Keith Jarrett (born May 8, 1945, in Allentown, Pennsylvania) is an American pianist, composer, and jazz icon.
His career started with Art Blakey, Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis. Since the early 1970s he has enjoyed a great deal of success in both classical music and jazz, as a group leader and a solo performer. His improvisation technique combines not only jazz, but also other forms of music, especially Western classical music, gospel, blues, and ethnic folk music.
In 2008, he was inducted into the prestigious Downbeat Hall of Fame by the Downbeat Magazine 73rd Annual Jazz Readers’ Poll.
- 1 Early years
- 2 Miles Davis
- 3 1970s quartets
- 4 Solo piano
- 5 The Standards Trio
- 6 Classical music
- 7 Other works
- 8 Idiosyncrasies
- 9 Personal
Jarrett, who is of Hungarian ancestry, grew up in suburban Allentown, Pennsylvania, with a significant exposure to music. He displayed prodigious talents as a young child and possessed absolute pitch or perfect pitch. He played his first formal public concert to paying customers at the age of eight and it ended with two of his own compositions. He took intensive Western classical lessons, and particularly enjoyed playing compositions by Bartok. In his teens, as a student at Emmaus High School in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, he learned jazz and quickly became proficient in it.
At one point, he had an offer to study Western classical-music composition with the legendary Nadia Boulanger in Paris; this was amiably turned down by Jarrett and his mother. In his early teens, he developed a stronger interest in the contemporary jazz scene: he recalls a Dave Brubeck show as an early inspiration.
Following his graduation from Emmaus High School in 1963, Jarrett moved from Allentown to Boston, Massachusetts, where he attended the Berklee College of Music and played cocktail piano. Jarrett then moved to New York City, where he played at the renowned Village Vanguard club.
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 that included Jack DeJohnette, a frequent musical partner throughout Jarrett’s career). The Lloyd quartet’s 1966 album Forest Flower was one of the most successful jazz recordings of the late 1960s. Jarrett also started to record as a leader at this time, in a trio with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. Jarrett’s first album as a leader, Life Between The Exit Signs (1967), appeared around this time on the Vortex label, to be followed by Restoration Ruin (1968), which is easily the most bizarre entry in the Jarrett catalog. Not only does Jarrett barely touch the piano, he plays all the other instruments on what is essentially a folk-rock album, and even does all the singing. Another trio album with Haden and Motian followed later in 1968, this one recorded live for the Atlantic label and called Somewhere Before.
When the Charles Lloyd quartet came to an end, Jarrett was asked to join the Miles DavisChick Corea; after Corea left, he often played the two simultaneously. Despite Jarrett’s dislike of amplified music and electric instruments, he stayed on out of his respect for Davis and his wish to work again with DeJohnette. Jarrett can be heard on five of Davis’s albums, Miles Davis at Fillmore: Live at the Fillmore East, The Cellar Door Sessions group after Miles heard Jarrett in a New York City club. During his tenure with Davis, he played both Fender Contempo electronic organ and Fender Rhodes electric piano, alternating with December 16–December 19, 1970 at a club in Washington, DC) and Live-Evil, which was largely composed of heavily-edited Cellar Door recordings. The extended sessions from these recordings can be heard on The Complete Cellar Door Sessions. He also plays electric organ on Get Up with It; the song he features on, “Honky Tonk”, is an edit of a track available in full on The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions. In addition, part of a track called “Konda” (rec. on May 21, 1970) was released during Davis’ late-70′s retirement on an album called Directions (1976). The track features an extended Fender-Rhodes piano introduction by Jarrett and was released in full on 2003′s The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions.
Officially released Miles Davis recordings on which Jarrett appeared:
- At Fillmore (double LP issued in 1971, recorded June 1970, taken from four consecutive nights at the Fillmore East).
- Live-Evil (1970).
- Get Up With It (1974).
- Directions (1980) (a release of previously unavailable recordings).
- The Columbia Years: 1955-1985 (1990) (mainly a collection of previously issued recordings; includes some of the above cited Jack Johnson outtakes).
- Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue (2004) (a 1970 performance at the Isle of Wight festival, released on DVD in 2004).
- The Cellar Door Sessions (2005) (complete recordings of live sessions that produced the live segments of Live-Evil).
From 1971 to 1976, Jarrett added saxophonist Dewey Redman to the existing trio with Haden and Motian. The so-called American Quartet was often supplemented by an extra percussionist, such as Danny Johnson, Guilherme Franco, or Airto Moreira, and occasionally by guitarist Sam Brown. The members would also play a variety of instruments, with Jarrett often being heard on soprano saxophone and percussion as well as piano, Redman on musette, a Chinese double-reed instrument, and Motian and Haden on a variety of percussion. Haden also produces a variety of unusual plucked and percussive sounds with his acoustic bass, even running it through a wah-wah pedal for one track (“Mortgage On My Soul,” on the album Birth). The group recorded for Atlantic Records, Columbia Records, Impulse! Records, and ECM.
The group’s recordings include:
- Birth, El Juicio (The Judgement) and The Mourning of a Star (all 1971), recorded at the same sessions, though Redman does not appear on the latter; these albums were issued by Atlantic Records
- Expectations (1972), Jarrett’s only album for Columbia, an ambitious, wide-ranging session that included rock-influenced guitar by Sam Brown as well as string and brass arrangements, and for which his contract with Columbia was immediately terminated
- Fort Yawuh (1973), recorded live at the Village Vanguard in New York City; his first album on Impulse! Records
- Backhand (1974)
- Treasure Island (1974)
- Death and the Flower (1974)
- Shades (1975)
- Mysteries (1975)
- The Survivors’ Suite (1976)
- Eyes of the Heart (1976), a live recording originally released as a three-sided LP by ECM, with the fourth side containing blank grooves.
- Byablue (1976)
- Bop-Be (1977)
The last two albums, both recorded for Impulse!, primarily feature the compositions of the other band members, as opposed to Jarrett’s own which dominate the previous albums.
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.
In the mid and late 1970s Jarrett led a “European Quartet” concurrently with the above discussed American Quartet, which was recorded by ECM. This combo consisted of saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson, and drummer Jon Christensen.
Albums recorded by this group include the following:
- Belonging (1974)
- My Song (1978)
- Personal Mountains (1979, live in Tokyo, released a decade later)
- Nude Ants (1979, live at the Village Vanguard in New York)
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.
Following the release of the album Gaucho by the US jazz/rock band Steely Dan in 1980, Jarrett became involved in a legal wrangle over the title track. Arguably intended as a tribute to Jarrett, the song was credited only to Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, despite its undeniable resemblance to the Jarrett composition “Long As You Know You’re Living Yours,” from the Belonging album. Jarrett threatened legal action, and Becker and Fagen were then forced to add his name to the credits and to include him in future royalties.
Jarrett’s first album for ECM, called Facing You (1971) was a solo piano date recorded in the studio. He has continued to record solo piano albums in the studio intermittently throughout his career, including Staircase (1976), The Moth and the Flame (1981), and The Melody At Night, With You (1999). Book of Ways (1986) is a studio recording of clavichord solos.
The studio albums are modestly successful entries in the Jarrett catalog, but in 1973, Jarrett also began playing totally improvised solo concerts, and it is the voluminous recordings of these concerts that have made him one of the best-selling jazz artists in history. Albums recorded at these concerts include:
- Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne (1973). Recorded in Bremen and Lausanne these concerts were originally released as a three-LP set
- The Köln Concert (1975), one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time
- Sun Bear Concerts (1976), five complete Japanese concert recordings, originally released as a ten-LP set
- Concerts (Bregenz/München) (1981), originally released as a three-LP set, only the Bregenz concert is included on the single CD release. The München concert (more than an hour and a half long) has not yet been reissued on CD, apart from a ten minute section on the :rarum collection which was compiled by Jarrett himself. According to the ECM website however, a reissue is in the works.
- Dark Intervals (1988) recorded in Japan, it is the first of Jarrett’s live solo albums to feature shorter, more concise improvised pieces rather than the more familiar extended improvisations of his earlier solo albums.
- Paris Concert (1990) featuring a 38 minute improvisation, a composition (The Wind) and a blues.
- Vienna Concert (1991), which Jarrett has stated is his finest solo concert recording
- La Scala (1997), which was the first ever non classical concert in Milan’s La Scala Opera House
- Radiance (2005)
- The Carnegie Hall Concert (2006)
Jarrett has 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. An 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!” to which the pianist responded, “Thank you!” and launched into an improvisation at speed.
Jarrett’s 100th solo performance in Japan was captured on video at Suntory Hall Tokyo on April 14 1987 and released the same year. The release was titled Solo Tribute.
Another video recording titled Last Solo was released in 1987 from a live solo concert at Kan-i Hoken hall, Tokyo, Japan, recorded in January 25th, 1984.
Both Solo Tribute and Last Solo were reissued on Image Entertainment DVD in 2002.
Another of his solo concerts, Dark Intervals (1987, Tokyo), had less of a freeform improvisation feel to it because of the brevity of the pieces. Sounding more like a set of short compositions, these pieces are nonetheless entirely improvised. In addition to the shorter form, they lack the jazzy feel associated with the above concerts.
In the late 1990s, Jarrett was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and was confined to his home for long periods of time. It was during this period that he recorded 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. The album had originally been a Christmas Day gift to his second wife, Rose Anne.
By 2000, he had returned to touring, both solo and with the Standards Trio. Two 2002 solo concerts in Japan, Jarrett’s first solo piano concerts following his illness, were released on the 2005 CD Radiance (a complete concert in Osaka, and excerpts from one in Tokyo), and the 2006 DVD Tokyo Solo (the entire Tokyo performance). In contrast with previous concerts (which were generally a pair of 30-40 minute continuous improvisations), the 2002 concerts consist of a linked series of shorter improvisations (some as short as a minute and a half, a few of fifteen or twenty minutes).
In December 2008, he performed solo in the Royal Festival Hall, playing solo in London for the first time in seventeen years.
In January 2009, he again performed solo at Carnegie Hall in New York. The concert was recorded for possible future CD release.
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 titled Standards, Volume 1. Standards, Volume 2 and Changes, both recorded at the same session, followed soon after. The success of these albums and the group’s ensuing tour, which came as traditional acoustic post-bop was enjoying an upswing in the early 1980s, led to this new Standards Trio becoming one of the premier working groups 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 consisting primarily of jazz repertory material. They each list Ahmad Jamal as a major influence in their musical development for both his use of melodical and multi-tonal lines. They are as follows:
- Standards, Vol. 1 (January 1983; studio recording)
- Standards, Vol. 2 (January 1983; studio recording)
- Changes (January 1983; studio recording)
- Standards Live (July 1985; live recording)
- Still Live (July 1986; live recording)
- Changeless (October 1987; live recording), a record of free improvisation
- Standards in Norway (October 1989; live recording)
- Tribute (October 1989; live recording), which consists of songs played in tribute to various jazz figures associated with them
- The Cure (April 1990; live recording)
- Bye Bye Blackbird (October 1991; studio recording), a tribute to the recently deceased Miles Davis
- At the Deer Head Inn (1992; live recording), Paul Motian replaces DeJohnette
- At the Blue Note (June 1994; live recording), a six-disc boxed set that documents three nights (six sets) in the famous New York City nightclub
- Tokyo ’96 (March 1996; live recording)
- Whisper Not — Live in Paris 1999 (July 1999; live recording)
- Inside Out (July 2000; live recording), a record of free improvisation
- Always Let Me Go (April 2001; live recording), a double album of free improvisation
- The Out-of-Towners (July 2001; live recording)
- Up for It – Live in Juan-les-Pins, July 2002 (July 2002; live recording)
- My Foolish Heart – Live at Montreux (July 2001; a double album of a live recording, Montreux Jazz Festival 2001)
- Setting Standards – New York Sessions (2008; 3CD set of the first three albums by the trio: Standards1, Standards2, Changes from 1983)
- Yesterdays (2009)
The trio has also released videos of performances in Japan, which are available on DVD, including:
- Standards (February 1985; live recording)
- Standards II (October 1986; live recording)
- Live at Open Theater East (July 1993; live recording)
- Tokyo 1996 (March 1996; live recording), a video document of the same concert which was released on CD as Tokyo ’96
The Jarrett-Peacock-DeJohnette trio also produced recordings that consist largely of challenging original material, most notably 1987′s Changeless. (These recordings are noted above.) Several of the standards albums contain an original track or two, some attributed to Jarrett but mostly group improvisations. The live recordings Inside Out and Always Let Me Go (both released in 2001) marked a renewed interest by the trio in wholly improvised free jazz. By this point in their history, the musical communication among these three men had become nothing but telepathic, and their group improvisations frequently take on a complexity that sounds almost composed.
The Standards Trio undertakes frequent world tours of recital halls (the only venues in which Jarrett, a notorious stickler for acoustic sound, will play these days) and is one of the few truly lucrative jazz groups to play both straight-ahead (as opposed to smooth) and free jazz.
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).
Since the early 1970s, Jarrett’s success as a jazz musician has enabled him to maintain a parallel career as a classical composer and pianist, recording almost exclusively for ECM Records.
1973′s In The Light album consists of short pieces for solo piano, strings, and various chamber ensembles, including a string quartet, a brass quintet, and a piece for cellos and trombones. This collection demonstrates a young composer’s affinity for a variety of classical styles, with varying degrees of success.
Luminessence (1974) and Arbour Zena (1975) both combine composed pieces for strings with improvising jazz musicians, including Jan Garbarek and Charlie Haden. The strings here have a moody, contemplative feel that is characteristic of the “ECM sound” of the 1970s, and is also particularly well-suited to Garbarek’s keening saxophone improvisations.
From an academic standpoint, these compositions are dismissed by many classical music aficionados as lightweight, but Jarrett appeared to be working more towards a synthesis between composed and improvised music at this time, rather than the production of formal classical works. From this point on, however, his classical work would adhere to more conventional disciplines.
Ritual (1977) is a composed solo piano piece recorded by Dennis Russell Davies that is somewhat reminiscent of Jarrett’s own solo piano recordings.
The Celestial Hawk (1980) is a piece for orchestra, percussion, and piano that Jarrett performed and recorded with the Syracuse Symphony under Christopher Keene. This piece is the largest and longest of Jarrett’s efforts as a classical composer.
Bridge of Light (1993) is the last recording of classical compositions to appear under Jarrett’s name. The album contains three pieces written for a soloist with orchestra, and one for violin and piano. The pieces date from 1984 and 1990.
In 1988 New World Records released the CD Lou Harrison Piano Concerto & Suite for Violin, Piano and small orchestra, featuring Jarrett on piano with Naoto Otomo conducting the piano concerto with the New Japan Philharmonic. Robert Hughes conducted the Suite for Violin, Piano and Small Orchestra. 1992 also saw the release of Jarrett’s performance of Peggy Granville-Hicks Etruscan Concerto with Dennis Russell Davies conducting The Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra. This was released on Music Masters Classics with pieces by Lou Harrison and Terry Riley. In 1995 the record label Music Masters Jazz released a CD on which one track featured Jarrett performing the exquisite solo piano part in Lousadzak, a 17-minute piano concerto by American composer Alan Hovhaness. The conductor was Dennis Russell Davies.
Most of Jarrett’s classical recordings are of older repertoire, but Jarrett may have been introduced to this modern work by his one-time manager George Avakian, who was a friend of the composer.
In addition to his classical work as a composer, Jarrett has also performed and recorded classical music for ECM New Series since the mid-1980s, including the following:
- Arvo Pärt, Fratres on Tabula Rasa with Gidon Kremer (1984)
- Johann Sebastian Bach, Das wohltemperierte Klavier, Book 1 (1987)
- Johann Sebastian Bach, Goldberg Variations (1989)
- Johann Sebastian Bach, Das wohltemperierte Klavier, Book 2 (1990)
- Georg Friedrich Händel, Six Sonatas for Recorder and Harpsichord with Michala Petri (1990)
- Dmitri Shostakovich, 24 Preludes and Fugues (1991)
- Johann Sebastian Bach, 3 Sonaten für Viola da Gamba und Cembalo (1991)
- Johann Sebastian Bach, The French Suites (1991)
- Georg Friedrich Händel, Suites for Keyboard (1995)
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concertos, Masonic Funeral Music and Symphony in G Minor (1994)
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concertos and Adagio and Fugue (1996)
In 2004, Jarrett was awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize. 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 was Igor Stravinsky in 1959.
Jarrett also plays harpsichord, clavichord, organ, soprano saxophone, drums and many other instruments. He often played saxophone and various forms of percussion in the American quartet, though his recordings since the breakup of that group have rarely featured other instruments. In the last twenty years, the majority of his recordings have been on the acoustic piano only. He has spoken with some regret of his decision to give up playing the saxophone, in particular. Some of Jarrett’s other albums, many of which contain examples of his instrumental diversity include the following:
- Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett (1971), Burton receives top billing at this early date, but all of the compositions except one are Jarrett’s. Jarrett plays some electric piano.
- Ruta and Daitya (1972), an album of duets with Jack DeJohnette, both fresh from Miles Davis’ band and demonstrating his influence. In addition to acoustic piano, Jarrett plays electric piano and organ, the only time he would ever do so on an ECM recording.
- Hymns/Spheres (1976), improvisations recorded on an 18th century pipe organ of the Ottobeuren Abbey, 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 improvising on saxophone in the extraordinarily resonant abbey.
- Spirits (1986), a collection of “back to basics” multitracked home recordings, performed mainly on a variety of wind instruments
- Spheres (1986), Shortened, one-disc re-release of Hymns/Spheres.
There are several compilations and collections covering various aspects of Jarrett’s career:
- Foundations, a two-CD 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, ByablueBop-Be, with outtakes and
- Silence (1977), a CD reissue of the Byablue and Bop-Be albums, with three tracks omitted to fit on a single CD
- Works, an ECM compilation, covering the years 1972-1981.
- :rarum, a two-CD ECM compilation, chosen by Jarrett himself, and intended to highlight aspects of his ECM catalogue (Spirits, Book of Ways, the organ improvisations) that he felt had been neglected, as well as the more well-known work with the European quartet, the standards trio, and solo.
After leaving Miles Davis, Jarrett did not often work as a sideman, but he did appear on a few other musician’s albums, including the following:
- Paul Motian: Conception Vessel (1972)
- Airto: Free (1972)
- Freddie Hubbard: Sky Dive (1972)
- Kenny Wheeler: Gnu High (1975)
- Charlie Haden: Closeness (1976)
- Scott Jarrett: Without Rhyme or Reason
On April 15, 1978, Jarrett was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. His music also has been featured on many television shows, including The Sopranos on HBO.
One of Jarrett’s trademarks is his frequent, highly audible vocalization (grunting, groaning, and tuneless singing), similar to that of Glenn Gould, Thelonious Monk, Erroll Garner, and Oscar Peterson. Jarrett is also physically active while playing, writhing, gyrating, and almost dancing on the piano bench. These behaviors occur in his jazz and improvised solo performances, but are for the most part absent whenever he plays classical repertory. Jarrett has noted his vocalizations are based on involvement, not content, and are more of an interaction than a reaction.
Jarrett is notoriously intolerant of audience noise, including coughing and other involuntary sounds, especially during solo improvised performances. He feels that extraneous noise affects his musical inspiration. As a result, cough drops are routinely supplied to Jarrett’s audiences in cold weather, and he has even been known to stop playing and lead the crowd in a group cough.
This intolerance was made clear during a concert on October 31, 2006, at the restored Salle Pleyel in Paris. After making an impassioned plea to the audience to stop coughing, Jarrett walked out of the concert during the first half, refusing at first to continue, although he did subsequently return to the stage to finish the first half, and also the second. A further solo concert three days later went undisturbed, following an official announcement beforehand urging the audience to minimize extraneous noise. In 2008, during the first half of another Paris concert, Jarrett complained to the audience about the quality of the piano that he had been given, walking off between solos and remonstrating with staff at the venue. Following an extended interval, the piano was replaced.
In 2007, in concert in Perugia, angered by photographers, Jarrett implored the audience: “I do not speak Italian, so someone who speaks English can tell all these assholes with cameras to turn them fucking off right now. Right now! No more photographs, including that red light right there. If we see any more lights, I reserve the right (and I think the privilege is yours to hear us), but I reserve the right and Jack and Gary reserve the right to stop playing and leave the goddamn city!” This caused the organizers of Umbria Jazz Festival to declare that they will never invite him again.
Jarrett is also extremely protective over the quality of recordings of his concerts. In 1992, a trio concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London was temporarily stopped as he thought he had identified someone in the audience with a recording device. It turned out to be a light on the mixing desk and the concert resumed after an apology.
Jarrett has been known for many years to be strongly opposed to electronic instruments and equipment. His liner notes for the 1973 album Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne states: “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 has been known to write back disdainful letters to critics who have negatively reviewed his music.
For many years he has been a follower of the teachings of metaphysician and mystic G. I. Gurdjieff. In 1980 he recorded an album of Gurdjieff’s compositions, called Sacred Hymns, for ECM.
Jarrett currently lives in an 18th-century farmhouse in Oxford Township, New Jersey, in rural Warren County. He uses a converted barn on his property as a recording studio.
Jarrett’s younger brother, Chris Jarrett, is also a pianist and his other brother Scott Jarrett is a producer/songwriter. His son, Noah Jarrett, is a bassist and composer.
(adaptation from Wikipedia)