March 19, 1944 |
Long Branch, New Jersey, United States
|Origin||San Francisco, California, United States|
|Instruments||Piano, harpsichord, organ, other keyboard instruments|
|Associated acts||Grateful Dead, Jefferson Starship|
|This section is outdated. (August 2013)|
Known among friends and colleagues as T.C., Tom Constanten wrote orchestral pieces as a teenager while growing up in Las Vegas and studied astronomy and music at University of California, Berkeley, where he met future Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh in the summer of 1961. The two became roommates and enrolled in a graduate-level course taught by Italian modernist composer Luciano Berio at Mills College; both composers were also influenced by Gustav Mahler. Constanten studied piano with Mario Feninger. In 1962, he lived in Brussels and Paris, met Umberto Eco, and studied with Berio, Henri Pousseur, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez on a scholarship.
After briefly rooming with Lesh in Las Vegas and returning to the San Francisco Bay Area, Constanten performed with an improvisational quintet formed by Steve Reich. The group's unusual style was influenced by both jazz and Stockhausen. In a 1964 performance, the ensemble played serialism-influenced compositions by both Constanten and Lesh. Although he walked out from the performance, minimalist composer Terry Riley later allowed the ensemble to premiere In C. However, only Reich and one other member of group, saxophonist-composer Jon Gibson, appeared in the seminal performance.
Faced with the possibility of conscription amid the escalation of the Vietnam War, Constanten enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1965 as a computer programmer. Although the Air Force was deployed in southeast Asia, he was not given a security clearance after divulging his past communist sympathies and remained stationed domestically; while on leave, he used LSD and composed music on military IBM mainframe computers. By 1967, he had been promoted to E-4 and was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas when he first collaborated with the Grateful Dead as a session musician on Anthem of the Sun (1968); Constanten used several compensatory three-day passes to travel to Los Angeles to record with the band. After sitting in with the band during live performances as his schedule permitted, the day after an honorable discharge, TC made his stage debut with the Dead as their permanent keyboardist on November 23, 1968 at the Memorial Auditorium in Athens, Ohio. He remained with the group for three albums and left after the band's infamous New Orleans drug bust following a January 30, 1970 show at the Warehouse. "It was like a magic carpet ride that was there for me to step on," he says. "I would have been a fool not to." Although Constanten nominally replaced founding keyboardist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, the latter musician stayed on with the band as a frontman-percussionist; in light of their mutual abstinence from psychedelics, they became "as close as two heterosexual males could be", shared a house in Novato, California, and bunked together while touring.
While he had successfully contributed to their complex experimental music, his instrumental style was then grounded in classical technique and bore little consanguinity with the folk, blues, and country and western stylings that would largely anchor the band's oeuvre throughout the early 1970s. As well, there was some feeling that he did not fit in with the Dead ethos; for example, he was involved with Scientology throughout his tenure with the band and thus declined to become re-involved with LSD. According to band manager Rock Scully, "He was sooo different. You know, he was like a crew cut. He was like a marine in a prison camp full of Japanese. He was like our boss in a way. Nobody could go for the hard wire technology of his brain power. I was told I was too hard on him, too. But I had no beef."
From 1986 to 1993, he was the house pianist for the radio program West Coast Weekend, playing solo piano and interstitial music.
In 1994, he was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Grateful Dead. Constanten held a Creative Associate fellowship in composition at SUNY Buffalo's new music-oriented Center of the Creative and Performing Arts during the 1974–1975 academic year; in 1986, he was artist in residence at Harvard University. He has also taught at the San Francisco Art Institute.
In 2002, Tom Constanten stated in an interview:
I know of no path that is better marked than the study of music. Maybe I just think so because it's the path I'm on. There's the old question "How come there's never enough time to do it right, but there's always enough time to do it over." Well, here's an answer. Settle down. Do it right. However long it takes. That's the direct route to the fast lane!
Constanten currently resides in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has two children, Clarissa and Jeffrey.
- Anthem of the Sun (1968) – Grateful Dead
- Aoxomoxoa (1969) – Grateful Dead
- Live/Dead (1969) – Grateful Dead
- U (1970) – The Incredible String Band
- Zabriskie Point (1970) – various artists
- Tarot (1972) – Touchstone
- Duino Elegies (1988) – Robert Hunter
- Fresh Tracks in Real Time (1989) – Tom Constanten
- Alternate Versions (1989) – Henry Kaiser
- OutSides (1990) – Tom Constanten
- Heart's Desire (1990) – Henry Kaiser
- Sonatas by Beethoven, Schubert and Hadyn (1991) – Tom Constanten
- Hope You Like Our New Direction (1991) – Henry Kaiser
- A Victorian Christmas (1991) – Robin Petrie
- Nightfall of Diamonds (1992) – Tom Constanten
- Morning Dew (1993) – Tom Constanten
- A Victorian Noel (1993) – Robin Petrie
- Eternity Blue (1994) – Henry Kaiser
- Dead Ringers (1994) – Dead Ringers
- Embryonic Journey (1994) – Jorma Kaukonen and Tom Constanten
- Grayfolded (1994) – Grateful Dead
- The Siamese Stepbrothers (1995) – The Siamese Stepbrothers
- Live in Concert at the Piano (1996) – Tom Constanten
- Blues For Allah Project (1996) – Joe Gallant and Illuminati
- Sonic Roar Shock (1997) – Dose Hermanos
- Live at the Fillmore East 2-11-69 (1997) – Grateful Dead
- Fallout from the Phil Zone (1997) – Grateful Dead
- Live from California (1998) – Dose Hermanos
- Shadow of the Invisible Man (DVD, 1999) – Dose Hermanos
- Grateful Dreams (2000) – Tom Constanten
- Search for Intelligent Life (2000) – Dose Hermanos
- Dick's Picks Volume 16 (2000) – Grateful Dead
- 88 Keys to Tomorrow (2002) – Tom Constanten
- Dick's Picks Volume 26 (2002) – Grateful Dead
- Bright Shadows (2004) – Dose Hermanos
- Jan 29, 2004, Charlotte, NC (2004) – Dark Star Orchestra
- The Complete Fillmore West 1969 (2005) – Grateful Dead
- Fillmore West 1969 (2005) – Grateful Dead
- Shimmy Shack (2005) – Shimmy Shack
- For Rex: The Black Tie Dye Ball (2006) The Zen Tricksters w/ Donna Godchaux, Mickey Hart, Tom Constanten, David Nelson, Michael Falzarano, Rob Barraco
- Moved to Stanleyville (2006) – Tom Constanten and Ken Foust
- Deep Expressions, Longtime Known (2006) – Tom Constanten
- Gram Parsons Archives Vol.1: Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969 (2007) – The Flying Burrito Brothers
- Dave's Picks Volume 10 (2014) – Grateful Dead
|Grateful Dead portal|
- Prendrergast, p. 242
- Digital Interviews
- Strickland, Minimalism: Origins, p. 185–186.
- McNally, p. 352
- Jackson, p. 179
- "Rock N Roll Hall of Famer". Tom Constanten. Retrieved 2014-08-20.
- Constanten, Tom (1992). Between Rock and Hard Places: A Musical Autobiodyssey. Hulogosi. ISBN 0-938493-16-7.
- McNally, Dennis (2002). A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead. New York: Broadway Books. ISBN 0-7679-1186-5.
- Jackson, Blair (1999). Garcia: An American Life. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-029199-7.
- Prendrergast, Mark (2000). The Ambient Century: From Mahler to Trance – the Evolution of Sound in the Electronic Age. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 1-58234-134-6.
- "Tom Constanten interview". Digital Interviews. Rossgita Communication. October 2002. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
- Hughes, Andrew S. (July 25, 2009). "Constanten's 'Long, Strage Trip' Continues". South Bend Tribune. Retrieved August 16, 2009.
- Tom Constanten collection at the Internet Archive
- Tom Constanten at deaddisc.com
- Tom Constanten at AllMusic