The Night Ornette Coleman Joined the Grateful Dead
"People who can dig that there is more than one possibility," Jerry Garcia explained in 1989 while discussing his love for jazz legend Ornette Coleman, who passed away today (June 11) at the age of 85. "That's what Ornette always represented to me. No matter what direction you go in, there's always going to be other possibilities."
Garcia may have well been talking about his own band's music. The Grateful Dead's very musical aesthetic - drawing on a variety of musical traditions and pumping them through a polyphonic prism, spawned the primal psychedelia of "Dark Star" and the breezy "Eyes of the World." They were a rock and roll band who acknowledged the great jazz players as a direct influence.
The guitarist had been a long-time devotee of Ornette Coleman. He added guitar to "Desert Players" on Coleman's 1988 album Virgin Beauty and, on Feb. 23, 1993, invited him to open up the Dead's annual Mardi Gras celebration at the Oakland Coliseum.
Halfway through the Grateful Dead's second set, during their nightly free-form improvisation (referred to as “Space” on set lists and cassette tapes), Ornette Coleman appeared on stage and his saxophone cut through the sonic murk like a laser.
Coleman sat in for the rest of the night. His horn bobbing and weaving through the psychedelic stomp of "The Other One" (which is embedded above), providing color to Jerry's tender "Stella Blue", and blowing doors on Bobby "Blue" Bland's "Turn on Your Love Light."
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