Keith Jarrett

From Academic Kids

Keith Jarrett (born May 8, 1945 in Allentown, Pennsylvania) is considered one of the most important living jazz piano players. His career started as a keyboardist for Art Blakey, Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis. Since the early 1970s, he has enjoyed a great deal of success in both classical and jazz music, as a group leader and a solo performer.


Early years

Jarrett grew up in Allentown with significant exposure to music. In his teens, he learned jazz, quickly becoming proficient. He moved from Allentown to Boston, where he attended the Berklee School of Music and played cocktail piano. After about a year in Boston, Jarrett moved to New York City, where he played at the renowned Village Vanguard club. While 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 over the rest of Jarrett's career). The Lloyd quartet's 1966 album Forest Flower was one of the most successful jazz recordings of the late sixties. Jarrett also started to record as a leader at this time, in a trio with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian.

When the Charles Lloyd quartet came to an end, Jarrett was employed by Miles Davis, who had heard him in a New York City club. Davis invited Jarrett to join his group to play electric organ and (after Chick Corea left the group) electric piano, which he did for about a year, his respect for Davis and wish to work again with DeJohnette overcoming his distaste for amplified music and electric instruments. Jarrett can be heard on two of Davis's albums, At Fillmore and Live-Evil.

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 extra percussionists, and the members would play a variety of instruments, with Jarrett often being heard on soprano saxophone as well as piano. The quartet recorded for Atlantic Records, Columbia Records, Impulse! Records and ECM. Noteworthy 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), Expectations (1972, the only album recorded for Columbia), Fort Yawuh (1973, live), Backhand (1974), Death and the Flower (1974), Shades (1975), Mysteries (1975) and The Survivor's Suite (1976). 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.

A little later in the decade (but with some overlap), Jarrett also led the "European Quartet", consisting of saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson, and drummer Jon Christensen. Albums recorded by this group include Belonging (1974), Personal Mountains (1979, released a decade later), My Song (1978), and Nude Ants (1979, live). 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.

Solo concerts

In 1973, Jarrett began playing totally improvised solo concerts. Albums recorded at these concerts include Solo Concerts (Bremen/Lausanne) (1973), Kln Concert (1975, one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time), the Sun Bear Concerts (five complete Japanese concert recordings from 1976, originally released as a box of ten LP records), Concerts (Bregenz/Mnchen) (1981), Dark Intervals (1987, Tokyo), Paris Concert (1988), Vienna Concert (1991) and La Scala (1995). The Mnchen concert (more than an hour and a half long) has not been reissued on CD, apart from a ten minute section on the :rarum collection which was compiled by Jarrett himself.

Jarrett 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!", at which point the pianist said "Thank you!" and launched into an improvisation at speed.

Solo studio albums of keyboard improvisations include Facing You (1971, his first album for ECM), Staircase (1976), and Book of Ways (1986, clavichord).

In the late 1990s, Jarrett was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and was confined to his home for long periods of time. During this time, he recorded the album 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. Fortunately, by 2000 he had returned to touring, both solo and with the Standards Trio.

In May 2005, ECM released Radiance (recorded 2002), a recording of Jarrett's first solo piano concerts following his CFS diagnosis, which had threatened his performance career. In contrast to previous concerts (which were generally a pair of 30-40 minute continuous improvisations), the 2002 concerts consist of a linked series of shorter improvisations (as short as a minute and a half, none over a quarter of an hour).

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 were recorded at the same session). The success of this album and its ensuing tour, which came as traditional acoustic post-bop was enjoying its Wynton Marsalis upswing in the early 1980s, led to this new "Standards Trio" becoming perhaps the premier working group 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 of jazz repertory material, including Still Live (1988), The Cure (1991), Bye Bye Blackbird (1993, a tribute to the recently deceased Miles Davis), Whisper Not (2000), Up For It - Live at Juan Les Pins (2002), and the six CD box At the Blue Note (1994), which records six complete sets in the famous nightclub. The group has also produced recordings of challenging original material, most notably 1987's Changeless. The live recordings Inside Out and Always Let Me Go (both 2001) marked a renewed interest in wholly improvised free jazz. The Standards Trio undertakes frequent world tours of recital halls (the only venues in which Jarrett, a notorious stickler for acoustic sound, will play) and is one of the few truly lucrative "straight" (as opposed to smooth) jazz acts in the world.

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).

Classical music

In addition to his jazz career, Jarrett also recorded classical music for ECM's "New Series" over a ten year period:

Jarrett also recorded four of his own classical orchestral compositions on the album Bridge of Light (1993), and Arvo Prt's Tabula Rasa (1983, with violinist Gidon Kremer).

In 2004, Jarrett was awarded the Lonie 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 in 1959 was Igor Stravinsky.

Other works

Jarrett also plays harpsichord, clavichord, organ, saxophone and many other instruments, though his recordings since 1986's Book of Ways have been exclusively on the acoustic piano, and he has rarely played other instruments outside the context of his American quartet. Examples of his instrumental diversity can be heard in particular on:

  • 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 on saxophone.
  • Spirits (1986), a collection of "back to basics" home recordings on a variety of mainly wind instruments.

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

  • Foundations - 2CD 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.
  • Works - ECM compilation, covering the years 1972-1981.
  • :rarum - 2CD 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.

Jarrett has also composed for other musicians, most notably for Jan Garbarek on the album Luminessence.

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


One of Jarrett's trademarks is his frequent, highly audible vocalization (grunting, groaning, and tuneless singing), similar to that of Glenn Gould, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. Jarrett is also physically active while playing, practically dancing on the piano bench. These behaviors occur in his jazz and improvised solo performances, but are absent whenever he plays classical repertory.

Jarrett is notoriously intolerant of audience noise, especially during solo improvised performances, where he feels that extraneous noise affects his musical inspiration.

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 biography, authored by Ian Carr, is titled Keith Jarrett: The Man and His Music (ISBN 1084970653).

External links

de:Keith Jarrett es:Keith Jarrett fr:Keith Jarrett it:Keith Jarrett ja:キース・ジャレット


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