Credit: Courtesy

Coming up through the jazz and blues scene in his hometown of Detroit, Dave McMurray cut his teeth touring with blues legend Albert King in the late ’70s. In 1981, he was exploring the outer limits of jazz with Griot Galaxy when he got called into the studio for the first album by Was (Not Was). That gig led to a lot more studio sessions and a lifelong association with producer and Blue Note Records president Don Was. What kind of studio sessions? How about Gladys Knight, Geri Allen, Iggy Pop, and the Rolling Stones? 

It was through another more recent Don Was joint that McMurray became interested in arranging and playing the Grateful Dead songbook. He was part of a jam session Was put together for the Dead’s Bob Weir, an all-star affair featuring the likes of Terence Blanchard designed to explore the potential of the band’s catalogue as the basis for jazz improvisation. McMurray jumped in, learned the tunes, and was knocked out by the reception. “I couldn’t believe it,” he told me by phone last week. “The songs were odd, with good chords, really musical, and they were long, but the main thing was how they went over — the audience was hypnotized.” For his July 2021 release on the Blue Note label, Grateful Deadication, McMurray went to school on the endless vault of Grateful Dead live recordings, tracing the evolution of their music tune by tune. “They’d start out with a song, and the first live version would be six minutes,” McMurray said. “Six months or a year later, the same song would be 20 minutes long. I was hooked.”

Dave McMurray will play these thrilling, critically acclaimed Grateful Dead arrangements at Music Alley in Santa Barbara on Tuesday, October 26. Conveniently scheduled for after the Phish show at the Santa Barbara Bowl, it will be a scene. Visit for tickets.

This edition of ON Culture was originally emailed to subscribers on February 16, 2024. To receive Leslie Dinaberg’s arts newsletter in your inbox on Fridays, sign up at


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