Keith Jarrett

[Mostly about music, rather than language.]

Yesterday on NPR, an interview with pianist Keith Jarrett, on the occasion of his 70th birthday (and the 40th anniversary of his most famous performance, in Köln). From the interview:

Keith Jarrett hit a milestone this past week: The famed jazz pianist turned 70 years old, and he’s decided to mark the occasion with two new releases. One offers his take on two important classical works [by Samuel Barber and Béla Bartók]; the other, Creation, documents how his creative process plays out in front of a host of live audiences.

For Jarrett, inspiration and execution occur almost simultaneously. He doesn’t know what he’s going to play when he sits down to play a concert and simply allows the music to come to him. Creation is a collection of live recordings from throughout 2014, reshuffled into what could pass as one long improvised performance.

Jarrett today:


From Wikipedia:

Keith Jarrett (born May 8, 1945 [in Allentown PA, which I mention because that’s where I was born]) is an American pianist and composer who performs both jazz and classical music.

Jarrett started his career with Art Blakey, moving on to play with Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis. … His improvisations draw from the traditions of jazz and other genres, especially Western classical music, gospel, blues, and ethnic folk music.

… 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 popularity of these voluminous concert recordings that made him one of the best-selling jazz artists in history. Albums released from these concerts were Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne (1973), to which Time Magazine gave its ‘Jazz Album of the Year’ award; The Köln Concert (1975), which became the best-selling piano recording in history; and Sun Bear Concerts (1976) – a 10-LP (and later 6-CD) box set.

Stunning performances. Also notable for their extramusical content:

One of Jarrett’s trademarks is his frequent, loud vocalizations (grunting, squealing, and tuneless singing), similar to that of Glenn Gould, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, Ralph Sutton, Willie “The Lion” Smith, Paul Asaro, and Cecil Taylor. 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.

Some listeners abhor his ecstatic moaning and grunting, but others just take it to be part of the show — though if you haven’t been warned, it can be quite startling the first time you experience it. Eventually, I came to feel that the Köln Concert just wouldn’t be right without the moaning.

Then there’s the question of his race:

Jarrett has acknowledged that audiences, and even fellow musicians, have at times been convinced he is African American, due to his appearance. He relates an incident when African American jazz musician Ornette Coleman approached him backstage, and said something like, “Man, you’ve got to be black. You just have to be black”, to which Jarrett replied, “I know. I know. I’m working on it.”

Several things here. Coleman might have been referring to Jarrett’s musicianship, his extraordinary immersion in a classically black art form. But then there’s his skin tone, which some would see as characteristic of a black person with a high proportion of white ancestry, a golden yellow sometimes referred to as “high yellow” or “high yaller / yeller” (though some find the term offensive); see the photo above.

Plus, there’s the ‘fro Jarrett sported for some years:


(Note the wonderful shirt.) Of course, back in those days, a fair number of clearly white guys had Afros.

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