Friday, February 24, 2006

Keith Jarrett (1945 - )

Some might say that it was George Gershwin who best merged jazz and classical music, but I believe Keith Jarrett did a much better job. As regular readers might know, Keith Jarrett was my longtime favorite jazz piano player until recently, when Brad Mehldau took the throne. (Scroll down for my earlier post on Brad Mehldau and pick up his album "Day is Done;" it's one you don't want to miss.) Keith Jarrett has and always will be known as a jazz pianist, but I think at heart he's more of a classical guy, really.

Jarrett always hated amplified instruments, leading him to quit his organ and electric piano position in Miles Davis' 1970 "Cellar Door Sessions" group. Starting in 1983 and continuing to this day, Jarrett plays with drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Gary Peacock; a trio well respected both for their interpretations of jazz standards and their free-jazz group improvisations. Where Keith Jarrett really shines, however, is in his solo piano work.

Jarrett would walk onstage, sit down on a piano, and begin to improvise. He believed that he played best when he had no preconceived plan of what to do; at one concert, after walking onstage and taking his seat, Jarrett reportedly sat with no idea what to play for minutes as his audience grew more and more restless. Finally, someone shouted "D sharp!" and with a "Thank you!" Jarrett began to play. Some might call his solo piano recordings jazz, but I am hesitant to do so, mostly because they follow a much more baroque structure and rarely "swing." Often, his work will achieve an Indian drone-like quality, somewhat like the best minimalist pieces. Essentially, what Jarrett has done is revived the tradition of improvisation in classical music that pretty much died with J.S. Bach.

The "Paris Concert" is possibly the best example of his baroque tendencies; the first piece, titled simply "October 17, 1988" - the date on which it was performed - is essentially a 40 minute baroque improvisation. The remaining two tracks are just as good but more modern sounding.

Paris Concert

The "Koln Concert" is probably Jarrett's most popular and well-known piano work. It's less classically structured than the Paris concert, but I still wouldn't call it "jazz," at least not in the traditional sense I understand the word today. It was the first Keith Jarrett record I ever heard (a real vinyl record, to boot), and largely responsible for my discovery of jazz music; if this was jazz, where could I get more? I had never heard anything like it and was so moved that I bought every Keith Jarrett album I could afford off

The Koln Concert

Try not to be put off by Jarrett's moaning, grunting and howling; some find it ruinous to the music but I find it kinda charming. If you're a fan of classical, minimalist, jazz, beautiful, or mesmerizing music, you'll want to check out Keith Jarrett.


At February 24, 2006, Anonymous eugene said...

If I had to choose between his works now - Sun Bear - live in japan, I think...

At February 24, 2006, Blogger Sam said...

Thanks for posting the Paris Concert. It really shows what a genius Jarrett was/is; it's not easy to improvise Bach-ian counterpoint as easily as he does.

At February 27, 2006, Anonymous fitz said...

I could listen to the Koln concert allday - and often do at work

At February 27, 2006, Blogger Papa Jazz said...

Great stuff there!


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