As a musician and as a Deadhead, I have had on more than one occasion a conversation with non-Deadhead musicians who dismiss Jerry Garcia as someone who just plays scales up and down, someone who “noodles”. This pisses off Deadhead musicians like myself because we know that such opinions are not based on any real listening to Garcia’s playing. Jerry’s playing was so much more than just running scales. Garcia was an intense student of many different genres of music, including jazz. While the Dead never covered a Charlie Parker tune, Garcia could certainly approach a tune with a jazz musician’s mindset. Instead of using a common scale to play over a song’s chord progression, Garcia would approach each chord individually but also as part of a progression of chords, being aware of linking his melodic ideas from chord to chord. His note choices went beyond the basic vanilla ones, often adding “spicy” chromatic tones to play against and highlight the more consonant chord tones. This is all jazz stuff.
The video below is from Amaruitar, whose video series dissecting Garcia’s solo on Deal from a 1989 performance I discussed previously (see https://roymusicusa.com/2020/02/29/dont-you-let-that-deal-go-down-learn-jerry-garcias-solo-from-deal-7-4-89-buffalo/). Here he presents the case for Garcia, being, if not a jazz improviser per se, than at least being a musician who was more than capable of hanging with the jazz cats.
Was Jerry Garcia a Jazz Improviser?
The end of the clip featured a short bit of Garcia performing with Ruben Blades for some television show and you can hear him play in what is for Garcia, a very uncharacteristic latin jazz setting. And he rips. Check out more of Garcia with Ruben Blades below.
Ruben Blades & Jerry Garcia (MueveteI) – Aug. 2nd 1989