By Timothy Dwenger
Nineteen years ago this month, Grateful Dead founder, guitarist, and vocalist Jerry Garcia, who begrudgingly held the position of father figure to millions of the band’s followers around the world, passed away at just 53 years of age. With his passing the Grateful Dead died too, but Garcia’s music has lived on not only in the hearts and minds of millions of fans, but on countless stages around the world as some of the best musicians from all walks of life pay their tribute to his indelible legacy.
One of those musicians is Warren Haynes. Haynes, no stranger to the jamband world, is known for his work with The Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, and for taking over lead guitar and some of Garcia’s vocal duties on post-Grateful Dead projects following Garcia’s death on August 9, 1995. Given his resume, it was fitting that he was tapped by the Garcia estate to be the first curator of a remarkable project that marries Garcia’s catalog of music to symphonic arrangements. It was an enormous undertaking but one that Haynes was more than willing to take on.
“I got a call from the folks that run the Garcia estate saying that they had an idea of doing Jerry’s music with a symphony and they wanted to know if I was interested in being the first of hopefully many guest artists to interpret some of these songs,” Haynes said, during a recent interview with The Marquee. “I was open to the idea from the very beginning. I love that catalogue and I’ve never done anything with a symphony and always wanted to.”
From there the estate basically stepped back and let Haynes take the reins on the project. “They basically allowed me to choose the material and then take my arrangement ideas and contact three different orchestral arrangers. We divided the duty among three arrangers so one person wouldn’t be bogged down with so many songs,” he said. “The biggest challenge was to figure out how to utilize improvisation along with the orchestration that the symphonies adhere to, and we came up with three ways of doing that. One is there are times when the symphony stops playing and the electric band improvises for an undetermined amount of time and then the symphony comes back in on cue. Another one is, I improvise to what the symphony is playing, which is orchestrated. So I’m responding to what I’m hearing them play but they’re playing orchestrations off of the charts. But the third aspect, and probably the most interesting, is that some of the arrangements were taken from live recordings of the Grateful Dead, and we orchestrated sections where the band was completely improvising. So, in the end, the parts that the symphony are playing were originally improvised parts.”
The last concept is fascinating because, in essence, Haynes and the symphony take unique moments that were frozen in time with a recording and bring them back to life in a new form. “We use Jerry and Bob’s guitar parts, the keyboard parts, Phil’s bass, and in one case, Branford Marsalis was sitting in with the band on the version of ‘Birdsong’ we used, so they’re utilizing his sax improv as well. A lot of the orchestration you’re hearing on that one is Branford in addition to the Dead. It’s such a beautiful concept because it makes for unique music. I don’t know of any other instances, but I’m sure there probably are some, where an orchestra plays what was originally improvised music.”
Some of that improvised music that has made its way into the symphonic arrangements was no doubt played on Garcia’s legendary, 1973 Doug Irwin designed “Wolf” guitar; the very same guitar that Haynes will be playing on stage this summer. “When I first heard that the guy that owns ‘Wolf’ was going to offer to let me play it, I thought ‘That’s awesome, I’ll figure out two or three songs that’ll be a good fit.’ Then I got to the first day of rehearsal and it played so easily and sounded so great that it kind of put me a little closer to Jerry’s sound. So I just said I’m gonna’ play it on every song. It’s the perfect instrument for that music and I’m very honored to be playing it again,” Haynes said.
Sadly, reinterpreting this music through the guitar that Garcia played so effortlessly for all those years is as close as Haynes will ever get to the legend as the two never met before Jerry passed in 1995 and he admitted that it’s one of his life’s big regrets. “I had several opportunities when I went to see him play, and one stands out specifically,” said Haynes. “Bruce Hornsby had invited my wife and I to come up and watch a show sitting behind his piano at Madison Square Garden one night in the city. So we did. It was an amazing bird’s eye view, so to speak, and after the show we talked about going back and introducing ourselves but there were a lot of people around and I felt like ‘I’ll just do it next time.’ Well, I learned a valuable lesson that there may not be a next time.”
| Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration featuring Warren Haynes with The Colorado Symphony | | Red Rocks Amphitheatre | August 3 |
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