A World Without Keith Jarrett

A World Without Keith Jarrett

Written by Dan Schwartz

“I even have dreams where I am as messed up as I really am – I’ve found myself trying to play in my dreams, but it’s just like real life.” – Keith Jarrett

It’s hard for me to imagine a world without Keith Jarrett.

For those who don’t know what I’m writing about:


I don’t know about you, but for me, this is truly terrible news, of just about the worst sort. I take it very personally. This is as if the Hand of God reached into my life and removed one of my principal touchstones.

Keith Jarrett.

I’ve listened to Mr. Jarrett’s improvisational piano recordings (he calls them “spontaneous compositions” – or used to, at least) for nearly 50 years – from 1973’s Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne on. Add to this the fact that I had a stroke in 2013 that was a bit difficult to come back from, and I just find this hard to adjust to. I know we’re all aging – but Mr. Jarrett is a giant, like Glenn Gould. He should be immortal and perennially in good health.

For an example of what I love, listen to the ending of Lausanne – that gentle hammering of 16ths, so hypnotic and melodic. Or the thing that convinced me in the first place: the parts of Solo Concerts where he gets into a rolling, gospel-like feel.

I’ve seen him spontaneously composing maybe half a dozen times. The first time I saw him, in 1975 at the Newport Jazz Festival, he was with his famous mid-70s quartet of Dewey Redman, Paul Motian and Charlie Haden. The next time was solo in the gym (A GYM! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?) at the University of California San Diego. But the event I recall the best was the most recent. When my daughter Claire was 12 (going on 80, to hear her tell it), after a very long absence, Jarrett came to town – to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, home of the LA Phil. The moment my wife mentioned the ad she was saw in the paper, I leapt on the interwebs and bought two tickets – for Claire and me. At Disney, for an event like this, they sell tickets in the choir seats; that is, behind the main stage. I (very cleverly – a point of pride – can you tell?) got tickets where Claire could watch his hands: behind, above, and seen from the front of the stage, to his left.

I’ll always remember her response. At the end, he received 12 curtain calls and performed three encores. As the number of curtain calls increased, she looked as if the eyes were bugging out of her head, and fairly shouted at me, over the yelling of the audience: “Dad! Dad!” Nothing could contain the audience’s excitement – or our own. (He was even complementary of the crowd that evening.)

And now, like so much else in this season of the pandemic – that’s done. Over.

Yes: I take this one personally.


Postscript: a few favorite recordings.

Solo Concerts: Bremen/Lausanne (the first of his live solo recordings, 1973)
The Koln Concert (it is great, though overplayed, 1975)
The Sun Bear Concerts (a 10-LP, 6-CD set, recorded in 1976 in Japan)
Paris Concert (1988)
Paris / London (2009)


Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Olivier Bruchez, cropped to fit format.

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