Sep 10, 2013

1967: Garcia & Django


Early this month a long-haired young man named Jerry Garcia went to all the record stores in San Francisco and bought all the albums he could find by the French gypsy jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt. This would not be at all remarkable except for the fact that Jerry Garcia is the lead guitar player and featured soloist with The Grateful Dead, and rock groups are supposed to be something other than jazz.
But like so many other things in our world, what seems to be turns out not to really be at all.
Jerry Garcia, like a number of the very best of the young rock musicians, is a fan of all music that's good and that, of course, includes jazz.
"I've been listening to a lot of jazz lately," he says. "I've been listening to a lot of Django Reinhardt. Mostly for the guitar, but I've learned as much from the violin player in terms of those really lovely, graceful ideas. And that's the kind of stuff I like. Anything that is beautiful. Indian music. Soul music, rhythm & blues, old time blues, jug band music. Anything."
That catholicism of taste is one of the reasons why the young rock musicians are so important and are already making a deep imprint on contemporary music. It is a curious thing that jazz began by accusing the symphony and conservatory players of refusing to listen to them. Now the jazz musicians, or at least a regrettable majority of them, are not opening their ears to the worthwhile music coming from the new generation.
John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet is an exception. He has been digging the groups in England as they have appeared and spent some time in a New York studio working on a record of "Misty Roses," the Tim Hardin tune, for Atlantic because "I wanted to find out how it is done."
Lewis has a healthy respect for the rock musicians. Of the British youth, he says, "they are living the history of jazz all over again," pointing to their interest in blues and traditional jazz and now rock.
But Lewis is an exception in the ranks of jazz, whereas Garcia is not an exception in the ranks of rock. Almost all the good rock musicians with whom I've talked, British or American, have dug jazz and many of them came from it to rock.
The point, of course, is that good music is good music regardless of labels. The music that Garcia's group, The Grateful Dead, plays is really jazz even though the sound of the electric guitars at first inhibits you from saying that. The Dead have a deep, driving swing that is irresistible, and the solos played by Garcia are pure jazz solos. The vocals are folk-rock-blues, of course, but the solo lines by the bassist, Phil Lesh, a former jazz trumpet player, and the over-all feeling of the group is precisely the same kind of feeling that emanates from the best jazz groups and always has.
We're in for some interesting new sounds in the future. The more the rock players listen to jazz, the more complex and inventive they will become. And the jazz players, for all of their complexity and invention, have things to learn from rock. I won't be surprised to see the day that John Lewis records with Jerry Garcia. I would like to hear them.

(by Ralph Gleason, from the "Lively Arts" column, Datebook, April 9 1967)

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  1. "and the solos played by Garcia are pure jazz solos"

    "and the over-all feeling of the group is precisely the same kind of feeling that emanates from the best jazz groups and always has"

    Mr. Gleason makes two insightful comments in this column.Especially considering it was April '67 and the band was still very much a work in progress.At that point in time they were mainly playing blues,rock and folk based material.The sole jazz oriented piece was New Potato Caboose,to be followed months later by The Other One suite,Dark Star,Spanish Jam,Clementine and Born Cross-Eyed.

    To my ear at the core of the improvisatory portion of their catalog (pre-hiatus) they are very much a pure jazz band playing with rock instrumentation.

    As for Django's influence I don't hear any direct Django licks in Jerry's playing,but more of a loose sort of loping swing feel that Django and Stephane Grappelli created.Jerry also might have developed his penchant for playing long runs with lots of notes from Django's style,but that would be better stated coming from someone with a strong knowledge of guitar technique.

  2. While reading Gleason's article, I thought it would be nice to mention the name of the violin player Jerry was digging, but jerlouvis beat me to it: Stephane Grappelli!

    It's also interesting to note that this article came just before Miles Davis began to develop the music that eventually became "Bitches Brew": jazz musicians picking up elements of rock and running with them. There's that great line from Phil about the Miles Davis Quintet opening for the Dead, when he said something like "we should be opening for them."