It'a funny to think that the band name Jazz is Dead is also a statement in itself. One could say that the mainly improvisation based music of the Grateful Dead is jazz when you take away the lyrics. There could be proof in that statement considering Phil Lesh said that the Miles Davis and John Coltrane were the inspiration for the Grateful Dead in a recent Forbes interview.
Jazz is Dead takes the Grateful Dead lyrics that are oozing with emotion and replaces them with thoughtful, intentional solos. In my humble opinion the result of this band is TEN TIMES more psychedelic and fun than Dead and Company. Where John Mayer has done technical studies on Jerry’s style and can mimic his sounds, Kimock's playing really imbues the drippy, soulful tenderness that Jerry was expressing through his playing. If you look at him while he's playing, Kimock is usually closing his eyes and getting in touch with the faceless muse that all masters of craft non-verbally communicate with. Make sure to catch Jazz is Dead on their 2023 Fall Tour!
Night One Setlist
China Cat Sunflower
Help on the Way
Let It Grow
Touch of Grey
Night Two Setlist
Stronger Than Dirt
You Know, You Know
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
Uncle John's Band
Eyes of the World
At a Siding (Terrapin)