Keith Jarrett

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Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert
Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert
Background information
Born 8 May 1945
Origin United States flag Allentown, Pennsylvania, United States
Genre(s) Jazz
Instrument(s) Piano
Years active 1966-present

Keith Jarrett (born May 8, 1945 in Allentown, Pennsylvania) is an American pianist and composer. He is ethnically Hungarian although his grandmother was Puerto Rican.

His career started with Art Blakey, Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis. Since the early 1970s he has enjoyed a great deal of success in both classical music and jazz, as a group leader and a solo performer. His improvisation technique combines not only jazz, but also other forms of music, especially classical, gospel, blues, and various ethnic-folk musics.


[edit] Early years

Jarrett was born in Allentown on Victory in Europe Day (the day the Allies celebrated victory in Europe following World War II). He grew up with a significant exposure to music. In his teens, he learned jazz and quickly became proficient in it. His talent as a piano player was encouraged, and he became something of a child prodigy. At one point, he had an offer to study composition with the legendary Nadia Boulanger in Paris; this was amiably turned down by Jarrett and his mother. His younger brother, Chris Jarrett, is also a pianist and his other brother Scott Jarrett is a producer/songwriter. In his early teens, he developed a stronger interest in the contemporary jazz scene: he recalls a Dave Brubeck show as an early inspiration.

Following his graduation from high school, he moved from Allentown to Boston, Massachusetts, where he attended the Berklee School of Music and played cocktail piano. After about a year in Boston, Jarrett was kicked out of Berklee after being caught late one night playing on an expensive piano with vibes mallets. Jarrett then moved to New York City, where he played at the renowned Village Vanguard club.

In New York, Art Blakey hired him to play with his Jazz Messengers band, and he subsequently became a member of the Charles Lloyd Quartet (a group which included Jack DeJohnette, a frequent musical partner throughout Jarrett's career). The Lloyd quartet's 1966 album Forest Flower was one of the most successful jazz recordings of the late 1960s. Jarrett also started to record as a leader at this time, in a trio with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. Jarrett's first album as a leader, Life Between The Exit Signs (1967), appeared around this time on the Vortex label, to be followed by Restoration Ruin (1968), which is easily the most bizarre entry in the Jarrett catalog. Not only does Jarrett barely touch the piano, he plays all the other instruments on what is essentially a folk-rock album, and even does all the singing. Jarrett soon recorded another trio album with Haden and Motian followed later in 1968, this one recorded live for the Atlantic label and called Somewhere Before.

[edit] With Miles Davis

When the Charles Lloyd quartet came to an end, Jarrett was asked to join the Miles Davis group after Miles heard Jarrett in a New York City club. First, Jarrett played electronic organ and, after Chick Corea left the group, he also played the electric piano. Despite Jarrett's dislike of amplified music and electric instruments, he stayed on out of his respect for Davis and his wish to work again with DeJohnette. Jarrett can be heard on four of Davis's albums, At Fillmore, The Cellar Door Sessions (recorded December 16December 19, 1970 at a club in Washington, DC) and Live-Evil, which was largely composed of heavily-edited Cellar Door recordings. The extended sessions from these recordings can be heard on The Complete Cellar Door Sessions. He also plays electric organ on Get Up with It; the song he features on, "Honky Tonk", is an edit of a track available in full on The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions. Officially released Miles Davis recordings on which Jarrett appeared:

  • At Fillmore (double LP 1971, recorded June 1970, taken from four consecutive nights at the Fillmore East). Not to be confused with

Miles Davis Live at the Fillmore East, March 7, 1970 - It's about That Time -on which Jarrett does not appear (2 CD. Recorded in March 1970, released in 2003))

  • Live-Evil (1970)
  • Get Up With It (1974)
  • Directions (1980) a release of previously unavailable recordings.
  • The Columbia Years: 1955-1985 (1990) mainly a collection of previously issued recordings; includes some of the above cited Jack Johnson outtakes.
  • Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue (2004) a 1970 performance at the Isle of Wight festival, released on DVD in 2004.
  • The Cellar Door Sessions (2005)

Most of these also include Chick Corea on electric piano.

[edit] 1970s quartets

From 1971 to 1976, Jarrett added saxophonist Dewey Redman to the existing trio with Haden and Motian. The "American Quartet" was often supplemented by an extra percussionist, such as Danny Johnson, Guilherme Franco, or Airto Moreira, and occasionally by guitarist Sam Brown. The members would also play a variety of instruments, with Jarrett often being heard on soprano saxophone and percussion as well as piano, Redman on musette, a Chinese double-reed instrument, and Motian and Haden on a variety of percussion. Haden also produces a variety of unusual plucked and percussive sounds with his acoustic bass, even running it through a wah-wah pedal for one track ("Mortgage On My Soul," on the album Birth). The group recorded for Atlantic Records, Columbia Records, Impulse! Records and ECM.

The group's recordings include:

  • Birth, El Juicio and The Mourning of a Star (all 1971), recorded at the same sessions, though Redman does not appear on the latter; these albums were issued by Atlantic Records
  • Expectations (1972), Jarrett's only album for Columbia, an ambitious, wide-ranging session that included rock-influenced guitar by the late Sam Brown as well as string and brass arrangements, and for which his contract with Columbia was immediately terminated
  • Fort Yawuh (1973), recorded live at the Village Vanguard in New York City; his first album on Impulse! Records
  • Backhand (1974)
  • Treasure Island (1974)
  • Death and the Flower (1974)
  • Shades (1975)
  • Mysteries (1975)
  • Eyes of the Heart (1976), a live recording originally released as a three-sided LP by ECM, with the fourth side containing blank grooves.
  • The Survivor's Suite (1976)
  • Byablue (1976)
  • Bop-Be (1977)

The last two albums, both recorded for Impulse!, primarily feature the compositions of the other band members, as opposed to Jarrett's own which dominate the previous albums.

Jarrett's compositions and the strong musical identities of the group members gave this group a very distinctive sound. The group's music was an interesting and exciting amalgam of free jazz, straight-ahead post-bop, gospel music, and exotic Middle-Eastern-sounding improvisations.

In the mid and late 1970s Jarrett led a "European Quartet" concurrently with the above discussed "American Quartet", which was recorded by ECM. This combo consisted of saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson, and drummer Jon Christensen. Albums recorded by this group include Belonging (1974), Personal Mountains (1979, live in Tokyo, released a decade later), My Song (1978), and Nude Ants (1979, live at the Village Vanguard in New York). This ensemble played music in a similar style to that of the American Quartet, but with many of the avant-garde and "Americana" elements replaced by the European folk influences that characterized ECM artists of the time.

[edit] Solo piano

Jarrett's first album for ECM, called Facing You (1971) was a solo piano date recorded in the studio. He has continued to record solo piano albums in the studio intermittently throughout his career, including Staircase (1976), The Moth and the Flame (1981), and The Melody At Night, With You (1999). Book of Ways (1986) is a studio recording of clavichord solos.

The studio albums are modestly successful entries in the Jarrett catalog, but in 1973, Jarrett also began playing totally improvised solo concerts, and it is the voluminous recordings of these concerts that have made him one of the best-selling jazz artists in history. Albums recorded at these concerts include:

  • Solo Concerts (Bremen/Lausanne) (1973), originally released as a three-LP set
  • The Köln Concert (1975), one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time
  • Sun Bear Concerts (1976), five complete Japanese concert recordings, originally released as a ten-LP set
  • Concerts (Bregenz/München) (1981), originally released as a three-LP set, only the Bregenz concert is included on the single CD release. The München concert (more than an hour and a half long) has not yet been reissued on CD, apart from a ten minute section on the :rarum collection which was compiled by Jarrett himself. According to the ECM website however, a reissue is in the works.
  • Paris Concert (1988)
  • Vienna Concert (1991), which Jarrett has stated is his finest solo concert recording
  • La Scala (1995)

Jarrett has commented that his best performances were during the times where he had the least amount of preconception of what he was going to play at the next moment. A possibly apocryphal account of one such performance had Jarrett staring at the piano for several minutes without playing; as the audience grew increasingly uncomfortable, one member shouted to Jarrett, "D sharp!", to which the pianist responded, "Thank you!," and launched into an improvisation at speed.

Another of his solo concerts, Dark Intervals (1987, Tokyo), is not so much a freeform improvisation but more a set of recited compositions, making it a very separate entity to the concerts listed above. In addition to the different form, it lacks the jazzy verve associated with the above concerts, preferring to go down a gloomier, more moody path.

In the late 1990s, Jarrett was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and was confined to his home for long periods of time. It was during this period that he recorded The Melody at Night, With You, a solo piano record consisting of jazz standards presented with very little of the reinterpretation in which he usually engages. The album had originally been a Valentine's Day gift to his wife.

By 2000, he had returned to touring, both solo and with the Standards Trio. Two 2002 solo concerts in Japan, Jarrett's first solo piano concerts following his illness, were released on the 2005 CD Radiance (a complete concert in Osaka, and excerpts from one in Tokyo), and the 2006 DVD Tokyo Solo (the entire Tokyo performance). In contrast with previous concerts (which were generally a pair of 30-40 minute continuous improvisations), the 2002 concerts consist of a linked series of shorter improvisations (some as short as a minute and a half, a few of fifteen or twenty minutes).

In September 2005 at Carnegie Hall Jarrett performed his first solo concert in North America in more than ten years, released a year later as a double CD set (The Carnegie Hall Concert).

[edit] The Standards Trio

In 1983, Jarrett asked bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, with whom he had worked on Peacock's 1977 album Tales of Another, to record an album of jazz standards, simply entitled Standards, Volume 1. Standards, Volume 2 and Changes, both recorded at the same session, followed soon after. The success of these albums and the group's ensuing tour, which came as traditional acoustic post-bop was enjoying an upswing in the early 1980s, led to this new "Standards Trio" becoming one of the premier working groups in jazz, and certainly one of the most enduring, continuing to record and perform live over more than twenty years.

The trio has recorded numerous live and studio albums consisting primarily of jazz repertory material. They each list Ahmad Jamal as a major influence in their musical development for both his use of melodical and multi-tonal lines. They are:

  • Changes (January 1983; studio recording)
  • Standards, Vol. 1 (January 1983; studio recording)
  • Standards, Vol. 2 (January 1983; studio recording)
  • Standards Live (July 1985 ;live recording)
  • Still Live (July 1986 ;live recording)
  • Changeless' (October 1987; live recording), a record of free improvisation
  • Standards in Norway (October 1989; live recording)
  • Tribute (October 1989; live recording), which consists of songs played in tribute to various jazz figures associated with them
  • The Cure (April 1990; live recording)
  • Bye Bye Blackbird (October 1991; studio recording), a tribute to the recently deceased Miles Davis
  • At the Blue Note (June 1994; live recording), a six-disc boxed set that documents three nights (six sets) in the famous New York City nightclub
  • Tokyo '96 (March 1996; live recording)
  • Whisper Not — Live in Paris 1999 (July 1999; live recording)
  • Inside Out (July 2000; live recording), a record of free improvisation
  • Always Let Me Go (April 2001; live recording), a double album of free improvisation
  • The Out-of-Towners (July 2001; live recording)
  • Up for It - Live in Juan-les-Pins, July 2002 (July 2002; live recording)

The trio has also released videos of performances in Japan, which are available on DVD, including:

  • Standards (February 1985; live recording)
  • Standards II (October 1986; live recording)
  • Live at Open Theater East (July 1993; live recording)
  • Tokyo 1996 (March 1996; live recording), a video document of the same concert which was released on CD as Tokyo '96

The Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette trio has also produced recordings that consist largely of challenging original material, most notably 1987's Changeless. (These recordings are noted above.) Several of the standards albums contain an original track or two, some attributed to Jarrett but mostly group improvisations. The live recordings Inside Out and Always Let Me Go (both released in 2001) marked a renewed interest by the trio in wholly improvised free jazz. By this point in their history, the musical communication between these three men had become all but telepathic, and their group improvisations frequently take on a complexity that sounds almost composed. The Standards Trio undertakes frequent world tours of recital halls (the only venues in which Jarrett, a notorious stickler for acoustic sound, will play these days) and is one of the few truly lucrative jazz groups to play both "straight-ahead" (as opposed to smooth) and free jazz.

A related recording, At the Deer Head Inn (1992), is a live album of standards recorded with Paul Motian replacing DeJohnette, at the venue in Jarrett's hometown where he had his first employment as a jazz pianist. It was the first time Jarrett and Motian had played together since the demise of the American quartet sixteen years earlier, and also reunited the drummer and bassist who had backed Bill Evans on his album Trio 64 (1963).

[edit] Classical music

Since the early 1970s, Jarrett's success as a jazz musician has enabled him to maintain a parallel career as a classical composer and pianist, recording almost exclusively for ECM Records.

1973's In The Light album consists of short pieces for solo piano, strings, and various chamber ensembles, including a string quartet, a brass quintet, and a piece for cellos and trombones. This collection demonstrates a young composer's affinity for a variety of classical styles, with varying degrees of success.

Luminessence (1974) and Arbour Zena (1975) both combine composed pieces for strings with improvising jazz musicians, including Jan Garbarek and Charlie Haden. The strings here have a moody, contemplative feel that is characteristic of the "ECM sound" of the 1970s, and is also particularly well-suited to Garbarek's keening saxophone improvisations. From an academic standpoint, these compositions are dismissed by many classical music aficionados as lightweight, but Jarrett appeared to be working more towards a synthesis between composed and improvised music at this time, rather than the production of formal classical works. From this point on, however, his classical work would adhere to more conventional disciplines.

Ritual (1977) is a composed solo piano piece recorded by Dennis Russell Davies that is somewhat reminiscent of Jarrett's own solo piano recordings.

The Celestial Hawk (1980) is a piece for orchestra, percussion, and piano that Jarrett performed and recorded with the Syracuse Symphony under Christopher Keene. This piece is the largest and longest of Jarrett's efforts as a classical composer.

Bridge of Light (1993) is the last recording of classical compositions to appear under Jarrett's name. The album contains three pieces written for a soloist with orchestra, and one for violin and piano. The pieces date from 1984 and 1990.

In 1995 the record label Music Masters Jazz released a CD on which one track featured Jarrett perfoming the exquisite solo piano part in Lousadzak, a 17-minute piano concerto by the late American composer Alan Hovhaness. The conductor was Dennis Russell Davies. Most of Jarrett's classical recordings are of older repertoire, but Jarrett may have been introduced to this modern work by his one-time manager George Avakian, who was a friend of the composer.

In addition to his classical work as a composer, Jarrett has also performed and recorded classical music for ECM's New Series since the late 1980s, including the following:

In 2004, Jarrett was awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Award. The prestigious award usually associated with classical musicians and composers has only previously been given to one other jazz musician — Miles Davis. The first person to receive the award was Igor Stravinsky in 1959.

[edit] Other works

Jarrett also plays harpsichord, clavichord, organ, soprano saxophone, drums and many other instruments. He often played saxophone and various forms of percussion in the American quartet, though his recordings since the breakup of that group have rarely featured other instruments. In the last twenty years, the majority of his recordings have been on the acoustic piano only. He has spoken with some regret of his decision to give up playing the saxophone, in particular. Some of Jarrett's other albums, many of which contain examples of his instrumental diversity are:

  • Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett (1971), Burton receives top billing at this early date, but all of the compositions except one are Jarrett's. Jarrett plays some electric piano.
  • Ruta & Daitya (1972), an album of duets with Jack DeJohnette, both fresh from Miles Davis' band and demonstrating his influence. In addition to acoustic piano, Jarrett plays electric piano and organ, the only time he would ever do so on an ECM recording.
  • Hymns/Spheres (1977), improvisations recorded on a pipe organ at a Benedictine abbey in Germany
  • Invocations/The Moth and the Flame (1981), partially recorded on the same organ as Hymns/Spheres and also featuring Jarrett improvising on saxophone in the extraordinarily resonant abbey.
  • Spirits (1986), a collection of "back to basics" multitracked home recordings, performed mainly on a variety of wind instruments

There are several compilations and collections covering various aspects of Jarrett's career:

  • Foundations, a two-CD compilation of early work, from the Jazz Messengers and Charles Lloyd to the trio with Haden and Motian
  • The Impulse Years, 1973-1974, the albums Fort Yawuh, Treasure Island, Death and the Flower and Backhand, with outtakes
  • Mysteries: The Impulse Years, 1975-1976, the albums Shades, Mysteries, Byablue and Bop-Be, with outtakes
  • Silence (1977), a CD reissue of the Byablue and Bop-Be albums, with three tracks omitted to fit on a single CD
  • Works, an ECM compilation, covering the years 1972-1981.
  • :rarum, a two-CD ECM compilation, chosen by Jarrett himself, and intended to highlight aspects of his ECM catalogue (Spirits, Book of Ways, the organ improvisations) which he felt had been neglected, as well as the more well-known work with the European quartet, the standards trio, and solo.

After leaving Miles Davis, Jarrett did not often work as a sideman, but he did appear on a few other musician's albums, including the following:

  • Paul Motian: Conception Vessel (1972)
  • Airto: Free (1972)
  • Freddie Hubbard: Sky Dive (1972)
  • Kenny Wheeler: Gnu High (1975)
  • Charlie Haden: Closeness (1976)
  • Scott Jarrett: Without Rhyme or Reason

On April 15, 1978, Jarrett was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live.

[edit] Idiosyncrasies

One of Jarrett's trademarks is his frequent, highly audible vocalization (grunting, groaning, and tuneless singing), similar to that of Glenn Gould, Thelonious Monk, and Oscar Peterson. Some listeners find this to be extremely distracting. Jarrett is also physically active while playing, writhing, gyrating, and almost dancing on the piano bench. These behaviors occur in his jazz and improvised solo performances, but are for the most part absent whenever he plays classical repertory. Jarrett noted his vocalizations are based on involvement, not content.

Jarrett is notoriously intolerant of audience noise, including coughing and other involuntary sounds, especially during solo improvised performances. He feels that extraneous noise affects his musical inspiration. As a result, cough drops are routinely supplied to Jarrett's audiences in cold weather, and he has even been known to stop playing and lead the crowd in a "group cough." This intolerance was made clear during a concert on Oct 31, 2006, at the restored Salle Pleyel in Paris; after making an impassioned plea to the audience to stop coughing Jarrett walked out of the concert during the first half, refusing to return. A further solo concert three days later went undisturbed.

He is also extremely protective over the quality of recordings of his concerts. In 1992, a trio concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London was temporarily stopped as Jarrett thought he had identified someone in the audience with a recording device. It turned out to be a light on the mixing desk and the concert resumed after an apology.

Jarrett's liner notes for the 1973 album Solo Concerts: Bremen / Lausanne state: I am, and have been, carrying on an anti-electric-music crusade of which this is an exhibit for the prosecution. Electricity goes through all of us and is not to be relegated to wires. He has largely eschewed electric or electronic instruments since his time with Miles Davis.

Jarrett's public speeches and writings have been perceived as negative or obnoxious by some. This attitude and his vocalizations while playing are the reasons most commonly cited by his detractors for disliking him and dismissing his music.

Jarrett, for many years, has been a follower of the teachings of metaphysicist and mystic G. I. Gurdjieff. In 1980 he recorded for ECM an album of his compositions Sacred Hymns of G. I. Gurdjieff.

During a performance in Minneapolis in the 1970s Jarrett was asked by an audience member at a postconcert session if the pianist thought his playing was boring. Jarrett replied something like "If you are a giant with your fingertips resting on a tabletop, and an insignificant creature bumps into your fingertip, can you possibly pay any attention to it?"

[edit] Media

[edit] Biography

Carr, Ian. Keith Jarrett: The Man and His Music. 1992 ISBN 0586092196

[edit] External links

[edit] Listening