Friday, August 05, 2005

Jamming to Jerry for a good cause


Musicians to celebrate benefit album's release
Friday, August 05, 2005
BY JAY LUSTIG Star-Ledger Staff

The late Jerry Garcia's legacy can't be summed up briefly. So it makes sense that "Jerry Jams, Jerry Cares," a new charity album put together by the Jersey Jams Fund -- and featuring new versions of songs performed by him and his band, the Grateful Dead -- is a sprawling three-CD set.

It's gently acoustic at times and fiercely electric at others, and includes both minimal ballads and epic jams.
National acts (David Grisman, the Dark Star Orchestra, the Zen Tricksters) and Jersey-based bands (Swampadelica, Juggling Suns, the Matt Angus Thing) contributed to the album, which will benefit music education in New Jersey. Marathon shows this weekend at the Mexicali Blues Cafe in Teaneck and the Stone Pony in Asbury Park will celebrate its release.

The Jersey Jams Fund was formed in response to 9/11. Its 2002 anthology CD, "Jersey Jams, Jersey Cares" -- featuring tracks by Robert Randolph, Bernie Worrell, Railroad Earth and others -- raised music-scholarship money for families affected by 9/11.

The "Jerry Jams" sequel does not have such a narrow focus.

"We've moved on from that, as hopefully the families have, too," says Jersey Jams Fund co-founder and "Jerry Jams, Jerry Cares" producer Bob Makin, 41, of Matawan. "We gave $22,000 to 37 kids, to get school band equipment and music lessons. Some of them responded very nicely and said it was very therapeutic to them. But if we were going to keep it going, it would have to help other kids in Jersey."

The Jersey Jams Fund has previously sponsored a series of benefit concerts paying tribute to Garcia, who died 10 years ago on Aug. 9, 1995. Makin, the entertainment editor of the Courier News in Bridgewater, says he got the idea in 2002, when traveling to a show by former Grateful Dead members at the Tweeter Center in Camden. At the time, the future of the Jersey Jams Fund was uncertain.

"I was stuck in a traffic jam on Mickle Boulevard in Camden, and to my right was the Camden County Jail and to my left was a little kid, about 8 years old. He looked like a kid on the mean streets of Camden who didn't really have all that much to look forward to."

"It was that little kid -- the juxtaposition with the prison right across the street from his house -- that inspired me to keep it going."

Makin initially wanted to put together a CD of live tracks from the concerts. But the recordings weren't strong enough. So, last year, he put the word out that he was looking for material.

"Folks had basically two months to submit a track," he says. "We went all the way to Phish. There was a glimmer of hope that Phish might be able to submit 'Terrapin Station,' but it didn't work out. But we ended up with three solid discs, and put it out as a triple CD."

Singer-songwriter Jerry Joseph, who will be performing at the Stone Pony show, says the quality of Garcia's songwriting makes his songs ripe for reinterpretation.

"One hundred or 150 years from now, people will still be listening to Grateful Dead songs. They'll be viewed as some of the best songs of the 20th century," says Joseph, giving a lot of the credit to Garcia's main lyricist, Robert Hunter.
"I thought he had this ability that no one, except maybe Robbie Robertson (of The Band) at his best, had to paint a real, full picture of the American landscape -- particularly the West Coast. He was just brilliant at that."
For more information about the Jersey Jams Fund, visit


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