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19 Mar 1944

Biography Tom Constanten

Tom Constanten (born March 19, 1944 in Long Branch, New Jersey) is an American keyboardist, best known for playing with the Grateful Dead from 1968 to 1970.

Known among friends and colleagues as T.C., Tom Constanten studied music at University of California, Berkeley, where he met Phil Lesh. He and Lesh studied composition with Luciano Berio, the Italian modernist composer, and both were influenced by Mahler. Constanten also studied piano with Mario Feninger. In 1967, after graduation, Constanten went to Europe to study with Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez.

In 1964 in San Francisco, Constanten performed with an improvisational quintet formed by Steve Reich, who went on to become an important minimalist composer. The group's unusual style was influenced by both jazz and the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen. In a 1964 performance, the ensemble played compositions by both Constanten and Phil Lesh, at which minimalist composer Terry Riley walked out, but later he was willing to have this ensemble perform his well-received piece In C. However, only Reich and one other member of group, saxophonist-composer Jon Gibson, appeared in the piece's premier performance.

Constanten was adopted as the seventh member of the Grateful Dead during the recording of the band's second album, Anthem Of the Sun (Warner Brothers, 1968). The pianist was a child prodigy who wrote orchestral pieces as a teenager while growing up in Las Vegas. In the summer of 1961, TC met Dead bassist Phil Lesh at Berkeley, where each professed a love for classical music. The two became roommates and enrolled in a graduate-level course taught by Berio at Mills College in Oakland. Constanten joined the Air Force in 1965 and was a sergeant stationed in Denver who specialized in computers when the Dead enlisted him to record Anthem Of the Sun with them during his weekend leaves. When he was selected as Airman of the Month, Constanten used the three-day pass to record with the band. The day after an honorable discharge, TC made his stage debut with the Dead 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 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."

In 1994, he was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the group, Grateful Dead.

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