Happy Birthday Mickey Hart: Improvising With Saxophonist Charles Lloyd

Watch an in-studio jam session recorded by the renowned musicians.

By Andy Kahn Sep 11, 2022 11:30 am PDT

Grateful Dead/Dead & Company drummer Mickey Hart was born on this date in 1943. The 79-year-old percussionist recently released a new Planet Drum album, In The Groove, which saw him once again collaborating with incredibly talented musicians.

Collaboration and innovation have been integral parts of Hart’s journey through rhythm. He is closely associated with fellow Grateful Dead/Dead & Co. drummer Bill Kreutzmann, forming a synergistic percussive relationship as The Rhythm Devils. In the 1970s, Hart’s ranch in Novato, California was a hub for musicians in the Bay Area, which fostered many collaborations, both formal and informal, while incorporating many new techniques and approaches to creating sound.

In 1973, Hart participated in an event promoted as “An Experiment In Quadraphonic Sound.” Hart was joined by Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, bassist Phil Lesh (who was running a live quad mix) and Dead associate, keyboardist Ned Lagin, for the concert at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, San Francisco, which incorporated Lagin’s “Seastones” into the exploratory and free-form performance.

Hart recently appeared on The JamBase Podcast and spoke about the 1973 concert. Regarding the exploratory event, Hart recalled:

“The first concert we did was in 1973 … [Garcia] got an Arp [Odyssey] electronic instrument, keyboard, and he plugged his guitar into it and that was the first time I had heard his guitar running through sophisticated synthesizers … [T]hat concert kind of was the beginning of “Space” – “Drums” and “Space” actually – it might have been the very beginning of it.”

The “Drums/Space” segments of Grateful Dead and Dead & Co. concerts are the hallmarks of the bands’ and Hart’s longstanding devotion to improvisation. Hart incorporated elements of In The Groove during this past summer’s Dead & Co. tour, bringing together the two projects under one singular, collaborative pulse.

In 2015, Hart welcomed acclaimed saxophonist Charles Lloyd to his current recording facility near the Bay Area. Lloyd, who was the first jazz musician to play Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium where the Dead frequently played, made his first of likely multiple appearances with the Dead (before Hart joined the band) at the Human Be-In in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in January 1967.

Some 48 years later, Hart invited Lloyd to join him for a jam that was recorded by the seminal jazz label, Blue Note Records. The concise footage features Lloyd improvising on saxophone, while Hart employs his various array of percussion instruments, including his well-known creation called The Beam. Lloyd, who appeared on Hart’s 2017 album, Relix:

“Memories flooded forth when I walked into the studio with Mickey – the late 60s were wide open, we shared dreams of a better world – barriers were coming down and there was a lot of cross-pollination taking place, FM radio was free form. When Bill Graham invited me to play at the Fillmore, we exposed jazz to a whole new set of ears. One day when I was on Tom Donahue’s FM radio show, he told me that the Grateful Dead were walking down the hall with my album Dream Weaver and raving about it. We met eventually at the Fillmore and began to hang out and jam together – Jerry and I shared some very sweet times. We had fun jamming … I loved ‘Uncle John’s Band.’ We also shared a double bill for a week at the Rock Garden. They always made sure that there was a good piano for us. Fast forward to 2015 – there was a wide open feeling of stepping into the unknown when Mickey and I were in the studio together.”

Watch Mickey Hart and Charles Lloyd’s improvisation below:

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