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Keith Jarrett (Piano, Harpsichord)

Born: May 8, 1945 - Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA

Keith Jarrett is an American pianist and composer. 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 classical, gospel, blues, and various ethnic-folk musics.

Early years

Jarrett was born in in Allentown, Pennsylvania on Victory in Europe Day (the day the Allies celebrated victory in Europe following World War II). He grew up in Allentown with significant exposure to music. In his teens, he learned jazz, quickly becoming proficient. (His younger brother, Chris Jarrett, is also a pianist.)

Following his graduation from high school, he moved from Allentown to Boston, Massachusetts, where he attended the Berklee School of Music and played cocktail piano. After about a year in Boston, Jarrett moved to New York City, where he played at the renowned Village Vanguard club.

While 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 which 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. Jarrett soon recorded 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 Davis group after Miles heard Jarrett in a New York City club. First, Jarrett played electric organ and, after Chick Corea left the group, he also played the electric piano. 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 four of Davis's albums, At Fillmore, The Cellar Door Sessions - 1970 (recorded 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.

1970's quartets

From 1971 to 1976, Jarrett added saxophonist Dewey Redman to the existing trio with Haden and Motian. The "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 the following: Birth, El Juicio and The Mourning of a Star (all 1971), Expectations (1972), Fort Yawuh (1973), Backhand (1974), Treasure Island (1974), Death and the Flower (1974), Shades (1975), Mysteries (1975), Eyes of the Heart (1976), The Survivor's Suite (1976), Byablue and Bop-Be (both 1977).

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.

A little later in the decade (but with some overlap), Jarrett also led the "European Quartet", consisting of saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson, and drummer Jon Christensen. Albums recorded by this group include Belonging (1974), Personal Mountains (1979, released a decade later), My Song (1978), and 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.

Solo piano

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), The Köln Concert (1975, one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time), Sun Bear Concerts (1976), Concerts (Bregenz/München) (1981), The München concert, Paris Concert (1988), Vienna Concert (1991), La Scala (1995).

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. A possibly 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.

Another of his solo concerts, Dark Intervals (1987, Tokyo), is not so much a freeform improvisation but more a set of recited compositions, making it a very separate entity to the concerts listed above. In addition to the different form, it lacks the jazzy verve associated with the above concerts, preferring to go down a gloomier, more moody path.

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 gift to his wife.

By 2000, he had returned to touring, both solo and with the Standards Trio. In May 2005, ECM released Radiance (recorded 2002), a recording of Jarrett's first solo piano concerts following the CFS diagnosis which had threatened his performing career. 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 (as short as a minute and a half, none over a quarter of an hour). In September 2005 at Carnegie Hall, Jarrett performed his first solo concert in North America in more than ten years.

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 entitled Standards, Volume 1. Standards, Volume 2 and Changes, both recorded at the same session, followed soon after. The success of these 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 are: Changes (January 1983), Standards, Vol. 1 (January 1983), Standards, Vol. 2 (January 1983), Standards Live (July 1985), Still Live (July 1986), Changeless' (October 1987), Standards in Norway (October 1989), Tribute (October 1989; live recording), The Cure (April 1990), Bye Bye Blackbird (October 1991), At the Blue Note (June 1994), Tokyo '96 (March 1996), Whisper Not - Live in Paris 1999 (July 1999), Inside Out (July 2000), Always Let Me Go (April 2001), The Out-of-Towners (July 2001), Up for It - Live in Juan-les-Pins, July 2002 (July 2002). The trio has also released videos of performances in Japan, which are available on DVD, including: Standards (February 1985), Standards II (October 1986), Live at Open Theater East (July 1993), Tokyo 1996 (March 1996.

The Jarrett/Peacock/DeJohnette trio has 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 between these three men had become all 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).

Classical music

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. However, although the composition is substantially more mature than the earlier piano works on In The Light, Jarrett's own jazz-influenced touch on the piano is sorely missed here.

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 addition to his classical work as a composer, Jarrett has also performed and recorded classical music for ECM's New Series since the late 1980s, including the following: J.S. Bach: Das wohltemperierte Klavier, Book 1 (1987), J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations (1989), J.S. Bach: Das wohltemperierte Klavier, Book 2 (1990), George Frideric Handel: Six Sonatas for Recorder and Harpsichord (1990), Arvo Pärt: Tabula Rasa (1990), D. Dmitri Shostakovich: 24 Preludes and Fugues (1991), J.S. Bach: 3 Sonaten für Viola da Gamba und Cembalo (1991), J.S. Bach: The French Suites (1991), G.F. Händel: Suites for Keyboard (1995), W.A.Mozart: Piano Concertos, Masonic Funeral Music and Symphony in G Minor (1994), W.A.Mozart: Piano Concertos and Adagio and Fugue (1996).

In 2004, Jarrett was awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Award. 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.

More Photos

Source: Wikipedia Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (May 2006)

Keith Jarrett: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Discussions of Instrumental Recordings:
Goldberg Variations BWV 988 - played by K. Jarrett

Links to other Sites

Keith Jarrett (Unofficial Website)
Keith Jarrett (Wikipedia)
keithjarrett : Keith Jarrett - An archive and discussion of the man & his music
WNYC - Music - An Hour with Keith Jarrett

Keith Jarrett: Illustrated & reviewsd discography
Keith Jarrett The Rightness Of the Music:The Complete Discography
KEITH JARRETT: Interview (Culture Kioque)
allmusic: Keith Jarrett > Overview
Keith Jarrett (Encyclopædia Britannica)


Ian Carr: Keith Jarrett: The Man and His Music (ISBN 1084970653)

Biographies of Performers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Explanation | Acronyms | Missing Biographies | The Sad Corner


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