After playing with the jazz fusion super-group Dixie Dregs, keyboard sensation T Lavitz formed Jazz is Dead. Its sole purpose is to take the Grateful Dead’s compositions, turn them inside out and reconstruct them into fiery jazz numbers. With Plainview native Rod Morgenstein behind the skins, Lavitz brings Jazz Is Dead to the IMAC on Friday. He recently led Ian D’Giff down the road to unlimited devotion:
Long before Jazz is Dead was conceptualized, you had auditioned for the Dead’s keyboard slot—after Brent Mydland died in ’90, right?
It was crazy. Just like one-chord jams that went on and on. And Jerry, I’m not kidding you, by the end was standing over me with his glasses falling down on his nose, the way they did, kind of shaking his head “yes,” smiling and just going for it. I thought, because of the way he was acting, that I had it. For a minute I was on top of the world. I think Bob Weir himself, a couple of days later, told me that unfortunately they needed a keyboardist who could sing.
Before that audition, how into the music of the Dead were you?
Our bass player Alphonso Johnson, he was in Weather Report. I own their albums, I saw them twice. Am I not a Weather Report fanatic? I am, I love them. If I were to say that I’m a Weather Report head, nobody would argue it. I know their names, what they play, their tunes. Now, the Grateful Dead, I own their albums, I saw them twice and, hey, I even jammed with them once. But I mean as a fan, I saw them a couple of times. Am I not a Deadhead? Hell, no. To me I am, but to the people who throw away their lives and buy an old bus and leave home and see 200 or 300 shows, I ain’t nothing.
What’s the attraction to playing jam-based music?
With Jazz is Dead, man, we’ll play for two hours, and only 45 minutes of it is worked out. There is so much jamming and improvisation going on it makes you dig deep so it doesn’t sound stale. That was the attraction of the Dead, too. They had these beautifully poetic evocations and imagery and then they would go off and play really crazy stuff.
Jazz Is Dead 8 and 10:30pm, Nov 26 at IMAC, 370 New York Ave, Huntington. 516-549-ARTS. $21-$27.50.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 30, 1999