Dead is Jazz: Live 1993-1994

Cover: Detail from “Dream No. 2” (1989) – Candy Jernigan

This mix combines pieces of unreleased 1993-1994 Grateful Dead concerts that featured saxophonists Ornette Coleman, Branford Marsalis, and David Murray, plus all appearances by word jazz great Ken Nordine. I've created connections where they were missing to simulate a continuous set.

If it weren’t for the obligations entailed by the concept of the “30 Trips Around the Sun” boxed set, The Dead’s final four calendar years of playing live (1992-1995) would hardly exist in the official release catalog. 

This is a disservice to the music and to the band’s fans - and seemingly the result of The Dead’s commitment to whole-show releases and disinclination to chop shit up and compile great live albums out of their favorite bits. 

I don’t know if what I’ve made here constitutes a great live album, but it is certainly a far out live album with a lot of greatness in it. Since nothing else is competing for the spot, you might even consider this mix as a provisional career bookend to “Live Dead,” 1969’s official live document of the first year of truly far out Dead. Here they are, freaking out with jazz musicians a quarter of a century later. There were only two more "Dark Stars" after this one.

I'd dedicate this mix to my dad, who immersed me in jazz and Ken Nordine from birth, but this would all probably be too post-bop/fusion/crazy for him. So, I'll dedicate it instead to 1967-1969 Frank Zappa (composer/editor) and Ian Underwood (Zappa's always game reed man in the early days). They might decry the lack of discipline, but I think that they would appreciate the overall effect. Murray's playing has some very Underwood-ish moments. It should be noted that Vince Welnick acquits himself beautifully all over the place.

93-minute mp3 mix here (all guests and source dates included in song title tags)

LP1:

  • Flibberty Jib (Nordine)
  • Drums (Murray)
  • Space > (Coleman)
  • The Other One > (Coleman)
  • Stella Blue (Coleman)
  • Unknown (Nordine)
  • Space (Coleman)

LP2:

  • Eternity (instr. edit – Marsalis)
  • Samba in the Rain (instr. edit – Marsalis)
  • Space (Marsalis)
  • Estimated Prophet > (instr. edit - Murray)
  • Space > (Murray)
  • Dark Star (instr. edit - Murray)
  • Space (Murray)
  • The Island (Nordine)
I've got a mix of The Dead's 1973 live horn section episode here.

Shortlist: December 28, 30, and 31, 1989 – Oakland, CA

The Grateful Dead played four New Year’s week shows at the Oakland Coliseum in 1989. These shows followed a two-week break and preceded a two-month break. The only material that’s been released from the four shows is a “Space” segment from the 28th, on “Infrared Roses,” a very worthy album.

I previously posted an hour-long mix from the first night of the run with a lot of songs edited into instrumental versions to create an unusual jam sandwich of mostly-Garcia themes. 

This complementary post turns material from the next three nights into a single, jam-song sequence of mostly Weir material, mostly as complete songs. I’ve created segues between all the pieces to provide continuities comparable to when “>” in the set list simply means that there was no delay between one piece and another, just a quick transition or a pregnant pause. 

80-minute mp3 mix here

(I've re-zipped and re-uploaded this file, because someone reported unzipping trouble. I think I just put some forbidden characters in the file name.)

  • Feel Like a Stranger (12/28)
  • The Music Never Stopped Jam (12/30)
  • Estimated Prophet (12/30)
  • Victim or the Crime Jam > (12/31)
  • Dark Star > (12/31)
  • Space (12/31)
  • Drums (12/31)
  • The Other One (12/30)
  • The Other One Space Jam (12/30)
  • Let It Grow (12/28)

“>” indicates unaltered Dead transition

I have a hard time faulting this moment in live Dead history. If you don't listen to it much, I think you should change that. In retrospect, a lot of the music they played during the final Brent Mydland year was better experienced live than on tape, even though the tapes are typically immaculate. By that time, many songs had become crowd-pleasing rave-ups and sing-alongs, rather than musical adventures. There was a jaunty mood nearly everywhere, which was both effective overall and something of a flattener of differences among songs. Fun if you were there – tight, infectiously danceable – but not necessarily an important thing to listen to in 2018. 

However, I’d agree with many others that you have to go back to 1970-something to find as consistently good a jam band as the 1989-1990 unit. These 1989 New Year’s shows might not be worthy of release in full, but you can certainly make a fake album from them that slays. 

When I was going to shows in this period, the anxiety was always about how much of the deep stuff you were going to get – which songs, and how many of them, would fill the slots where the real adventures typically happened. Every show you could manage to get to was so freighted with hope, especially if “they were due for” a big song you’d never seen, or never seen done really well. It’s nice to be far away from those years, able to simply dig through the shows - all now aurally attendable - and enjoy what they played, without the personal drama of shows, if you were a music-centric Head. It's hard to believe that it's been nearly 30 years. At the time, it seemed like the future of The Dead was wide open again - a band that was again as fascinating live as they were on old tapes - and I remember how completely devastating it was to learn that Mydland had died, knowing that the wave had probably crashed, again. 

Shortlist: December 27, 1989 - Oakland, CA

Cover art by Neon Park: Detail of "Green Goddess," 1984

I’ll always be grateful that my initial obsession with The Dead happened just as the band’s mid-to-late 1980s nadir gave way to a final, fantastic period of live playing. It makes perfect sense that The Dead have released a slew of shows from Spring 1989 through Spring 1990 – a career sweet spot between the end of the rebuilding period after Garcia’s coma and the death of Brent Mydland. 

I decided to try my Frankenstein editing approach on an unreleased show from this period – taking The Dead’s improvisational temperature by removing a lot of vocals to turn songs into jams and easing transitions that The Dead hadn't already provided. I chose this show at random.

62-minute mp3 mix here

  • Bird Song 
  • Playin’ Jam >
  • Crazy Fingers Jam > 
  • Uncle John’s Jam (>) 
  • Drums (>) 
  • Space > 
  • The Wheel Jam (>) 
  • Morning Dew

Real Dead segue: >

Edited transition: (>)