The Best of Jazz Piano: Keith Jarrett

Posted: April 20, 2013 in Jazz
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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For the past few weeks I’ve been listening to a lot of piano jazz.  I’m not sure why. But something catches my ear and between listening to a range of other genres (including new music for the blog) I keep finding my way back to jazz pianists.

The earliest recordings in my player were some great piano shouts and rags from James P. Johnson (a New Brunswick, NJ native!).  I moved on to some Fats Waller and then to the “jazz stylings”, as they say on the radio, of Erroll Garner and “Misty” (previously blogged about here).  For quite awhile I stayed with my favorite jazz pianist Thelonious Monk.  And after being sated on “Ruby, My Dear” and “Straight No Chaser” I moved on to the incomparable Keith Jarrett.

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Jarrett was born in Allentown, PA on 5/8/1945 and was something of a child prodigy.  Blessed with perfect pitch, Jarrett absorbed a lot of music and displayed prodigious talent as a child and through his teen years.  He received an offer to go to Paris to study classical piano with Nadia Boulanger and passed on in order to play jazz. He went on to the Berklee College of Music in Boston and eventually landed a seat in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and stayed until he moved on to the Charles Lloyd’s Quartet.  Lloyd was one of the biggest names in jazz in the ’60′s and KJ really honed his skills.  Lloyd’s 1966 release, Forest Flower, remains one of the most influential jazz recordings of the mid-60′s.  When the Lloyd band broke up in 1968 Jarrett moved on to join Miles Davis’ 1970 group and alternated keyboard duties with Chick Corea.  Jarrett didn’t care for the increased use of electronic amplification for jazz but stayed out of respect for Miles but also, more critically, because he liked playing with drummer Jack DeJohnette with whom he would later form a trio.

{Trivia Note:  Jarrett looks African-American but is not. He’s Caucasian.  I read a story that said that free jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman once went up to him backstage and said something like “You’ve just got to be black.” and Jarrett supposedly replied “I know, I know, I’m working on it.”

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As a solo artist, Jarrett has produced beautiful recordings that just transcend anyone else that currently plays in the genre. His 1975 solo release The Koln Concert is a joy to listen to and remains one of the best-selling piano recordings in history.  It is breathtaking. I’m partial to his solo release, The Melody at Night, With You (1999) but there is really so much to choose from in KJ’s canon of solo works you can’t go wrong.

{Side note: This post focuses exclusively on Jarrett’s jazz works.  He is also an accomplished and highly respected classical pianist.  I’ll cover that in a future post.}

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Back in 1980 Jarrett was involved in a legal dispute with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, the creative force behind Steely Dan.  The song “Gaucho“, from the album of the same name, had a remarkable resemblance to Keith’s “Long As You Know You’re Living Yours“, found on Jarrett’s 1974 release Belonging. When a magazine article pointed out the similarity, Becker acknowledged that he loved the composition and Fagen said they had been influenced by it. Jarrett filed suit, and Don & Walt were ordered to add Jarrett’s name to the credits and to pay him royalties.  I’ve provided both below – you be the judge!

My favorite Jarrett group arrangements are the trio and quartet.  Piano, bass, drums – plus a sax to make it a quartet.  These are the heart of my Jarrett collection and the pieces I listen to most often, I think it’s where he shines the brightest.  As expected, Jarrett has joined with some of jazz’s greatest players. Jack DeJohnette, Charlie Haden, Gary Peacock, Dewey Redman, and Paul Motian.  The groups are often described as “The American Trio / Quartet”, “The Standards… or “The European…”.  They’re all good.  8-)

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Keith flanked by Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock

One last point… As you’ll see in some of the videos, Jarrett has an idiosyncratic playing style. He approaches the piano in a very physical and interactive way. He is often prone to humming along with what he’s playing or uttering an array of grunts and groans.  He’s a stickler for the audience being quiet (and has been known to storm off stage when they’re not) and clearly is in such a deep place when he’s playing that he appears to transcend the fact that he’s sitting in a room with thousands of others.  This is purity, impressionistic art, and clearly spiritual.  It goes beyond gravity and shines no better than when he is improvising.

Enjoy…..

Videos

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Comments
  1. Very interesting, and I learned a lot.

  2. robin says:

    Funny, if he’s not black why does he have all African-American features and hair?? Passing

    • Tim Brosnan says:

      No idea Robin but from my perspective he could be purple and still be one of the greatest jazz pianists to ever sit down at the 88′s. Thanks for reading The Eclectic Ear.

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