I’m rather dumbfounded to realize that Keith Jarrett hasn’t yet received a dedicated post here. He’s one of my all-time favorites, and his jazz and classical recordings occupy significant real estate in my collection (including the elusive Sun Bear Concerts box set, which was a nice find last year in Munich). I haven’t done one of these video posts in a while, and what better way to resurrect the series than with someone whose career enjoyed a resurrection of sorts around 2000 (after a bout with chronic fatigue syndrome).
I first knowingly heard Jarrett’s playing when an excerpt from The Köln Concert popped up on an internet radio station (AccuRadio?) while I was doing homework at my apartment in college. I was taken with the music and jotted down the album info. I later learned of Jarrett specifically (i.e., could identify the name and face) through his work with Miles Davis, then realizing it was the pianist I had heard online. Years later I first heard him as a leader on a friend’s copy of Bye Bye Blackbird, which prompted me to get my first Jarrett album, Up For It, in 2006. Up For It remains a perennial favorite thanks to the renditions of “Scrapple from the Apple” and “Autumn Leaves.” That quickly led me down the rabbit hole of his voluminous discography. I’ve been fortunate enough to see him four times – twice solo and twice with the trio – since 2007, all of them at Orchestra Hall in Chicago.
I’ll admit I can be a bit of a fanboy, but I’m also able to know when “Keith’s being Keith.” He’s notoriously prickly, even when being sentimental (e.g., his NEA acceptance speech). And, for the uninitiated, the vocalizing and gyrating are more than distracting. (After getting used to his “distractions,” I don’t hear most of the utterances unless I really listen for them.) That being said, his phrasing and musicality are second to none, and, like Miles, one’s better off to just focuses on the music instead of the man. As for his phrasing, he claims to be more influenced by horn players than pianists, hence his regular emphasizing monodic lines.
I could pontificate about Keith Jarrett all day, so I’ll reel it in. In short, Jarrett’s output has been dominated the last 30 years by two main avenues: solo improvised recitals and his Standards Trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, seen below. The trio, so named for their extensive exploration of The Great American Songbook (as well as collective improvisation, but next to no original compositions), formed in 1983 for a recording date at the suggestion of Manfred Eicher. They recorded three albums at the session, and the rest is history. Especially after three decades, the ensemble is arguably telepathic – always different and consistently great. If I may, their renditions of “A Sleepin’ Bee” and “Stella By Starlight” on 2009’s Yesterdays are perfect and my two favorites by the group.
Part of why Jarrett hasn’t yet had a video post is that it’s difficult to find non-copyrighted video of he or the trio online. However, here’s a video of the French broadcast from the 1986 Juan Les Pins Jazz Festival in Antibes, France (where Up For It was recorded in 2002). The whole performance is on YouTube in four parts, and I recommend it if you have the time and interest. It’s a nice hidden gem. The below video is the opening number (and my favorite standard), “Stella by Starlight.”