Blog

Keith Jarrett

Blog
Keith Jarrett

11.06.2019

Text: Yetkin Nural
Illustration: Saydan Akşit

One of world’s exceptional jazz pianists, Keith Jarrett, is a jazz giant who was born with a wonderful gift. Jarrett started his piano lessons at the young age of three and gave his first recital at seven. For the piano, which he uses as if it was an organic extension, he says: “I grew up with the piano. I learned its language as I learned to speak.” Here is a look at the highlights of the maestro’s over 50 years long career, from his initial participations in other huge name’s orchestras during the 60’s to unforgettable improvised concert series.

Born in 1945 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Keith Jarrett’s family discovered his perfect pitch ability early on. Growing up in an already music-filled household, Jarrett started to study classical piano when he was just three years old. Towards his teenage years, he discovered jazz, which became his true passion. And instead of continuing his classical training, he decided to go to Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music in 1963. After just one year in the college, in 1964, Jarrett decided to move to the jazz capital, New York.

In New York, Jarrett was invited to play with Art Blakey’s The Jazz Messengers, a band turned into a platform to discover and display young jazz talents in the following years, which also marked the beginning of Jarrett’s lifetime friendship and music partnership with the drummer Jack DeJohnette. Discovered by Jack DeJohnette at one of The Jazz Messenger’s performance, Jarrett was recruited by the famous drummer for playing with The Charles Lloyd Quartet, which was recently formed. The quartet toured both America and Europe often, and became one of the most successful bands of the period, and during this process, making Jarrett and DeJohnette grow even closer both as friends and as fellow musicians.  

When The Charles Lloyd Quartet disbanded in 1968 due to various disputes among the members, Jarrett was about to be recruited by another jazz giant, Miles Davis. The legendary pianist participated some of the most influential recordings with Davis’ team at the time, which also included Chick Corea and Jack DeJohnette. Later on, Jarrett expressed how his understanding of music and improvisation was shaped by his years spent with the inspirational Miles Davis. Yet, there was a minor musical separation between the two musicians: While Davis was focusing on the electric instruments, Jarrett developed a distaste for the sound, even comparing playing the electric keyboard to eating plastic broccoli, and was longing for acoustic music. And as a matter of fact, 70’s was marked by Jarrett’s acoustic quartets.

The first of these bands was the “American Quartet”, which was active between 1971-1976. What was unique about this quartet was that Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian and Keith Jarrett switched instruments at times and it was possible to hear Jarrett playing the soprano sax or the percussions in the 13 albums the quartet released from prestigious labels such as Atlantic, Columbia, ECM and Impulse!.

Towards the mid 1970’s, while American Quartet was still active, Keith Jarrett also formed the European Quartet, which was signed by ECM. The members were saxophone player Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen. Similar in style to its American brother, European Quartet was distinguished by elements of European folk and western classical music (a general ECM trend at the time), instead of the avant-garde elements found in the American Quartet’s music.

Aside from all these prolific and impressive collaborations, what made Keith Jarrett a legend were his solo concerts and albums that were built on the musician’s unmatched improvisation skills. Jarrett was already releasing solo albums since the beginning of 70’s, but his solo and improvised concert records that started in 1973 are still among the masterpieces of jazz history. Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne (1973), which was named the album of the year by Time Magazine, and the top-selling piano album of all time, The Köln Concert (1975) are the first among those unforgettable series that comes to mind. While Jarrett continued his solo concerts and recordings over the decades, stating that his best performances are when he has no idea what he will play next, the revival of classical western music’s influence in his style happened during the 90’s. During the last decade of the 20th century, Jarrett released three concert recordings, Paris Concert (1990), Vienna Concert (1991), and La Scala (1995), where he reflected on classical composers like Bach and Shostakovich, who left a mark on his own musical journey.

Last and definitely not the least, is Jarrett’s Standards Trio with his longtime friend Jack DeJohnette and bass player Gary Peacock, which was formed in 1983. The trio played heavily improvised and expanded versions of jazz standards with an unmatched, almost telepathic harmony for over 30 years, leaving over twenty impressive albums as well as many concerts that took their place among the unforgettable performances of the jazz history.

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