A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Jazz is Dead Show 07.20.99
When the debut album Blue Light Rain by Jazz is Dead was issued in June of 1998, I ran, not walked, to the nearest music store to grab a copy. That nearest shop was Sound Exchange, at the time on Livingston Avenue in north Tampa (the shop now prospers on Nebraska Avenue near Skipper’s Smokehouse).
The concept was absolutely intriguing: four great musicians with roots in jazz, fusion, and rock interpreting the American songbook of The Grateful Dead. Billy Cobham (drums) I had seen several times with The Mahavishnu Orchestra and a couple with the Cobham-Duke Band. Alphonso Johnson (bass) I had also seen with the Cobham-Duke Band and also with Weather Report. I knew about T. Lavitz from his connection with Widespread Panic. Similarly, I had heard Jimmy Herring on recordings with Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.) and Aquarium Rescue Unit.
The band were touring in the summer of 1999, and when they announced a show at Jannus Landing (now Jannus Live) in St. Petersburg, I grabbed a ticket. The show was July 20. Early in the afternoon, I swung by Sound Exchange, and — lo and behold — what should appear on the new release display but Laughing Water (Wake of the Flood Revisited), a new CD by Jazz is Dead. How serendipitous! I carried it with me to the show and my ubiquitous Sharpie, hoping for autographs.
There was one alteration to the band’s lineup, its second iteration. Johnson, Lavitz, and Herring were all still there, but Cobham’s drum slot was now filled by Rod Morgenstein (Dixie Dregs, Winger) and Jeff Sipe (Apt. Q258) (with Herring and Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.) in Aquarium Rescue Unit). TWO drummers, just like Kreutzmann and Hart!
The show itself was too sparsely populated given the spectacular music that poured off the stage. The quintet simply CRUSHED their jazzified Dead, to the sheer joy of all.
I observed that there was no merch table set up anywhere, which seemed odd, given that the band had a brand new album out. After the show, all five band members were extremely gracious in spending time with us. Imagine my surprise to discover they were equally surprised that I HAD a copy of Laughing Water! The album was released THAT DAY — July 20 — and they had not received their shipment yet. In fact, they hadn’t SEEN the CD yet!
Everybody signed my copy, including T. Lavitz’s 7-20!! flourish. And I was most excited when Sipe, channeling ZAMBI, decorated the lower left corner. That’s just one of the reasons he is my favorite drummer on the planet!
Serendipity for me = right place, right time!
Jazz is Dead will tour in January 2023 with a new lineup, the sixth iteration, anchored by Alphonso Johnson. Read about that here.