Sporting a name that may raise an eyebrow or two, "Jazz is Dead Reunion- a jazz exploration of the Grateful Dead" comes to the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC) tonight, August 20 at 7:30pm to the delight of jazz aficionados who are fans of The Grateful Dead.

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the legendary rock 'n roll band, this group of stellar musicians takes some of the most iconic Dead songs and transforms them into jazz improvisations that amplify their genius. The performance promises Deadhead musical staples as well as inspired improvisation.

Current players include Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and original Grateful Dead pianist, Tom Constanten; six-time Grammy nominee from Dixie Dregs, Rod Morgenstein; Jefferson Starship alumnus and keyboardist, Chris Smith; virtuoso guitarist, Jeff Pevar; and internationally acclaimed bassist, Alphonso Johnson.

Tickets are $40-$55 and can be purchased at www.SOPACnow.org or by calling (973) 313-2787.

The roster of rock artists that members of this all-star band have played with reads like an encyclopedia of rock greats for the past half-century. Collectively their credits include playing with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Donald Fagen, Meatloaf, Ray Charles, Yoko Ono, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Joe Cocker, Bette Midler and many more. Credited for beckoning the start of the 'jam band' phenomenon in 1998, this group of musicians represents iconic band experiences spanning the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s which they use to put their own unique spin on The Grateful Dead's renowned repertoire of neo-hippie hits. Jazz is Dead disbanded in 2006, but has come back together to continue and honor the musical genius of The Grateful Dead.


Tom Constanten wrote orchestral pieces as a teenager while growing up in Las Vegas, and studied astronomy and music at University of California, Berkeley, where he met future Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh in the summer of 1961. The two became roommates and enrolled in a graduate-level course taught by Italian modernist composer Luciano Berio at Mills College. After briefly rooming with Lesh in Las Vegas and returning to the San Francisco Bay Area, Constanten performed with an improvisational quintet formed by Steve Reich. The group's unusual style was influenced by both jazz and Stockhausen. In a 1964 performance, the ensemble played serialism-influenced compositions by both Constanten and Lesh.

Constanten enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1965 as a computer programmer. By 1967, he had been promoted to E-4 and was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas when he first collaborated with the Grateful Dead as a session musician on Anthem of the Sun (1968). After sitting in with the band during live performances as his schedule permitted TC made his stage debut with the Dead as their permanent keyboardist on November 23, 1968 at the Memorial Auditorium in Athens, Ohio. He remained with the group for three albums and left after the band's infamous New Orleans drug bust following a January 30, 1970 show at the Warehouse.

From 1986 to 1993, he was the house pianist for the radio program West Coast Weekend, playing solo piano and interstitial music. In 1994, he was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Grateful Dead. Constanten held a Creative Associate fellowship in composition at SUNY Buffalo's new music-oriented Center of the Creative and Performing Arts during the 1974-1975 academic year; in 1986, he was artist-in-residence at Harvard University. He has also taught at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Alphonso Johnson the internationally acclaimed bassist, has accumulated so many performing, recording, producing, and composing credits during his illustrious career, they read like a "Who's Who" of jazz and fusion. He studied bass at the Philadelphia Music Academy with John Lamb (bassist with the Duke Ellington Orchestra), and began his touring career began when only seventeen - by age twenty-one, he had toured the world with the Woody Herman Orchestra.

He then joined the Chuck Mangione Quartet and played on "The Land of Make Believe." Wayne Shorter heard Alphonso perform with Mangione and asked him to record "Mysterious Traveler" with Shorter's group Weather Report. Alphonso co-wrote two songs for the album and toured with the band in 1975 and 1976 when he took up the 'Chapman Stick' (a ten-stringed electric touch board). In 1979 he toured with the CBS All-Stars (Tom Scott, Billy Cobham, and Steve Kahn), recorded a live album in England with rock legend Rod Argent, and received a Grammy Nomination for 'Best R&B Instrumental' for the album "Street Life," recorded with The Crusaders. In 1984, Alphonso joined Santana, touring Europe with Bob Dylan, and appearing on "Real Live," recorded on that tour. Alphonso was also featured on Santana's "Beyond Appearances," for which he co-wrote two compositions. Some of his other touring, performing and recording credits include: FURTHUR (Grateful Dead's 2002 moniker), Bobby & the Midnights (with Grateful Dead's Bob Weir), George Duke, En Vogue, Wayne Shorter, Flora Purim, Quincy Jones, Lee Ritenour, Phil Collins, The Whispers, John McLaughlin, Jeffrey Osborne, and Sarah Vaughan.

Rod Morgenstein is best known for his work with the late 1980s rock band Winger and with the jazz fusion band Dixie Dregs. He also played with Fiona, Platypus, The Steve Morse Band, and Jelly Jam. He has done session work with Jordan Rudess including his ventures with the Rudess/Morgenstein Project. He has also been awarded Modern Drummer's "Best Progressive Rock Drummer" five years (1986-'90), "Best All-Around Drummer" (1999) and was inducted into the magazine's Honor Roll. Rod is known for his versatility of playing many styles of music.

Chris Smith joined Jefferson Starship in 1998, instantly winning the job of keyboardist, having toured with The Supremes and Lou Bega. Chris has gone on to place music in film and television including the #1 rated series "CSI." In 2000 he assumed the seeming impossible task of playing piano AND (synth) bass simultaneously ... a feat only duplicated by the legendary Ray Manzarek of The Doors. Chris has been keyboardist longer than any in the band's fabled history.

Jeff Pevar a virtuoso guitar (mandolin, steel) player in all styles has toured & recorded with so many legendary Artists, it is hard to comprehend. Some of the musicians Jeff has recorded and/or toured with include Crosby, Stills and Nash, Donald Fagen's Rock & Soul, James Taylor, Marc Cohn, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, Jimmy Webb, Rickie Lee Jones, Dr. John, Carly Simon, Kenny Loggins, Wilson Pickett, Phil Lesh and Friends, Meat Loaf, Phil Collins, Aztec Two-Step, Richie Havens, Odetta, Jonatha Brooke, Willy Deville, Joe Linus and Peter Gallway. Jeff co-wrote and co-produced 4 CDs with David Crosby and his son in a band called CPR.

Since 2006, SOPAC has been serving as a premier performing arts center in the region. SOPAC offers innovative artistic and cultural experiences for diverse audiences in an intimate, inviting environment. The premier arts center hosts a variety of live performances, community events and education programs for all ages. To further expand its offerings, SOPAC has a partnership with the Juilliard School of Music to present Juilliard @ SOPAC -- a series featuring upcoming musicians from the acclaimed conservatory. SOPAC is home for Seton Hall University Arts Council's performances, including Classical Concert Series, Jazz 'n the Hall performances and Seton Hall Theatre productions. SOPAC also presents performances by its theater company in residence, Midtown Direct Rep, and its dance company in residence, Lydia Johnson Dance. For more information, visit SOPACnow.org.

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