I’ll be the first to admit that I was a bit skeptical when I read about this. We’ve heard jazz renditions of Grateful Dead tunes and other various interpretations over the years, but Lee Johnson‘s Symphony is no muzak rendition of these beloved songs. It is, in fact, something to truly marvel at.
According to Johnson’s web site:
“Lee Johnson has conducted and recorded with world class orchestras such as: The Russian National Orchestra, The London Symphony Orchestra, The Taliesin Orchestra, The London Session Orchestra, The American Rock Orchestra, The Cyberlin Philharmonia, among many others.
“He has composed six symphonies, numerous chamber works, four musicals, two operas, concerti, choral and vocal works, works for ballet theater, feature and experimental film, and hundreds of works for multimedia and interactive technologies.”
Great credits, but it still doesn’t mean the guy understands the music of the Dead, right? Maybe so, but it didn’t take long for this listener’s ears to realize that Mr. Johnson not only “gets” the Dead, but has expanded on them. Which is only appropriate as the Dead’s music was based in improvisation and experimentation.
“It was “China Doll” that opened the door for Lee Johnson, initiating his personal journey into the Dead, through an introduction by longtime fan and music producer, Mike Adams. Mike took the Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich loving composer and introduced him to American roots music, as exemplified, by the Grateful Dead. Each and every recording, score, and lyric that was experienced and studied helped to pass the genetic material of the Dead’s core essence into Lee’s creative compositional mind.”
If you like what you hear, the entire symphony can be purchased (download or CD) at:
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will be performing this work in its entirety under the direction of Mr. Johnson himself at Baltimore’s Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on August 1st (which would have been Jerry Garcia’s 66th Birthday).
“The essence of the Dead’s music was improvisation, and the root of that is an attitude that says transformation is at the center of all art. Dead Symphony takes different fragments of the Dead’s music and reweaves them into a sparkling tapestry that satisfies a whole ‘nother realm of possibility.”
–Dennis McNally, Grateful Dead Historian and Publicist