Through the years I’ve been fortunate to study a variety of instruments with a variety of teachers. Around the time I started junior high school I started piano lessons with a new piano teacher. Before our first lesson I went out and bought several of the teacher’s records. I was instantly inspired by his mastery of the piano. He was a brilliant player - and happened to be a former member of the Grateful Dead.
In 1968 Tom Constanten became the keyboardist for the Grateful Dead. Prior to his rock n’ roll career Tom studied piano in Paris and Brussels. During the Vietnam war he enlisted in the Air Force as a computer programmer. A day after his honorable discharge he made his first live appearance with the Grateful Dead. Tom went on to play with Jefferson Starship as well as tour the world as a solo pianist. In 1994 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Grateful Dead.
Sixth grade not only marked the beginning of junior high school, it was also when I became a Deadhead. I listened to every album I could get my hands on. I checked out books about The Dead from the library. I bought every live concert VHS tape I could find and watched it until I had it memorized. I’m sure the adults around me raised an eyebrow given the drug culture that went hand in hand with Grateful Dead lore. I was so young most of the drug references went above my head - and I could’ve cared less - I was there for the music!
My lessons with Tom quickly became my favorite part of the week. He encouraged me and pushed me to be a better player. Often times I would have a list of questions about his career or the Grateful Dead that I would bring with me. Amused, he would always answer. I remember once I asked him about Jerry Garcia’s role as lead guitarist (I pronounced “lead” like the chemical element Pb). Tom dryly responded, “Well it was very heavy.”
We’ve lost touch through the years but I remember my time with Tom fondly. Not only is he a brilliant player he is a kind and beautiful human. I miss our talks. One thing I’ve come to know is that nobody is self made. We are all molded and influenced by people and experiences along the way.
"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!"
- Tom Constanten