Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009


(Being) Keith Jarrett: A giant forced to stop playing

By BILL ROYSTON // No one died. But the empty feeling is the same. Mourning and loss; memories and grief...

No one died. But the empty feeling is the same. Mourning and loss; memories and grief...

As when Saxophone Colossus developed severe respiratory problems in 2016 and had to put down his sax. Forever. At age 90, Sonny Rollins is still with us. A powerful presence, undeniable legacy, but new music has ceased. Forever.

Now, Keith Jarrett? Reports of two severe strokes over 18 months have semi-paralyzed his left side (and that marvelous left hand!), plus increasing chronic back pain over several decades, have forced the master to stop playing the piano. Forever. Much younger than Sonny, Keith Jarrett is still with us. A powerful presence, undeniable legacy, but new music now ceases with the release of his recent "Budapest Concert"... Forever.

Sonny Rollins and Keith Jarrett stand as the world's two greatest, living improvisers. Now they have both been silenced!

I've booked Sonny Rollins nearly a dozen times over the years in five separate markets. Each experience was memorable. Excellence is what drives him. I cherish the fact that I can call Sonny a friend.  We haven't spoken in almost ten years, but I inquire from time to time regarding his health. The answer is always the same: "He's strong." But I knew that.

I was never able to book Keith Jarrett... Many times tried, many reasons why not. Never met him, but I was fortunate to see him twice in performance--once with his Standards Trio of Jack DeJohnette and the recently departed Gary Peacock, and (only!) once on Solo Piano. The trio was memorable. The solo experience is a cultural earthquake peppered with cosmic overload. Like Sonny, uncompromising excellence is what drives Keith Jarrett.

Confession: I once listened to twenty continuous hours of Keith Jarrett solo piano. I haven't been the same since! It changed my life.

Imagine the man approaching his piano, somehow cleansed from life's daily drudge and devoid of any preconceptions of what he is about to do. 100% improvisation! In the hands of a rare master constantly/simultaneously mixing power, subtlety, grace, experimentation, beauty, explosiveness, classicism, meditative even with occasional wit, and torrents of new and original thinking. Artistic enlightenment, but the energy and intensity in the solo concerts is based on musical risk.

Years ago, Jarrett's fee structure was based on risk. Solo concerts could cost more than trio concerts. Up to three Sonny concerts. Higher risk!

His piano requirements are legendary. I'm convinced that his management knows of every individual, high quality concert piano in the world... "If we could make a gig, would you be able to secure such-and-such piano model # in so-and-so city?" He could also insist on having several other grand pianos backstage on standby. Just in case his preferred piano is not to his liking. If you buckle at this, remember you are hypothetically the one who made the inquiry about working with one of the world's greatest musicians.

Backstage musician and crew stories on Jarrett are also legendary and bountiful. Once at Philadelphia's Academy of Music and after the piano had been placed, Keith questioned whether the stage was level to a Philly Teamster crew member. "The stage has been here since before the Civil War. I don't think that you or your piano will fall off!" the Teamster replied. There are various reports on what followed...

At the 'Debacle of Umbria," an outdoor Italian festival, it was widely documented that Jarrett abruptly stopped a dramatic improvisation because the audience was not attentive enough and making too much noise. At an indoor venue, Jarrett supposedly requested that cough drops be distributed to the audience in advance.

There are also numerous musician stories about Keith Jarrett and God, but that's all part of that daily drudge. This is one of our most important cultural figures in music and thought. Although I'm sure there are more recordings in the vault, his discography is presently immense: over 100 albums released  (80 on ECM) as a leader; 22 solo albums; 24 Standards Trio releases with Peacock and DeJohnette (including the 6-disc recordings of the "Blue Note Concerts"); 7 releases with his early European Quartet featuring Jan Garbarek ("Belonging," "My Song," "Nude Ants"); 5 recordings with his early American Quartet with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian (" Survivor's Suite"); 11 classical recordings of Bach, Shostakovich, Brahms, etc.; 2 epic classical collaborations with Garbarek ("I Took Up The Runes" and "Luminescence"); 3 full orchestral compositions/performances ("Celestial Hawk," "Bridge of Light," "Ritual"); duos with Gary Burton, Haden, and DeJohnette; plus another 27 earlier, almost ancient, recordings as a side man with Charles Lloyd, Art Blakely & The Jazz Messengers, and Miles Davis (the only time Jarrett played electric piano).

In writing further about the music, I simply find that I want to keep using more adjectives. Enough of that bullshit... Serious listening is the only form of true appreciation, and as a service, I'm listing in order of personal preference Keith Jarrett's solo, recorded improvisations (both live concerts and studio):

Bremen & Lausanne Concerts (2 discs)
Koln Concert
Radiance (2 discs)
Paris Concert
Sun Bear Concerts (5 discs)
Rio (2 discs)
Staircase (studio) (2 discs)
Paris/London (Testament) (3 discs)
Hamburg (2 discs)
A Multitude of Angels (Live)
Venice Concert
The Melody of Night, With You: Tokyo Live (2 discs)
Budapest Concert (new) (2 discs)
Creation (studio)
La Scala
Bregenz Concerts
La Fenice (Teatro La Fenice) (2 discs)
Dark Intervals (studio)
Book of Ways (studio)
Gurdjieff: Sacred Hymns (studio)
Facing You (studio)
Hymns/Spheres (pipe organ) (studio) (2 discs)
At Carnegie Hall (2 discs)

Thank you, Keith! For being Keith Jarrett.




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Bill Royston

On 10/27 I got to seriously listen to the Budapest Concert, which will be released on 10/30. It is an excellent album,and I would with all respect definitely move it up several notches to around " Stair Case." on my preference list above.

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