The grand piano
sprinkles beauty in the air
Keith Jarrett’s fingers
I am happy and a little proud to report that I saw Keith Jarrett live with the Charles Lloyd Quartet in 1967, playing a small (but excellent acoustically) Stockholm venue.
At the time, to be honest, my musical sensitivities or tastes had not matured to a point where I truly appreciated him, or Charles Lloyd for that matter (another Jazz giant in my current view).
Fact is, I think it was a friend of mine (a stand-up bass playing jazz musician who worked in my local record store) who had told me that Charles Lloyd played in town, and suggested that I might like him—so I bought two tickets, brought my girlfriend, and attended.
Time, as it always does, passed, and I soon forgot all about Charles Lloyd and Keith Jarrett, until years later, living in England then, comparing musical tastes, a good friend of mine said that some of his favorite albums were Keith Jarrett’s solo improvisations.
“What do you mean?” I (ignorantly) asked.
“He sits down and improvises.”
Well, although I didn’t say so, I did not see the point of that.
To score points, though, I obviously told him that I had seen Jarrett live in Stockholm with Charles Lloyd, which impressed him duly.
Fast-forward a few more years, it must have been the mid-1990s by now, I’m living in Los Angeles, and I heard Keith Jarrett interviewed on NPR.
I do not remember what the question might have been, but Jarrett was telling the interviewer that as a young, aspiring pianist he heard someone (I believe he said Thelonious Monk) play on the radio, an experience that touched Jarrett deeply, he said. “I had never heard music like that. Music that good, that innovative, that alive.” (I’m paraphrasing a little).
“What was your reaction?” asked the interviewer.
“Well,” said Jarrett, “rather than feeling I’d never ever get that good, my true reaction was: Wow, that’s how good you can get!”
To me, that was a fabulous, a perfect reaction. So atypical among us humans. Though I still had not heard his solo-improvisations, from this answer alone I now admired, and decided to look into them, to listen for myself.
I did, and loved them—still do.
In another interview, this one on camera, the interviewer asked Jarrett about his playing with Miles Davis.
“Yes, for a while,” said Jarrett.
“But, if I understand correctly,” said the interviewer, “you dislike electronic keyboards, right?”
“I did, and still do.”
“Still, Davis wanted you to play a synthesizer, did he not?”
“Yes, he did.”
“And you did.”
“Yes, I did.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
“No, not really.”
“So, what did you get out of playing with Davis?”
“I got to see him happy,” answered Jarrett.
This was another beautiful and perfect answer.
I have since very much seen the point of solo improvisation and I believe I now own all of Jarrett’s amazing solo piano recordings (mostly, if not all on ECM).
These days, Jarrett is a musical hero of mine, alongside Beethoven, Bach, Charles Lloyd, Miles Davis, and, yes, the Beatles.
In another interview, the interviewer asked, “When you improvise, do you know ahead of time, as you play a note, or a set of notes, what note or notes you’re about to play?”
“No,” said Jarrett. “I find out what comes next as I play it.”
Again, an amazing answer, and an amazing glimpse into genius.
Listening to him improvise is to hear a spirit dancing on white and black, sprinkling the air with beauty.