At 70, Keith Jarrett Is Learning How To Bottle Inspiration

Loading
Error

/

Download
Embed Code

Copy/paste the following code

Donate

Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett is celebrating his 70th birthday with two new releases: the classical exploration Barber/Bartók and the live compilation Creation. (Courtesy of the artist)
Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett is celebrating his 70th birthday with two new releases: the classical exploration Barber/Bartók and the live compilation Creation. (Courtesy of the artist)

Keith Jarrett hit a milestone this past week: The famed jazz pianist turned 70 years old, and he's decided to mark the occasion with two new releases. One offers his take on two important classical works; the other, Creation, documents how his creative process plays out in front of a host of live audiences.

For Jarrett, inspiration and execution occur almost simultaneously. He doesn't know what he's going to play when; he sits down to play a concert and simply allows the music to come to him. Creation is a collection of live recordings from throughout 2014, reshuffled into what could pass as one long improvised performance.

Jarrett spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about the challenge of arranging those disparate moments into something cohesive, and how the experience compares to one of his most famous performances ever. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read an edited version of their conversation below.

Rachel Martin: The first track on this album, "Part I," is from June 2014 at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. What was it about this piece that felt like a beginning?

Keith Jarrett: I felt that while I was playing it. And that helped me so much, because if you take nine tracks and you figure out what the permutations would be from one to nine, every possible order, that's really hard. But if you know what should come first, what it did is it set me up with how I felt after I played the last note. Did it end in a major key? What key was it? What was the feeling? What part of the keyboard was I playing on?

My principle up to now has been to not edit out anything, so almost everything that's come out has been a single concert with a single audience — and that started to freak me out, really. [This time] I had to become a producer. I had to sequence this thing, and I thought that was gonna take months. But the very first sequence I came up with is what you hear.

Your voice comes in at a couple different points on these recordings, almost involuntarily.

Oh, it's always involuntary.

Well, I'll tell you this: I've long wondered what happens to you in those moments. I remember listening to The Köln Concert, and when your voice comes in — I'd never heard anything like that. The first time I heard that I was in my early 20s, and I thought, "What has moved him?"

I'm trying to think of the right way to put this: It's potential limitlessness that I'm feeling at that moment. If you think about it, it's often in a space between phrases, [when I'm thinking,] "How did I get to this point where I feel so full?" And if you felt full of some sort of emotion you would have to make a sound. So that's actually what it is — with the trio, without the trio, solo. Luckily for me, I don't do it with classical music.

Have you ever felt compelled to?

I had to be taught by conductors, mostly.

They told you to knock it off?

No, I knew better already; I was trained classically. But one time, I missed my entrance in a very simple Mozart piece because I was listening to to the orchestra and they sounded so beautiful. And the conductor turned around and said, "Don't listen." That ruined me, man. That destroyed my interest in constantly staying in that world, because my main job is listening. If you're improvising and you're not listening, the next second that comes up, you have nothing to say.

Not only are you 70 this year, but it's the anniversary of an important performance: The Köln Concert happened 40 years ago. How do you think back on that particular event?

I think about the bad Italian food I had, and was served last, as I was supposed to start playing. I think of the fact that they rented the wrong piano, and then had gotten rid of the rented truck, so they couldn't get the right piano. Not only was it the wrong piano, it was the wrong brand of piano.

Keith, you are fixating on negative details!

No, I'm just saying, that's the first thing that comes up, because those were preparatory to the music.

As I walked on stage, I remember putting my fist up, with the engineers watching and my producer Manfred [Eicher]. We almost sent the engineers home — it might never have been recorded, because of everything being wrong. The piano sounded terrible. Manfred had to work on the sound like a crazy person afterwards.

So that music almost never existed, because of all those mishaps.

Exactly. And then it did exist, and I was in the car driving with Manfred and we had a little cassette in there. And we looked at each other and said, "Oh, man. This has to come out."

You knew it was good.

Yes.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Most people celebrate birthdays with cakes and streamers, maybe a glass of bubbly. Jazz musician Keith Jarrett marked his 70th birthday by releasing a double album collection. One is his take on two important classical works; the other is something he's never done before. Usually, Jarrett's albums are recordings of one concert in front of one audience - no editing, no score - because his music is a spontaneous creation. His most famous, "The Koln Concert" in Germany in 1975. But this time, Jarrett took one year of his recordings, 2014. And he picked out the most distinctive moments of that year and then started to arrange them into a new work of music.

KEITH JARRETT: And that started to freak me out really.

MARTIN: Why?

(LAUGHTER)

JARRETT: Because I had to become a producer. I had to sequence this thing, and I thought that was going to take months. But the very first sequence I came up with is what you hear.

MARTIN: So before we talk more about this, let's get a sense of it. Let's play the very first track off this album. This is "Part I." This happened in Toronto at Roy Thompson Hall, June 25, 2014.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEITH JARRETT SONG, "PART I")

MARTIN: What was it about this piece that felt like a beginning?

JARRETT: After the Toronto concert, after coming back, I already knew what I thought should come first because I remembered how I felt while I was playing that one piece. And I just - that helped me so much because if you take nine tracks and you figure out what the permutations would be, that's really hard.

MARTIN: Yeah.

JARRETT: But if you know what should come first, it set me up with how I felt after I played the last note. And then look at my program notes and saying to myself, well, this looks like it should work next.

MARTIN: Let's play a bit from "Part VI."

(SOUNDBITE OF KEITH JARRETT SONG, "PART VI")

MARTIN: We hear this peace building and building, and your voice comes in at a couple different points, almost involuntarily.

JARRETT: Oh, it's always involuntary, but, yeah.

MARTIN: Well, I'll tell you this. I have long wondered what happens to you in those moments as someone who's listened to your music. And I remember listening to "The Koln Concert," and when your voice comes in, I'd never heard anything like that, you know. The first time I heard that, I was in my early 20s, and I thought what has moved him?

JARRETT: I'm trying to think of the right way to put this. It's potential limitlessness that I'm feeling at that moment. Whether that is true or not is beside the point because I have to choose notes. But if you think about it, it's often in a space between phrases. And it's, how did I get to this point where I feel so full? And you - if you've felt full of some sort of emotion, you would have to make a sound. Luckily, I don't do it with classical music. I had to be taught.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Have you ever felt compelled to?

JARRETT: I had to be taught by conductors.

MARTIN: (Laughter) They told you to knock it off?

JARRETT: No, actually, I knew better already. I was trained classically. But one time, I was - I missed my entrance in a very simple Mozart piece. And it's because I was listening to the orchestra, and they sounded so beautiful. And the conductor turned around and said, don't listen. Now, that destroyed my interest in constantly staying in that world because my main job is listening. And if you're improvising and you're not listening, the next second that comes up, you have nothing to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEITH JARRETT SONG)

MARTIN: We are talking - not only have you turned 70 years old, but it is an anniversary of this important performance, "The Koln Concert," that happened 40 years ago. How do you think back on that particular performance?

JARRETT: I think about the bad Italian food I had. I think of the fact that they rented the wrong piano. That's the first thing that comes up because those were preparatory to the music.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And all of that affects what comes out. Yeah.

JARRETT: We almost sent the engineers home. It might never have been recorded.

MARTIN: You almost sent them home because of all those mishaps?

JARRETT: Because of everything being wrong.

MARTIN: So that music almost never existed.

JARRETT: Exactly. And then it did exist, and then I was in the car driving with my producer Manfred. And we had a little cassette in there, and we looked at each other and said, oh, man. This has to come out (laughter).

MARTIN: You knew it was good.

JARRETT: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEITH JARRETT SONG)

MARTIN: Keith Jarrett, it has been such a pleasure. His two new albums are "Creation" and "Samuel Barber/Bela Bartok." Thanks so much for talking with us.

JARRETT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.