I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. My mom is a musician and has taught locally for decades in Seattle and was, if not the first one, one of the first music therapists in the Northwest. And both her parents, my grandparents were musicians also, and educators so I grew up around lot of classical, blues and jazz music. My mom mostly played a lot of classical around the house all the time. But she listened to a lot of jazz and blues, so that’s kind of my early years. 

I started playing piano about age 4, did that for 6 years, and then switched to violin. I wanted to play guitar but my parents told me I had to try violin first. That is what my grandfather played. So I did that for three years and I kept flipping it around and playing it like a guitar anyways. And, eventually, they let me get a guitar and that is when I got really serious. I think I was in 8th grade so like 1991 or so, right around then. Yeah. 

The grunge scene was blowing up here and a lot of those guys were kind of from the neighborhood and I would see them around. So I was really inspired by a lot of those bands. And also my older brother around this time was turning me on to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and I got way into that. And also my friend’s brother gave me a Bob Marley CD, and that kind of changed part of my trajectory. I really loved that music. But that was what I was trying to play at that time, not very successfully, but I was learning. 

In 8th grade I started a band, Rimshock, with some friends in my school, and we did our first good gig at we had some class sleepover party thing, and we performed and it was it was all right. We did some Hendrix and some of the Seattle bands, you know, Pearl Jam, Sound Garden, Alice in Chains and some of that stuff, and some other random songs. We were terrible but it was a lot of fun, extremely fun so we kept doing it. That was my first. We didn’t last that long. We did that one show and that was it. 

But boy was it fun. It was the best. I remember the first electric jam with those guys as one of the greatest moments in my life, in my memory, it was just incredible. That kind of sealed the deal. I was like, yeah, this is what I want to do as long as I can. 

So then I got into high school and I got into the jazz band there, which was a pretty awesome band and that kind of started to turn my ear into listening to more jazz and eventually that kind of enveloped me and I got pretty deep into trying to learn how to play jazz music. That band was incredible. My heroes became Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane and then the great jazz guitarists—Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass. Those were the initial guys that I really got into. 

For college, I went to North Texas and studied jazz there. And it was amazing. You meet a bunch of amazing young musicians from all over the world and forge some lifelong friendships. 

In the meantime, I should probably mention, in 8th grade a friend passed me a Grateful Dead tape, and me and my I have two older brothers  so me and my middle brother kind of slowly got sucked into it, to that world, and by 1994 when I was a freshman in high school, we were fully trading tapes and collecting tapes and pretty into it. 

And that’s when the Grateful Dead actually came back to Seattle because they hadn’t been to Seattle for a number of years for some reason or another. And so, luckily, I got to catch them in ’94, ’95 in Seattle and that was pretty awesome to experience. I mean, pretty much all I did was play music. That is one of the good things about that weird, small, little town (North Texas State is in Denton)—there is not much to do except for play music. All the parties we would have, there would be instruments set up and great musicians jamming and it was pretty inspiring. 

I played in a couple different groups. I started studying West African music primarily Ghanaian and traditional music with Gideon Alorwoyie, who was a teacher there. And we would do a bunch of gigs, and I was doing that for a all the four years there and actually I went to Ghana for a summer to study the music over there with him. 

I started my first Grateful Dead tribute band in college, called The Ganj. I convinced a bunch of friends to learn all of this music, and we played a few parties and had fun. But my main band outside of college was called the Jake Project, and we had a weekly Friday night gig right across the street from campus at a dive bar that didn’t card anyone, it was quarter beers, it was pretty crazy. The name was kind of a joke. Our drummer’s name was Jake, and he didn’t like us using his name. So we kind of used his name in jest. 

I graduated in 2001 and moved to Brooklyn the summer before 9/11. So that was kind of an interesting welcome to the City. I had a band with a friend out there that I grew up with and that was kind of one of the reasons for moving out there. So I was in the jazz scene and meeting cats, and my friend Jumaane Smith who is a great trumpet player, introduced me to Rasheid Ali, a great drummer (who played with John Coltrane). And apparently he liked me, so I kept going over there and eventually got in his band.

And of course Coltrane was one of my favorites. There were a couple years where I think all I listened to was John Coltrane. You know, from when I would get up to I’d go to sleep to it. And so that was pretty intense for me. I remember the first time I was jamming with Rashied, in his studio, I remember looking down and seeing a handwritten chart by John Coltrane, and I was just blown away. 

The band I was in with my friend, we kind of I don’t know, stopped getting along quite as well. And I hadn’t been back in Seattle for years, and was kind of missing the home scene and wanted to be a part of it. So I went back home, and I have been stuck here ever since. And I love it. 

The first band I started when I moved back to Seattle was initially a trio called Iguales. Our bass player named it, and he is fluent in Spanish, and we thought it was a cool name so we went it. For lack of a better term, it was kind of world funk jam music. Initially it was guitar, bass, drums and shortly after we started it we added two more percussionists, so it ended up being very percussion heavy, improv heavy band. It was really fun. But that kind of fell apart and some of my buddies from North Texas, who had been doing their thing there, moved out to Seattle to join me, and we all had a big house together and started the band In Laae’ch (It’s from the book I was reading at the time, they said it was a Mayan greeting that means, I am another yourself.). It was a psychedelic rock band.

Then me and my brother had been scheming about this Jerry Garcia celebration since high school. We always wanted to do some event, and so we put or heads together and booked a gig and it was a success. It was on August 1, 2005 at the Nectar Lounge in Seattle. We made it a benefit for Hemp Fest, because I kind of grew up with some of those people who did that festival in Seattle. We’ve done it every August since. 

After a couple years, I switched out the drum and bass player for good friends that I had met that were really into the music, and it seemed like they were more into that, the Grateful Dead, so I figured they would be better for the job. Our keyboard player, Gary Palmer, has been with us throughout. I met him at North Texas, he’s from Indiana, and I dragged him out here, and we have been playing alot ever since. And we actually did our senior recital together at North Texas. So that was kind of cool. 

And then there came a certain point where we said this is too much fun we should do it more than once a year, so we started kind of expanding and doing more, we would do like Portland, Bellingham, Olympia, different towns around the Northwest. And then it got to the point where it was still too much fun and we want to play more. My buddy Tim Dooley was working at a local bar called the Blue Moon, which is one of the oldest bars in Seattle. And I was like, hey, can we get a weekly gig there? And somehow that worked and they gave us a weekly gig. And we have been doing that pretty much ever since, and as many weeks as we can in the year when we are in town, we play a free show at the Blue Moon every Monday. And it’s been really fun. 

We don’t try to recreate the music. I mean, we do the song and the forms and everything as correctly as we can. But we also try to just do our own take on it, and try to be in the moment as much as we can and take it wherever it leads us. And use more the spirit and the feeling that we get from the music to approach it, as opposed to trying to do it verbatim or something. Because a lot of people do that really well. And my band is pretty good improvisors, I think, and so we kind of we just kind of do our own spin on it, in our own strange way. 

I’m looking forward to Skull and Roses—I mean, being a Dead Head is basically a shared love and appreciation of American music, really, because that’s what they played—extremely American music. And it’s a beautiful thing we’re talking about, you know, they definitely borrowed concepts from jazz as far as you know having forms and improvising through the form or just taking improv out in its own direction, which I really feel attached to and love. And of course, you know, blues, bluegrass, country, rock and roll. It’s all part of our American experience. 

Photography by Dave Vann

See Andy Coe with the Andy Coe Band at Skull & Roses Festival