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Stanley Jordan Plays the Dead

Stanley Plays the Dead

Guitarist Stanley Jordan has formed a new band called Stanley Plays The Dead. Jordan has always loved the Grateful Dead's music and Jerry Garcia's playing in particular, and this 4-piece unit was founded to share that love with the fans.

"Stanley Jordan playing the Grateful Dead-wait, what?" Actually, while this may seem surprising to some, anyone who really knows Stanley well won't be fazed in the least. Stanley has always held a diverse array of influences including classical, rock, World music and Americana. The Grateful Dead fits in there perfectly.

Stanley says, "The Dead's repertoire is an important part of the Great American Songbook. Over time people are realizing this more and more." One thing that's helping folks to appreciate it is the growing number of bands doing Grateful Dead tributes, and in many cases taking the music in new directions. Stanley Plays The Dead is definitely part of that trend. Jordan explains, "One mark of a good song is that it can be reinterpreted in many ways and it still holds up. These songs definitely fit that description."

Of course Jordan always puts a unique spin on things, and this project is no exception. So what's the spin? Stanley describes it as "Cosmic vible variations on the music of the Grateful Dead." He explains, "We're expanding the harmonic structure and adding more jazz elements, while preserving the original feel and flavor of the music. And most importantly, we're keeping the trippy vibe-maybe even deepening it."

As a youngster Stanley absorbed plenty of Grateful Dead music but now, over the last 10 years or so, he's also become a frequent guest with Phil Lesh and Friends. Phil Lesh was, of course, the bassist with the Grateful Dead, and through these guest appearances Stanley has now become a part of that legacy. "There's something to be said for carrying the energy by direct transmission," Stanley says. "And over the years, getting to know and play with Phil has been very enriching. Many things that he's said have helped me to understand this music in a deeper way. For example he once told me, 'If you want to understand the Grateful Dead's music just think Dixieland. Each instrument is doing something completely different but it all fits together.' Wow, that was a revelation! From there I began to approach my role in a more melodic way and to not fixate so much on the chords."

Stanley's connection to these songs runs deep because he was raised in the very environment that spawned the Grateful Dead. He says, "When I was a kid growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 60s and early 70s the Dead were a local as well as a national treasure. Their marathon happenings in San Francisco were an important part of what shaped that city's culture."

That time and place was a musical melting pot in which jazz and rock freely influenced each other. Many of the Grateful Dead's edgier compositions, such as "Dark Star" and the epic "Unbroken Chain," captured the imagination of younger musicians such as Jordan, whose musical minds and hearts were incubating in a vast unfolding world of musical possibilities.

Jerry Garcia held a special place in young Stanley's world. "Don't get me wrong," Jordan says. "I was a huge Hendrix fan, but Jerry's clean melodic style was a nice alternative to Jimi's frequent use of distortion. And I've often felt that Garcia was influenced by Les Paul, another one of my favorites.

"When I was a kid I didn't get to attend any of the Dead's performances but I would hear about them on a regular basis. I finally did see the band twice in '94, and I attended all the Fare Thee Well performances in Chicago in 2015."

One thing that made the Grateful Dead's concerts so special was that their extended improvisations and huge songbook made each show unique, and it gave concertgoers a reason to come back again and again. This made each event a full-on happening and not just a concert. Listeners began following the band around on tour, leading to the growth of a huge nomadic tribe that has become an enduring segment of American society. Although Stanley didn't follow the band he nonetheless felt connected to this community. For this reason, when he started guesting with Phil Lesh and Friends he felt right at home.

That feeling was a big motivation to launch this project. Stanley explains, "Since I've been playing with Phil a lot of his fans have started coming to my shows. I wanted to reward them with something that I knew they would like. I also wanted to bring new people in to share in the spirit of openness and belongingness that this music brings about."


Stanley Plays The Dead is not just a concept-it's a real band that truly works as a unit, with each member contributing something unique and important. All the members sing as well as play instruments.

STANLEY JORDAN was born in Chicago in 1959 and raised in Palo Alto, California-the very city in which the Grateful Dead was formed. He earned a bachelor's degree in music from Princeton in 1981. Gigs were scarce in the early days, but after a few lean years working as a New York street musician Jordan was signed to Blue Note Records in 1984. His Magic Touch album was an instant classic, and it stayed at #1 on Billboard's jazz chart for 51 weeks. He is widely regarded as the foremost exponent of the touch, or tapping technique on guitar. To date Jordan has been nominated for four Grammys, and he's performed in 70 countries. He made a cameo appearance in the movie Blind Date with Bruce Willis and Kim Basinger, and numerous TV appearances through the years, including Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon. He has collaborated on the stage or in the studio with a diverse array of artists including Phil Lesh, Miles Davis, Kenny Rogers, Herbie Hancock, Dionne Warwick, Dave Matthews, Sharon Isbin, and Carmen McRae.

Drummer KENWOOD DENNARD is a Grammy award-winning and multi-platinum recording artist. He's unique among drummers, and he's influenced multiple generations of musicians of all instruments. He's played with jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and Dizzy Gillespie. He pioneered the jazz fusion improvisational movement in the 70's with Pat Martino (Joyous Lake) and Brand X (Livestock), and later with Jaco Pastorius' Word of Mouth Band and PDB (Pastorius, Dennard and Bullock). He's also been a longtime collaborator with Marcus Miller, Stanley Jordan and Vernon Reid. He's performed with many other popular artists, including The Allman Brothers Band, Phish, The String Cheese Incident, Derek Trucks, Moe., Sting, Taj Mahal, Maceo Parker, Warren Haynes, Esperanza Spaulding, and John Scofield. He recently retired as a tenured professor at Berklee College of Music, allowing him to return to full-time composing, recording and performing.

Bassist GREG KOERNER brings a lifetime of experience playing Grateful Dead music. He played with Crimson Rose, one of the first Dead cover bands in New York, and he toured extensively with Vince Welnick, the Dead's last keyboardist. He's played with Dark Star Orchestra, Unlimited Devotion and countless other Dead tribute bands. He's also toured with Charles Neville, Henry Butler and The Band's Garth Hudson. Greg has recorded five albums of original music and he's toured extensively with his own project Gent Treadly and his trio The Joint Chiefs.

JESSE HIATT is the band's keyboardist and second guitarist. He, like Stanley, was raised in the Bay Area, where he got his start on the blues circuit and where he recorded his album Choose Your Road. He then spent 10 years in New Orleans, touring with Mississippi blues legend Cedric Burnside, and producing Burnside's album The Way I Am. In addition to his longtime experience playing Grateful Dead music, he brings influences of West-African, Brazilian, and classic New Orleans funk and R&B.