For Keith Jarrett’s 69th birthday, I’m posting a series of interviews I’ve conducted with him for various articles over the last 14 years. The 2000 interview was for a bn.com interview (it seems to be no longer on the Internet) on the occasion of the release of the trio release, Whisper Not. I coalesced this and a fall 2001 interview for a DownBeat piece generated by Jarrett’s earning “Best Acoustic Pianist” Award for 2001. The 2008 interview was generated by Jarrett’s election to the DownBeat Hall of Fame. I also previously interviewed Mr. Jarrett in 2002 for a long DB piece about the late Paul Motian (you can find it at the very bottom of that post). By the way, you’ll notice that the links to the DownBeat articles are contained with a DownBeat “micro-site” that contains DB’s Jarrett archive, beginning with a 1974 interview with the late Bob Palmer, and concluding with a 2013 interview with Ethan Iverson, whose 2009 interview with Jarrett can be found here. Happy hunting.
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Keith Jarrett (10-10-00):
TP: The first thing that occurs to me in looking at this CD in relation to the other “standards” CDs is the preponderance of tunes associated with Bebop and the vocabulary of Bebop. It’s an incredible selection of material. Can you talk about why you were focusing on this particular repertoire at this particular time when the record was done?
JARRETT: Well, it’s kind of a long story. I don’t know how long a story you want.
TP: I did read a clip on the Internet from an interview you gave an English paper in which you said that this was partly due to your illness, and you don’t have to exert as heavy a touch playing this music — it’s lighter, more dancing, a different quality of effort for you.
JARRETT: Yeah. The funny thing is, when I had that theory, I wasn’t prepared to run into the piano in Paris that is on this particular recording! [LAUGHS] It was the least… In general, German Steinways are bad for Bebop anyway, but this particular piano was like a Mack truck, very heavy and thick action. So I had to throw all that out the window for this concert. Luckily, it was the last of four concerts in Europe, and I just decided, “Well, I’ll just have to use whatever energy I’ve got, and if I make it through the concert, that’s good; if I don’t, at least it’s the last one.
TP: Were you playing this repertoire throughout those four engagements?
JARRETT: Yes. Actually, you might know that the trio doesn’t normally rehearse. I’ve said that many times. The very first time we actually rehearsed was while I was still sick, trying to determine whether I could actually handle playing with them, maybe just the dynamics, you know. I could play alone a little, but that’s not the same. Since I had such a long space where I wasn’t playing, it just naturally occurred to me that… Actually, if you think about what we recorded in sequence just before this release, you’ll notice that it was starting to happen anyway. I mean, we were starting to go in this direction a little more than we had before.
TP: You played “John’s Abbey.”
JARRETT: Yes, and even the way of playing. We’re in time more, we’re not playing around the time as much. So in one way it was natural, and in another way it had to do with getting back into concerts with a fresh outlook that also fit my energy level at the time. But then, of course, meeting pianos that I had to work like amazingly hard to get anything out of, that made it beside the point. Because I think that Bebop players that we’ve heard on record, or if we’re old enough in person… I think probably, without exception, the pianos those guys were playing had been pounded to death, and were probably all fairly light action and, if they were lucky, they were in tune. But I would guess that the pianos the bebop players used, since they were all club date pianos, had their stuffing knocked out of them before Bebop came along, and those guys might not have been able to play that way at all if they weren’t playing on rather used instruments.
TP: That’s fascinating. I’ve never heard it stated like that before, but it certainly does make sense.
JARRETT: I think it would have to follow also that the sound that we like in their playing has a lot to do with the pianos not being perfect. If you listen to the way the horn players play in any jazz really, but in Bebop because we’re talking about it, their intonation is dependent on their phrasing. A piano is a real structured thing, and it’s basically a percussion instrument, and when a piano is in perfect operating condition, let’s say ready for a Chopin recital, it doesn’t have much personality, because it’s so even. In a funny way, I’m not sure how Jazz would have come about if everything had been perfect from the beginning.
TP: So it’s a music whose strengths derive from imperfections or even mistakes.
JARRETT: I would just say that there’s a character that comes about… Well, if you think of human beings and you look at somebody’s face, if they don’t have any lines on their face, you’ll say that their face is sort of characterless. Well, those lines would be imperfections to a plastic surgeon. But to you, you’re getting some information about them. And I think Bebop, because of how fleet-footed it is, if a piano has a… Well, I released this “Deer Head Inn” recording you might be familiar with.
TP: With Paul Motian on drums instead of Jack DeJohnette.
JARRETT: Yes. Well, that piano was absolutely… I shouldn’t say absolutely terrible, because that wouldn’t be fair. I mean, it was a club piano. And I couldn’t have played it louder if… Some people have reviewed it as though I was playing sort of not at the highest dynamic possible. But I was. So the problem you encounter with, like, the instruments that are not perfect kind of create a character that is contagious sometimes, and in improvising, an improvisor kind of works with that.
TP: That said, is there a different aesthetic to performing jazz, to improvising within this vocabulary vis-a-vis dealing with the Classical vocabulary?
JARRETT: Oh yeah.
TP: How does the aesthetic diverge? You’re saying that a lot of the character of jazz comes out of the peculiarities of the situation, whether it’s the particular way in which a particular piano has been pounded…
JARRETT: Let me interrupt you for a minute. You’ve probably heard a lot of jazz. So if you think of some Wynton Kelly solos… If you were listening to them and you knew a lot about how pianos sound and what condition it might have been in, you’d probably realize that almost all the time, when things were really cooking, there was a particular quality of the piano that would never be able to be considered a good quality for anything but Jazz, I guess. That’s what I was trying to get at.
TP: How did that operate in these concert halls, then, when you have superb pianos articulating this music?
JARRETT: Well, this is my special problem and this is my special expertise, I guess. I’m coming from both places at the same time. I’m coming from… Maybe if we play a ballad, I need the piano to do things that only an optimally adjusted piano can do. But when we’re playing a bebop head, I wish the piano could change, like, radically. And I am probably one of the few players that can move between those two places on the same instrument. In other words, instead of one of those things not being effective, I’m finding a way more often than not to make the piano do what it actually doesn’t want to do, and sound appropriate for the situation. It’s almost impossible to talk about it. I wouldn’t even know how to talk about it to a pianist.
TP: I actually think I do understand in pretty much of a layman’s way what you said.
JARRETT: Let’s say you take a stiff thing, a fairly new, perfectly conditioned Steinway, the bushings are all new, therefore the keys are all evenly adjusted. But when the bushings are new, the keys are tight. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Except that isn’t really great when you want to play like a horn.
TP: You can’t get that vocal inflection.
JARRETT: That’s right. And if you listen to the new CD, if you knew how hard that piano made it for me… Some of these things for me are personal triumphs for me [LAUGHS], just from what I already knew about the instrument. I was forcing it to start to speak. Every now and then, I just would be able to get it to speak.
TP: I’d like to talk to you about the content. Is this material that you learned and knew and internalized during your early years of playing, during your apprenticeship years? Are these all tunes that are almost vernacular to you from your beginnings in music?
JARRETT: No, actually not at all. One of my sons is studying at NEC, and I think they are more vernacular to him. For me, I just started to think about going to…for varying reasons, to eliminate the long introductions that I’ve often played before standards, and for the other reasons we spoke about… Moving towards a bebop thing was also good because I wasn’t all that… I hadn’t played these tunes very much at all. So I knew the tunes from hearing them, but I hadn’t spent any time playing them.
TP: Ah, so there goes my theory.
TP: I was thinking that in your Boston days playing in the bar, you had done the various standards and bebop material.
JARRETT: No. Actually, I came along around the time when that wasn’t the thing to do any more. I mean, I don’t know what we were playing. I’m trying to remember. Most of the jam sessions I was involved in in the beginning, they didn’t even have pianos, so I was playing marimba a lot. [LAUGHS] But I don’t think we played bebop tunes.
TP: As a kid, did you listen to a lot of Bud Powell or George Shearing or Ahmad Jamal or Monk? Was that part of your listening diet when you were first discovering jazz? Because they were coming out at that time.
JARRETT: Of those players… I once did a blindfold test in Paris for the Paris jazz magazine when I was with Charles Lloyd, in the ’60s. And I wrote a list,, before I went in, of people that I was sure he was going to play for me, just to see if it was going to work out that way — just a little projection thing. One of the names was Bud Powell, but I had never really heard Bud. But I figured he was going to play them for me because, you know, it’s a legend. And as soon as he played whatever he played, after the first couple of bars I knew it had to be Bud Powell because it was too good to be anybody else. So I wasn’t steeped in these guys. The only one of the people you mentioned, the white album of Ahmad Jamal, the “Portrait” album was something that accidentally came into my hands when I was fairly young, and that remains to me one of the milestones of trio recording — just what the trio can do.
TP: Is that the one that has the famous version of “Poinciana” on it?
JARRETT: Yes. Well, maybe not. Maybe that’s on a different release. But it’s the same series.
TP: So Ahmad Jamal was an inspiration for you as a younger player.
JARRETT: Well, it wasn’t so much him as how he used the trio. I think if there are trios that have created potentials for what that combination can do,, I would say it was his trio, at least in modern jazz, and Bill Evans.
TP: Well, on “Poinciana,” Jack DeJohnette shows that he paid a lot of attention to Vernell Fournier when he was a young guy in Chicago.
JARRETT: Well, Jack and Gary and I were together in a van going to a Berkeley, California concert. This might have been ten years ago or something. We had already been playing together quite a long time. And we just were talking about everything, and the past and musicians, and we all ended up talking suddenly about Ahmad. I mentioned the White album, and they both looked at me, stunned, because all three of us had had the same momentous experience when we heard that particular album. I mean, we didn’t know each other until years and years later. But that album meant the same thing to all three of us when we first heard it.
TP: Well, it’s interesting, because you and Jack DeJohnette both had such significant experiences with Miles Davis, who was also inspired by Ahmad Jamal.
JARRETT: Well, Miles would say the same thing. I think Miles would say it was his use of space that he was influenced by, and I would have said more or less the same thing — that what they weren’t playing was very important, too. The grooves they got with almost no ornamentation was pretty amazing.
TP: So in dealing with tunes like “Hallucinations” or “Conception” or “Round Midnight” or “Groovin’ High” it’s a very fresh experience for you.
JARRETT: Yes, that’s true.
TP: One would assume that someone of your generation and period and what one might assume would be your orientation, would have the iconic versions of these tunes in your head. But indeed, the tabula rasa approach can actually work for you with this repertoire.
JARRETT: Yes, it can and it did. And actually, we’re out of that phase now, and I’m glad we documented it when we did. I mean, we do some of these things. But at this moment in time, the summer of ’99, that was the first tour we did since I got ill, and this was the fourth concert. So I wasn’t steeped in it at all. I was fresh about it.
TP: Can you talk a little generally about what the bebop period means to you, either musically or socially or aesthetically?
JARRETT: Okay. Well…let’s see…
TP: Not to give you too specific a question there.
JARRETT: Well, that makes it harder to answer.
TP: Well, take any one of those that you care to. I’m asking you the question because it seems pertinent to the content of this album.
JARRETT: Well, here’s one thing that no one has mentioned yet in print that I’ve seen, about any of my playing. Maybe they’re not going to mention it about this either. But I am much more influenced by horn players than by pianists. When I feel that I’ve been successful and with the trio in a jazz context, unless it’s maybe one of those long vamps where I am more like a string instrument, but a more primitive one… That happened occasionally on “Blue Note” or some of other releases. When we’re playing tunes, it occurred to me (I think it was really around the tour this recording comes from, and then it’s continued through to this last summer, where we did another tour) that I was basically hearing Charlie Parker when I tried to play. I mean it wasn’t like I was hearing what a piano would do. I was hearing what a horn would do. And the phrasing from that period has a character that I can’t quite figure out how to describe, but I would say that it’s both soft and hard. In other words, it seems to have all the elements of jazz. The Bebop era to me has the elements that all other periods of jazz have used, one way or another. And it just focuses on the line. I mean, if you listen to Ornette, there is… If you listen to anybody play jazz who is a good player, somewhere in there, Bebop has the qualities they’re using. Whereas if you go back to the very earliest playing that we know on recordings, you know, they hadn’t flatted the fifth much yet… There are just these little differences. But to me, Bebop is somehow center stage to what modern jazz has done even since then. I don’t think you can really include Albert Ayler in that necessarily [LAUGHS] or a few other guys. But you know, we’re using the same instruments, we’re using the same configurations.
TP: I think it’s certainly the case with your quartet with Dewey Redman and Charlie Haden and Motian; your point is very operative with that whole body of work.
TP: In forming your sensibility… I know you’ve been playing since you were unimaginably young. But did listening to records, did listening to styles, to tonal personalities have a big influence on how your sensibility developed when you were younger, or did it come more from the functional imperatives of performance, applying your fundamentals to any given situation?
JARRETT: I think you’re asking a bigger question than you intend to. I was doing a tour once with J.F. Jenny-Clark [bassist] and Aldo Romano [drummer] in the ’60s, sometime like, say, ’67…I can’t really be sure. Up to that time, I thought that what a jazz player is supposed to do is work on his voice and find out what he actually… Let’s see how to say this. Up to that time, I was working on who I was musically. If I’d played something that sounded like somebody else or something else, I think what I used to do would be to say, “No-no, that’s really not me.” Then next time I’d hope that I could find where I was in that particular piece. But one evening we were playing, and we took a break, and came back on stage, and when I came back on stage, I realized that what I thought was the last stage in a jazz player’s…what’s the word…in the things you work on… That to find your voice was probably way down the list. Because once you find your voice, then the imperative is to play, and not think about that. And so, I’m answering more than your question, but… Maybe I’m not even answering your question.
TP: Tell me if this is an accurate paraphrase. Are you saying that you decided to play, and whatever you played would be your voice?
JARRETT: I think I determined by the time we finished the first set, and by the time I had played that much of my life (which wasn’t that much, but luckily, I started early, as I said), that it was possible to drop that other shit, and just say, “Well, I’m who I am when I’m playing. I don’t have to be who I am and then make sure I am who I am by playing what I think I am.” So that freed me to do really whatever I heard. And it seems to me that if it’s… I don’t know whether it’s a forgotten thing, or whether it’s never been thought of. [LAUGHS] But I think it’s the way it works. If a player doesn’t do that, if they get stuck in their own voice, then where do they go from there?
TP: Is that a pitfall that you’ve observed?
JARRETT: Sure. You can, too, if you think about all the stylists we’ve had who started out being valuable contributors and then ended up being stylists.
TP: Or prisoners of their own cliches.
JARRETT: Yes. Nature doesn’t follow that rule. Nature doesn’t say, “I’ve got these materials; I’m only going to use them for one thing. Make sure it’s me.” Nature says, “I’m going to do as many things with this as I can, and let’s see how much there is.”
TP: Let me ask you about this trio. It’s one of the longest-standing entities in improvised music. Obviously, each one is a master of their instrument and incredibly resourceful and imaginative. But what is it about each of them, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, that makes them so suited to interact with you?
JARRETT: I don’t know! I guess if you interviewed each one of them, it would be interesting to get their take on this. Not just mine. You know the story about when we first recorded and…
TP: Not really. Would you care to tell it?
JARRETT: Well, I guess I did a recording with Gary and Jack of Gary’s music, which was previous to the “Standards” thing. Then I sort of forgot that happened somehow, and I was thinking I wanted to do… Probably Manfred and I were talking about “what about doing some kind of trio recording?” He might have suggested Gary. I don’t even remember who suggested who, or how it came about. But once it came together… Now, I played with Jack since ’65.
TP: I didn’t know it went back that far.
JARRETT: Oh yes, with Charles Lloyd. The first time I played with Charles Lloyd was in that band. Jack heard me with Blakey before I met him, and Jack recommended me to Charles Lloyd when Steve…I don’t know, they needed a pianist for some reason. I heard Gary play with Bill at the Jazz Workshop in Boston with Paul Motian. I was impressed with Gary, not to mention also the recording “Trio ’64.” And I don’t know, for some reason, I think we all… So you don’t know the dinner-before-the-first-recording story.
TP: No, I don’t. Would you prefer I look it up and not have to retell it?
JARRETT: Oh, no. I asked them to have dinner before we started recording, because I wanted to explain to them… You have to remember this was ’83, and it was not hip to play standard tunes in ’83. It was not at all the thing to do. Gary had been through the avant-garde quite soundly, and involved in a lot of different music. Jack was with Sun Ra, and had done a lot of other crazy things. And I had done a lot of things also. We were sitting at dinner, and I said, “Okay, this is what it’s about. We’ve all been bandleaders and we’ve all played our own music, and we’ve all played the music of the other bandleaders we work with. But when I say you know how freeing it is to be just playing, you guys know what I mean.” And of course, they knew what I meant. In other words, not to rehearse your own material, not to say “use brushes here, we’ll go into time here,” the whole kit and kaboodle of that stuff. I said, “Well, that’s why what I want to do is play standards.”
I think up until that moment Gary thought I was insane, and he couldn’t figure out why I’d want to do that. I was a young pianist and I was a composer. Why would I want to do that? Then we did it, and I think it started to sink in that this was such a special situation that we could actually… Every time we play it’s like a reunion, instead of a program-producing, rehearsing mode thing. And then I think over the years… There were times in the early years in the trio… First of all, I didn’t think we should play concerts at all. I thought, “Okay, this is the recording, and that’s it. Because I don’t want to go into big rooms; I don’t think the music will be happy there.” So we did a club date at the Vanguard, then I think we noticed how great the music was again. Then I decided we should do a tour of Japan because the halls in Japan are smaller and much better sounding than any other…well, certainly than our country! [LAUGHS] They are very similar to each other, and they are generally not bigger than about 1500 seats. Then that worked, and I guess everybody was hooked on this working. Every now and then, Gary or Jack would say, “You know, maybe we should play some new material.” And then we’d try some new material, and they’d have the experience of knowing what I was talking about again, at that first dinner, like, “Yeah, here we are working on material.” Well, playing jazz doesn’t depend on the material. So what we’re doing, I think, is much more the core of what jazz is. It’s not like we’re at a jam session, but we’re close.
TP: Is it like the famous Miles Davis quote that he was… I think you may have expressed this. That he was paying the people in the band to rehearse.
JARRETT: You mean every time we played.
JARRETT: I’m not sure if I said that…
TP: I don’t know if it was you or someone else who said it. But I noticed the comment somewhere or another a day or two ago. But it sounds very much like that same aesthetic or that same imperative.
JARRETT: Well, I think Miles would have wanted it to be… Yeah, he never wanted to impress material on the band. He wanted the band to find the material. It’s only different in the sense that… My thought was, “What if we used material that was so impressed on us already, whether it’s in our head or in our fingers, that we don’t have to worry about it.” Also, I knew that neither Jack nor Gary had played this stuff for a long time, and neither had I. So I had the feeling this would be such a short-lived…a good idea but short-lived. Well, it’s anything but short-lived. And it got to be a better idea the more we played, and every time we play we find out more about it.
Now, what happened on the last tour is, I talked to Gary and Jack about maybe not playing material of any kind at some of these concerts, just as a theory for the future. They said, “Yeah, right.” And I didn’t know what I was talking about either. We ended up in Montreux, Switzerland, in a hall that had funny sound; not that it was terrible, it was just kind of funny. The tunes didn’t sound right. No matter what we did, it just didn’t sound like the right thing for the room. So I thought this is the time; just pull the carpet out from under ourselves completely.
TP: That’s something you made a career out of doing as a solo pianist, but I guess not in a group setting.
JARRETT: Well, in a group it’s a bitch, because I mean, the group has to be like wired together. You know? [LAUGHS] There’s no format. We have to be superconductors for each other or something. And mistakes aren’t the same thing. I mean, there are no mistakes. Everything is etched there. You have to use whatever you play.
TP: It seems you did something like that on the “Bye Bye Blackbird” record, on that long piece called “For Miles.”
JARRETT: Yeah, sort of. But we stayed tonal, and we stayed within a sort of Miles vibe. At least that’s what we were trying to do.
TP: I haven’t heard this yet. Of course, maybe that will be part of your next document. But are you saying that you’re going back to the full range of all your experiences, that Gary can touch on the things he did with Albert Ayler and you can touch on your… Again, is it encompassing everything from very consonant melody to the most dissonant of timbre-making or something?
JARRETT: Yeah. It can be like chamber music for a minute, and then it can just find its way to some other zone, and it can be sounding like we’re playing the blues, but there’s no bar lines. So yeah. And that happened a couple of times. Then in the best tradition of keeping things alive, we didn’t try to do it again. If it happens again, it will happen again.
TP: This makes what you’re doing with the songbook and jazz standard material sound as though it’s very consonant with everything you’ve stood for over the years in your approach to music. It’s the sort of all-material-is-grist-for-the-mill type of principle, and you seem to embody it to the max.
JARRETT: Well, plus change is the eternal thing. I mean, the trio has a style in that we can’t play what we don’t hear, and we have limitations because we are human beings, and we only hear what we hear when we’re playing. So Gary has things his fingers end up playing, and I have things my fingers end up playing, and Jack has ways of playing that are his. But I think that’s where it ends. And that’s where it’s supposed to end. That was what the principle of the thing was. So whether with material that we’re ultra-familiar with or with no material at all, I did have to say to them, like, “You remember this; you did this; don’t be worried about it. [LAUGHS] We all did this before.” Because it was like a new thing all of a sudden. And to me, that’s what’s consonant about it in terms of what I’ve done up to now. It’s like a menu. If somebody said, “how do you know you want to order steak?”…you don’t have an answer for that, but you do know.
I think in music, for players one great difficulty is that they get locked into their own food sources. It’s like a biofeedback. If you’re stuck in a tape loop, you’re stuck in a tape loop. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small one or a big one. It’s the fact of being stuck that makes what you do ineffectual to the listener. Say somebody is a fan of somebody else. Well, you can go only so far with that. That fan can be stupid enough to accept the person they’re listening to doing the exact same thing the exact same way forever. But what we’re talking about is the creative act, and when you’re trying to let that… The creative act continues to demand different things of you as a player. It’s like the act asks you. You don’t say, “I think it would be very creative of me to do this.” [LAUGHS] That’s not how it works.
To get back to the question you asked about why these guys, I think the reason is that it’s been working this long. If you reverse how these questions are answered, it’s the future that proves the past. We’re still doing things that knock us out together, and therefore we’re together!
TP: Is practice and performance very different for you?
JARRETT: Yeah, practice is… I don’t practice improvising.
TP: You practice very specific tasks, as it were?
JARRETT: No, actually I should change that. I had to practice everything after I was sick. But I can’t practice much, because it usually gets in the way of my performing. It’s like it sets up patterns or my ears aren’t as open any more. When I was a hundred percent fine, health-wise, I wouldn’t listen to piano music at all before solo concerts for months, including my own sometimes. I would not have played the piano for months before playing Avery Fisher Hall or something. And in the trio, it’s good to just not develop patterns. I mean, the whole thing is to… I’ve often said the art of the improvisor is the art of forgetting. Our brains can probably forget better than our fingers.
TP: There are a lot of musicians, improvisors, who don’t listen back to their work. That’s what they tell you anyway.
JARRETT: Yes. I am not one of those people.
TP: You seem to listen voraciously to your output.
JARRETT: Yes. I listen more now than I did… When I got ill, I really had no choice but to listen to a lot of things I had done, because I wasn’t sure I’d ever do anything else again. I was sort of leery of a lot of my choices musically and the ways that I had played. So that’s another part of the answer to why we changed repertoire, to get out of the… It’s not just that we went to bebop. It’s also that we went away from something else. So I didn’t have the option of falling into things that I… I had enough time to erase those patterns, because I hadn’t played piano for a couple of years after I got sick.
TP: That was ’96 to ’98?
TP: So no piano for two years.
JARRETT: That’s right. I would say I touched the instrument. Actually, “The Melody At Night With You” was done during those two years. But I would never have been able to practice or anything like that.
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Keith Jarrett (9-20-01):
TP: When I spoke with you last year you spoke about moving into the area you’re addressing on Inside Out. First of all, have your performances during the last 8-9 months basically been a mixture of the free playing and the standards playing, or has it been a mixture? Is it dependent on the hall and the piano? How does it play out in live performance which way you go?
JARRETT: I hesitate to even guess the reasons sometimes, but it’s an improvisational call, just as everything else would be. In London, when we did that recording… Usually, when we do a soundcheck, we try not to… I mean, we don’t want to play the concert for the soundcheck. So we might choose some tune to just see how it feels, the way most people probably do soundchecks. Nothing seemed to feel right. There are some halls that, for whatever reason, whether they’re too dry or too lively or very… I wouldn’t be able to describe the reasons. But we then might say to ourselves…I mean, I say to myself this may be one of those times when we can’t trust our usual choices. That’s how it last began. When did I speak to you?
TP: On October 10th, to be precise.
JARRETT: That was after this tour.
TP: In this case, the article is going to be about you and the piano and what you’ve been doing in recent years. Because you won the Readers Poll as Best Pianist, so the people voted for you, and we’re talking about recent activity.
JARRETT: Well, for one thing, I’ve put all my marbles for the moment into the trio. So my pianistic… I’m not spreading myself… Although I never was really spreading myself thin, because I’d turn off one thing when I did the other thing. But I feel that there is much more possibility of focusing on what I do with the piano in this trio context. So that’s one of the things.
TP: A possibility of focusing on what you do with the piano in the trio context.
JARRETT: Right. In other words, if a player decides what he’s doing is the whole… I mean, this is where he has to put his universe. I’m doing more of that now than I was when I was doing many things within the year, like solo concerts or classical concerts, and then trio concerts too. In other words, I guess I want to get out of this one context, and that has led to the trio starting… Well, when we went into the Bebop era, and we hadn’t done that. I changed the way my left hand was behaving a lot of the time.
TP: You changed the way it was behaving.
JARRETT: Yes. In order to feel more appropriate for the different material.
TP: Did you make it more of a comping function and less of an orchestral function?
JARRETT: I think I was using… I mean, it’s just a guess because I don’t listen to my old stuff that much.
TP: Oh, you don’t.
JARRETT: Not often. It’s all old.
TP: I asked you this before: “You seem to listen voraciously to your output,” and you said, “Yes, I listen more now than I did.” When you got ill, you had no choice but to listen to a lot of things you’d done because you weren’t sure you’d ever get to do it again.
JARRETT: Yeah, that’s right. But since we talked, I probably haven’t listened at all. But when I started to try to play again with the trio, I think I must have told you that gave me an opportunity to rethink, for example, what my left hand’s function would be under certain circumstances. So in a bebop situation, when I want to feel more of the era that the bop tune might have come from, there are various things that pianists might have been tending to do back in that time. They might have been using more… Instead of Bill Evans impressionistic middle-of-the-keyboard sound in their left hand, they might have been down lower doing some 7ths or that kind of thing. So when I would be practicing to try to remember how to play again, since I hadn’t played for so long, I could get rid of a lot of habit patterns, and that was one that I was happy to broaden. I was broadening the palette of my left hand. When you’re improvising, you often are only thinking of the line, and with a pianist that would be the right hand — most of the time. I always thought like a horn player anyway, so I really don’t like thick textures in a rhythm section context. I don’t like solos that… I mean, I’m not Brubeckian in that sense. I don’t often feel that way when the trio is all playing together. But there are other ways of getting a linear thing going without thickening the sauce. I didn’t want to get in Gary’s way either, so I didn’t want to play obviously loud roots and things in my left hand. That’s just one of the things that changed.
But then after we started to get into the bebop thing, which felt fresh to us because we hadn’t been thinking about that material for so long, it started to become… Every now and then, at a hall, there was that experience of “Oh shit, there’s nothing really that we can do with this. I mean, we can give the audience the best we can do, but isn’t there something else we can try?” I guess none of us had thought about it. One day on an airplane I just said to Gary and Jack, “Sometime we might just scrap the material.” That’s how it started. It wasn’t quite successful the first time. It was a very cautious thing.
It’s funny, because now when I listen to Inside Out it seems like a prelude to what we’re doing now. It’s very weird. I was asked to write an article for the New York Times about free improvisation, and I did, and I just kind of decided I’m temporarily not wanting them to run this. I was writing it from the point of view of someone who already had gone much further than this recording! So I was writing about what we were doing instead of what we had done a year ago.
TP: Further in what sense?
JARRETT: Further into the head space of free playing. In other words, I would put it this way. The uniqueness of Inside Out is that it seems like a suite of pieces. But that leads to the feeling that there are structures, even though we didn’t have those structures ahead of time.
TP: It certainly does feel structured. It seems to me that it’s from the innate musicality of you all working together. I think the term you used was “as superconductors” for each other.
JARRETT: Yes, and because of how long we’ve worked together. If someone were to say, “Why are you still playing with the same two guys?” I could point to this kind of thing and say, “How would anybody do this with people they didn’t trust?” We’ve learned to trust each other in a very specific and 100% way. The difference between what we’re doing now and what we have occasionally done since this recording… One of the concerts will be released next probably, the tapes from Tokyo, is that it’s become less and less like a suite and more like… If it’s a suite of anything, it’s a suite of impromptu less structured things. So in a way it’s freer and in a way it’s not as easy to listen to.
TP: It’s one long piece, more or less?
JARRETT: Often, yes. Often that’s true.
TP: When I think of people who are pioneers in playing free, one things of you, because you did this in the ’60s. One thinks of Paul Bley, who was doing it — and Gary Peacock, for the matter. One thinks of Cecil Taylor, although he’d say he’s proceeding off of composed structures and these are meta-compositions in a certain way. One thinks of Sam Rivers, who did the tabula rasa concept with Dave Holland and others. One difference is that, at least on this record, what you’re doing is quite lyric and consonant and not, for lack of a better word, as “Out” as the others, which gives a somewhat different impression, and is quite logical considering your absorption of a wide template of Western and non-Western musics.
JARRETT: Yes. I think it’s accessible also for that reason. I think what’s interesting is that it will be a direct… It’s as though I’d written a two-volume saga so far, but the next volume isn’t released yet. When Inside-Out comes out it will be the first volume of a two or three volume meditation on free music.
TP: Do you see Whisper Not, the process of playing it, as free music, as the tabula rasa concept? You said a year ago that that concept and aspiration of playing music was operative for that music?
JARRETT: Maybe you can rephrase?
TP: To my ears, Inside Out sounds very much like Part 2 of something you began in Whisper Not. The approach the pieces sounds so unencumbered by anything but pure listening and finding the material in the moment.
JARRETT: Oh, certainly. It’s only in the abstract region of analysis that these things are not related. That’s what’s so funny about the nouveau conservative alienation of free playing from their whole vocabulary. It’s possible to look at it that way, but it’s also possible to look at it as, you know, just another step. Or not even that. The same thing, but without an object. Long ago I read a book called Consciousness Without An Object. Just the title describes what free playing can be. But on Inside Out, as I said in the liner notes, the objects sort of appear before our eyes, and it’s mostly the piano that invokes them. So I sort of invoke something, in the way I might invoke it in a solo concert. And they see right away what I am hearing, or very shortly thereafter they see what they are hearing, and we all find the center of that thing. Whereas in Tokyo and in the recent things, we just go into the ozone immediately.
TP: May I step back with you for a second? Can you tell me the circumstances under which free playing became appealing to you in your own development and your own career?
JARRETT: I think it was when my youngest brother, Christopher, used to play the piano. I was a middle teenager. he knew nothing about the instrument. He was probably 7 or something. He didn’t know anything about the piano, but I had been playing for…well, quite a long time. And what he did on it, knowing nothing, was, to me, something that someone who knew a lot about it might not be able to do. He would just throw his body into it, and something would happen. It wasn’t all good, but there was stuff there that no one I knew could have had access to if they already knew the piano. So I guess that was my first experience.
TP: When did you start incorporating that way of thinking into your approach to the piano?
JARRETT: Oh, it took a long time. I had a bass player who asked me once, “do you really want to play that clean all the time?” I said, “That’s a very good question. And no, I don’t.” I was at Berklee, I guess or I had just left Berklee, and I had to work for a long time to get some…I wouldn’t call it dirt, but some imperfections in the technique. Because that’s where the soul lay, actually. Now, if you asked a wonderful classical guitarist to transcribe a B.B. King solo and play it, it wouldn’t be convincing, and it wouldn’t be convincing because there would be one thing he’d be doing too correctly.
TP: So for you there’s been a lot of fighting against technique over time.
JARRETT: Yeah, that’s right.
TP: It’s as though the technique sometimes is a burden for you.
JARRETT: That’s true. It is a burden. It wouldn’t just be for me. It would be for anyone who had been trained to be a virtuoso.
TP: But putting that into your career, trace for me how that became part of the sequence of documents that becomes the oeuvre of Keith Jarrett.
JARRETT: Ives made a big impression on me. I heard him supposedly playing studies for some of his pieces, and I knew the pieces on the page… I had studied classically, so I had looked at this music and I knew it pretty well. And his supposed studies for these written pieces didn’t seem at all even related to the pieces that he wrote! I just loved the fact that he could disregard entirely what he thought he was trying to do, and there was so much grittiness and passion in it… I think it’s the passion part that you lose if you perfect something. If there’s too much control, you’re going to lose something. I mean, that was the great contribution of the ’60s…even those players who couldn’t play anything. The contribution was that this could actually happen, that drummers could drown out bass players and that bass players didn’t necessarily mid, that there wasn’t a tuxedoed Modern Jazz Quartet mentality of what the possibilities of the music are. I mean, I love the MJQ; it’s not that (?).
TP: But was there any mentor figure or leader figure who gave you license to do that? Was it Charles Lloyd maybe, or did Art Blakey have anything to say about that, or other people who aren’t prominent in your discography?
JARRETT: Well, before I met Charles and before I was even with Blakey, I remember playing with a vocalist in Boston (I used to like to accompany vocalists; it’s another art, actually), and I was playing on the strings, and I guess Henry Cowell and Ives, and seeing Paul Bley with Jimmy Giuffre….those were important things.
TP: Those showed you ways to elicit the qualities that you were seeking to elicit.
JARRETT: Yes, I heard something. Put it this way. I heard a lack of something. That bass player’s question to me started those balls rolling to try to find out what that lack, at least in my case, might be. What did I really hear?
TP: I’d like to take you back in another sense, and talking about stylistic influences within jazz. You’re so much written about, and I know this information is out there. But in this piece, in the context of Whisper Not, which the readers would have paid attention to in their voting… I asked you this last year, and you said that between Bud Powell, George Shearing, Monk, Ellington and Ahmad Jamal, all of whose music you’re performing, Jamal had a particularly visceral impact with the record that had “Poinciana.” But were you paying attention to these people in terms of trying to assimilate vocabulary?
JARRETT: No. That wasn’t what I was doing, I would think. Each story was different. But with Ahmad, for example, it was what the trio wasn’t doing that was important to me. Up to that point, I probably had heard Oscar Peterson and some Andre Previn with Red Mitchell and Shelley Manne, and Brubeck. Then I heard Ahmad’s White Album, and I thought: “This is swinging more than any of the things I’ve been listening to, but they’re doing less. So what’s the secret here?” I used to practice drums to that album all the time, because there was so much space in it..
TP: So you and Jack are both influenced by Vernell Fournier.
JARRETT: All three of us. In a van going to a Berkeley, California, concert… I might have told you this.
TP: You did tell me, and Gary Peacock reaffirmed Ahmad Jamal’s impact. You seem in several records to be delving into the compositions of Bud Powell. Can you address his impact on you?
JARRETT: Well, Bud is the passion master. That’s a terrible word. I’ve never heard of that word before, so I wish I could think of something better. I probably told you this, too that I did a blindfold test once…
TP: I’m going to patch some of those things in.
JARRETT: Yes. Probably when it came down to it, if I heard an intensity in the playing, if you think of Ives… With Ahmad, the intensity was in the spaces actually. It was the way they played simply that made the swing work the way it did. There are times when this trio with Gary and Jack gets into a place where we’re swinging, and we know that you can’t get there by willing yourself and deciding you’re going to do it. We all have to just be familiar with what it feels like when it was going on. But in general, there was a thing that I got from passion and then there was a thing that I got from intelligence. So I could say that to me Paul Bley was giving me a message that you could use intelligence in a certain way, back when I heard him with Jimmy Giuffre, and that it didn’t HAVE to swing — because that band did not really swing much! [LAUGHS]
TP: It was pretty rubato.
JARRETT: Yes. But still, if you put all these things together, it does come up with something. When I listen to Bud, what I hear is this commitment in his playing that is not just fingers coming down on the keys. It’s coming from more of his body. So that’s one I got from Bud.
TP: You did title one of these pieces, after the fact, “From the Body.”
JARRETT: Oh, I wasn’t thinking of that at all. I was thinking of the fact that we have to bring this from the body, and not just from our head.
TP: For you, as a classically trained musician, what was the biggest adjustment you had to make mentally in playing jazz?
JARRETT: The technique.
TP: Talk about how the technique is different.
JARRETT: It’s almost… Mmm. [LAUGHS] Okay, there is a technique to playing Classical music. The way they differ is that there is no technique that is THE thing to do in jazz. It is a personal quest to find that. They are so opposite in that respect that you can’t even compare it. You can’t compare the techniques. One is a technique; one isn’t a technique. So when you’re looking for yourself, which is what the jazz audience would hope you’re doing (I hope they would hope that), you’ve got to throw away all the other rules. That’s what was really a bitch, because I had already been given all these rules.
TP: Right. At the most formative period of your life.
JARRETT: Yes. And I was pretty fast… I picked these things up fast, so I went inside and I digested them fast, so I had to regurgitate them over a period of time!
There’s a body language in jazz that you would be avoiding at all costs in classical playing. And I’m surely not the best representative of that on piano at the moment.
TP: Of body language? It’s part of your reputation, I must say.
JARRETT: I mean, it’s correct that I move like that. It’s just not correct that it’s a show. It’s the last thing I’d want to move like; you know, if I was going to decide how to move. But because you’re dredging stuff up from nowhere most of the time, or seemingly nowhere, you don’t have any chance to be poised and have a good etiquette at the keyboard. So the technique of getting it out as a pianist in jazz is basically… First of all, you have to not care at all about your own health. You have to not care about anything but getting out what you hear. If techniques can differ more than that, I can’t imagine. In Classical, when you’re rehearsing with an orchestra, you’re not even supposed to listen to the music.
TP: Say that again.
JARRETT: I have often been told, “You’re listening too much.”
TP: When you play Classical music?
JARRETT: Yes. And I know what they mean. I know what the conductor has meant at times. It’s a bad thing to do, because you get engrossed in the entire affair.
TP: Then you want to improvise.
JARRETT: No. No, but you might not come in on time. Or you might just be off somewhere in the music.
TP: Do you practice jazz?
JARRETT: Well, since I was sick, yes; but before that, no.
TP: But you practiced Classical music.
TP: How is practicing jazz different than practicing classical music?
JARRETT: It feels kind of stupid to practice jazz.
TP: Is practicing jazz the same as playing? Barry Harris said that Monk said that. He said that once he and Monk played “My Ideal” for six or seven hours, hundreds of variations on it, and that it was the same as playing. And I’ve heard a similar story from maybe Walter Davis, Jr. on Bud Powell. They went to his house, Bud was playing something, then they returned much later and Bud was still playing the same thing.
JARRETT: It is the same, in a way. I’ve never thought about it at all, but now that you’re telling me this… The thing that makes it the same is that you have to go to the same place to get it happening. But with Classical, you don’t have to put everything together for sure until you’re performing. So it is the same thing. So now, when I go to the studio, I just make sure that I have the strength to do what I might have coming up… If I start playing tunes, if I don’t like what I’m playing, I’m either going to stop or I’m going to make it better. And then it becomes a performance — for myself.
TP: Why is jazz for you a trio endeavor vis-a-vis… Well, I guess that’s true on Melody… Let’s erase that question.
JARRETT: [LAUGHS] Okay.
TP: I guess you know where I was going on that one.
JARRETT: I don’t really know where you were going.
TP: Where I was going was that jazz to you seems to be a collective endeavor, specifically with this trio, whereas as a soloist it seems peripheral to the totality of your knowledge that’s coming out or that you’re accessing or drawing upon at any given time. I mean, you hadn’t done standards as a solo pianist until The Melody…
JARRETT: No, I actually I did a Japanese video that’s released, and I’ve also done it in performance.
TP: So please allow me to erase that question. I asked Gary Peacock if he noticed in you or felt any change in your sound in the aftermath of your illness.
JARRETT: I’m sure he said yes.
TP: He did. He said a couple of things.
JARRETT: He probably said, “Yes, and then it changed again.”
TP: I’ll tell you what he said. First he said that on the trio’s first outing after you resumed playing “we consciously tried to tone down the whole volume level of all of us. His playing was lighter. He was paying attention to not exerting himself so much physically. And by quieting it down and getting softer, basically, instead of playing loud or having the volume levels high, what it did was allow his fingers to move in more of a horn-like fashion,” and that your playing sounded like a horn, which is possible to a certain extent when the volume level comes down. He said that was something which the hall in San Francisco demanded. Then I asked, “Stylistically is his playing more compressed or more spare in any ways?” and he said, “No, I think it’s freer. Less self. More just the music.” Do you have any speculations on this, vis-a-vis the tonal personality of Keith Jarrett?
JARRETT: Well, I probably have speculations. But I remember on this last tour, which was in Europe only a couple of months ago: After the first or second concert, Gary said to me, “Your playing….I don’t know what to say about this, but it sparkles in a way that I don’t remember.” Then later he said, “That wasn’t the right word,” and I can’t remember what he said the better word was. But I knew what he meant. There was a kind of… Wow, I wish I could think of adjectives.
TP: Could it be something to do with cherishing every note?
JARRETT: Well, it could be. But I think it’s more of the joy of playing and not knowing how long that joy will last. And we all know that, but we don’t know it very well. But after my illness, I knew it really-really-really well, that it’s always a privilege to be able to play at all.
TP: And you might have taken it for granted before.
JARRETT: Well, we all do. Especially if you’ve played for 50 years! 53 out of 56. I would say — although this isn’t really on anything that’s out there yet — that my playing has changed even since the time we did Inside Out.
TP: From my perspective in listening to Whisper Not, it sounded very idiomatic and free as idiomatic music. The way you put it a year ago was that you were playing more on the time. I have an affinity for bebop, and it impressed me tremendously, as much as anything I’ve heard from you. I feel similarly about Inside Out. I’ve been personally moved by both records. The words that occurred to me were “compressed,” “honed-in,” or… Well, I don’t know what the words are either.
JARRETT: There’s a quality that I would call letting-go involved here, too. When you play a phrase, you might want to… If I studied my own physical moves on a keyboard, I’d probably be making much different ones now if I were to compare them to before I got sick. Then after I got more well, which still was happening even… This last tour was the first regular-sized tour I think we’ve done, meaning like eight concerts instead of five or three. I would guess that I am doing a lot of things differently that I don’t know I’m doing, and the result is that there’s a flow and a… I’m not trying so hard to… Yeah, there’s something about trying in here, too, and I don’t know what it is.
If I see a tennis player or a baseball player and see the way swing… You know how some of the guys who can’t hit very far look like they’re putting immense energy into their swing, and some guys who do hit well look like they’re not doing that much. I am still jumping around much more than my doctors would ever recommend. In fact, probably more. But where the energy goes is different than before. So that’s one answer. I just don’t know how to describe it.
TP: Do you feel more connected to the tradition and lineage of jazz than you used to? Or was there a hiatus when you put it aside and maybe came back to it more in dealing with bebop?
JARRETT: I think a hiatus maybe, yeah. When I was forced to try to reestablish my playing at home, I was then forced to practice playing tunes, and I never was doing that before. Since I was alone, I had to make it sound right to myself. So some of the things I changed because of that. In other words, the trio wasn’t here every day, so I still had to feel good about what I was doing. That allowed me to get more connected again to the history of the music and the performance practices of the past that I had already been playing long ago, like stride or… Well, I can’t really do that because my hands are too small, but I do something similar.
TP: You did it just fine on “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams.”
JARRETT: That’s why that tune was done that way, because I had actually been practicing at home, and when I practiced that at home, that’s how I felt it should sound — the way it starts. Then we go into a more modern way of playing it. But at Montreux on this last tour… You asked me before what do we do in concert now; do we do it free or is it a mixture? I can just give you this example. Because we never know what it’s going to be. Most of this tour was almost all tunes, and there was not that much so-called free stuff. Then there was Montreux, when we started playing tunes, noticed that the sound and the piano was a certain way, and it was okay, but then I thought “I’m going to something else,” and we started to play “Ain’t Misbehaving” or something like that in that same stride manner, and then we played three tunes in a row in that style. Now, this wasn’t the usual fooling around at the soundcheck thing where we often just kid around with that, but it got serious, and we were really playing that way. After that, we played “Straight No Chaser” and took that out and we were playing very free off the blues completely. Then we played more ballads and tunes. So it was like everything! [LAUGHS]
TP: So it’s almost as though you’re accessing the full jazz tradition in an idiomatic way as you used to do with classical music.
JARRETT: Possibly. I know what you mean.
TP: A broader question. Has the experience of the last couple of years, of practicing and relearning, given you a different appreciation as a form unto itself?
JARRETT: No, I don’t think so.
TP: Can you address your feeling of what jazz is as a cultural inheritance for us, as a people?
JARRETT: My writer’s self comes up when you ask me a question like that. The writer is saying, “Now, you don’t dare answer this with a casual answer.”
TP: It doesn’t sound to me like you answer anything that casually.
JARRETT: But when I write I get even worse. But I don’t know. All I know is we need it.
TP: Why do we need it?
JARRETT: Because I think it may be the only art form at this point in time that asks the player…not the conductor, not any detached entities from the actual playing…that asks the player to find out who he is and then decide if it’s good enough to speak from that self, and then that player has to live with who he said he was until the next time he plays. It’s an incredibly rigorous and merciless thing, unless you’re doused with some drugs or something. And strangely enough, that rigorous thing is the representation in musical form of freedom. So it is a metaphor for important things.
In life, if you think you’re in control, you usually aren’t. You’re usually just thinking you are. If you think you don’t have any control, you usually relinquish all control and let everything happen and therefore have no effect. To play jazz and make something valuable out of it, takes such a perfect balance of those two things — mastery and the relinquishing of control.
TP: Many of your generation, yourself included, served consequential apprenticeships with masters. The oral tradition held. For you, perhaps that was operative in your brief time with Art Blakey, or maybe not. You could tell me if it was that way for you with Charles Lloyd. Were there any other figures like that for you?
JARRETT: Paul was like younger than I was!
TP: Well, how about Art Blakey. A lot of people who passed through the Jazz Messengers say that once a Jazz Messenger, always a Jazz Messenger. Did he have an effect on the way you think about music or life or…
JARRETT: Not really. But he was a sweet guy. I loved working with him. But no, I wouldn’t say…
TP: How about the years with Charles Lloyd?
JARRETT: Well, Charles gave me carte blanche to do whatever I felt to do. At the time he wasn’t paying me enough for anybody to do what I was doing, but I didn’t care — I was a young guy. But that was an important thing, to have no restrictions on what I did. Very few players get in a situation like that, that early, and I think it was a fortunate combination for me.
TP: A combination of the zeitgeist and the personalities in the band.
JARRETT: Yes. Jack had just joined, and that’s been a long relationship. Philosophically, Charles was an astute… This sounds bad, but he was an astute businessman, so he kind of like…if you didn’t have to do it and his band was doing it for him, he probably would let it happen! [LAUGHS]
TP: When I spoke with you last year, I asked you to pinpoint the qualities in Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock that make you so suited, and you addressed the question by telling me that I should interview them and get their perspective. I asked Peacock, who said that it was ineffable, but that you all share a set of common experiences — Jamal, Miles Davis, etc. I don’t know if I’m going to get to speak with Jack or not. Is this a question you can address for me now?
JARRETT: Well, I had an answer for this years ago, but I’m not as lucid as I was.
TP: Good. Then we can create a new one.
JARRETT: But I’m not as lucid as I was a couple of years ago. Well, when I think about us as a unit and then as separate personalities, to me it’s as though if we didn’t play together, we would have been making a big mistake. Each of us would have made a mistake. Whatever that mistake would be, I don’t know. But not having played together would have been a mistake. I don’t sit around and think cosmic things all the time. But I think we were intended to be playing together.
Jack is an inclusionist. He is the kind of guy who would not want to say anything bad about another player — or anything. He would want to give credit to everybody. Gary is a thinker and a very specific… I had a word for this, but I don’t know what it is any more. Gary lives in his head a lot. Jack is a heart guy. And I am a skeptic. [LAUGHS]
TP: You’re the Skeptic, Peacock is the Thinker, DeJohnette is the Heart, the Passion.
JARRETT: I am skeptical even as far as being skeptical of my own thinking, yes.
TP: How do you put that aside when you play?
JARRETT: See, that’s wrong with doing this. I’m not sure these words are accurate for what I’m thinking. I’m not thinking of the right adjectives or the right…
TP: Is the quality of thought different from when you play than when you talk?
JARRETT: No. In some funny way we are all so confident… I don’t know what to say about that. You know how you repealed that one question? I can’t answer this. It’s too hard. It’s like we’re a family, and I can’t come up with the right…
What I’m skeptical about is all belief systems. Gary has found one for him. He’s a Zen guy. And he would say it’s not a belief system. Jack has found things he believes to help him, the way Gary found something he believes helps him. And I actually have seen that Zen has helped Gary a lot anyway. So it’s not a question of whether it’s effective or not. It’s just that I believe that because there is a practice involved, it is a system. That’s maybe why I chose the word “skeptic.” What I mean by “skeptical” in this case is I never want to close a door on something I didn’t include because my feeling is that it’s not part of my practice or my belief system. So I am skeptical of all of those, including my own when they come up.
TP: You have in the past had certainly strongly held belief systems, yes? Gurdjieff.
JARRETT: But the funny thing is that if anyone ever looks deeply enough into Gurdjieff, the one thing he was saying is that it isn’t a system. It’s just that what we’ve gotten, just like with a lot of things… The flak you get back from it is not the real thing. The rep it has is not what it is.
TP: In the process of the trio, you said that you invoke and Gary and Keith pick up, and then it becomes an equilateral triologue.
JARRETT: In this one recording.
TP: On the one hand, your sound and predispositions define what the trio does. On the other hand, there is this constant three-way interplay going on all the time. To what extent are you the leader and how does that operate? I know it’s naive question…
JARRETT: No, that question is not naive. It would be naive to not have that question! [LAUGHS] I hope that I am the leader in the way I would guess a good leader would be. I consider Miles to have been an incredible bandleader, in the sense that he never told anybody what to play, but he gave them the feeling that they could find it out for themselves, and when they did, he didn’t say a word to them except, “Let’s play it.”
I am like a guide. I am a programmatic guide. I think if I weren’t there, you’d hear some great music, but it might not connect the way it does. I mean, if I put somebody in my place, a great player… I have instincts about form, even over large periods of time…not architectural form, but what you sense on Inside Out. It’s kind of a miniature version of what I’m talking about. I think without my little pushes and pulls, it just wouldn’t cohere.
I can give you a great example. In Montreux two years ago, that was the first place where we tried to play no tunes. That was the same tour as this London release, the Inside Out record, and we hadn’t tried it before, and whenever I got soft, so did Jack and Gary. When I sounded like I was finishing, they went down. So it was threatening to stop. The music would keep threatening to be over unless I did something. So I had to talk to them about it in London, and I said, “Just remember that you’re not obliged to follow anything. None of us have to follow each other anywhere.” That’s when it started to open up more, and that’s one of the reasons we chose this to release rather than Montreux. So I am leading the band without trying to.
TP: How much are you feeding off of them in the in-the-momentness of the thing?
JARRETT: More now than… Do you mean in the free playing?
TP: I mean in any playing.
JARRETT: Well, I hope I’m feeding off of them as much as I can!
TP: It’s another naive question, but I was curious what you’d say.
JARRETT: Obviously, if I had to have a substitute player for either of them, I would be cancelling the concert. So I guess I would prefer to be playing with them.
TP: Jack does magical things. The sounds he gets out of that drumset… It’s so quick.
JARRETT: Oh, definitely. Well, when you hear the Tokyo tapes, we all sound like we disappeared. But me less than them, because unfortunately it’s pretty hard to make the piano elastic. It keeps popping back into being a lever system. But Jack becomes not the “Jack deJohnette, drummer” that everybody knows. Gary has done a lot of different things, so… But I have the feeling that our identities become erased in the quality of energy we’re working with. In our situation, though, I still think that because my instrument is the chordal one, if there are any guidelines… I mean, if there’s any moment when there’s a slump coming up or we feel something is not there, the only person who can suggest tonality, or a lack of it, or direction, or motion, or dynamics in any quick and coherent way that could be grasped by the other two is the piano.
TP: On Inside Out how did you decide on how you sequenced the document?
JARRETT: It’s in sequence, except that the fadeout then leads to the end of the next night’s set. The encore was one of the few encores we did. There wasn’t any more room on the CD.
TP: On “Riot” are you fading into something or coming out of something?
JARRETT: We’re fading in on this thing that was already about 25 minutes long. That was just crazy.
TP: Were the concerts on the 26th and 28th completely different in pacing, content, etc.?
JARRETT: Yes. But the first two tracks are absolutely the way it went down the first night. So that’s the first set, I think.
TP: The third piece?
JARRETT: I think that’s the beginning of the second set the same night. “Riot” was the second night.
TP: On Saturday I took my first trip to Manhattan since the bombing. The only subway line I can now use goes through the Chambers Street station which abutted the World Trade Center. The first track was on my headphones as I was going through this now ghost station, and it had a quality that made me very happy I was listening to it at that particular moment. It’s a spooky thing; everyone was dropping their New York attitude and peering out the windows into the station as they’re going through.
JARRETT: It’s actually a funny album title to be coming out at this exact moment. Everything has sort of turned that way, hasn’t it.
I don’t think I can do justice to covering these guys’ personalities! We’ve been together for so long. I don’t know if I even think of them as… I had this cutesy way of describing them. It was in the Downbeat article. Whatever I said about it then, I guess I must have thought about it ahead of time, and was more correct, at least in a semi-humorous kind of way. But these are deep players. Personality is what we’re trying to get away from when we play. And we’re of course limited by being who we are, but that’s a tough one. they’re just too beautiful to use an adjective for them.
TP: There must be some innate characteristic of that personality, because it’s obviously you and it’s obviously Gary Peacock and it’s obviously Jack DeJohnette.
JARRETT: Yes. But the hardest to describe for any of us would be ourselves. So I could say that Gary tends to be on the scientific, he-doesn’t-like-belief-systems side of things, which is good for him, and it works for him, and I need that. Jack is in some ways the… In Gurdjieff there was a thing about Third Force. There was a positive, negative and harmonizing force. In some ways, Jack is a harmonizing force, and a…I don’t know what to… An inclusionary… He’s inclusionary. But nothing is great on its own. No one word makes that person as great as I feel they are. You know what I mean?
But it’s a challenging thing for me to think of. Because when we play together, there’s an alchemy going on, and that alchemy comes from — to some extent, of course — the chemical and psychological natures of all three of us.. As you said, we are different people. But it’s that chemical combination that I see more than I see our separateness. So when I think of us as separate people, yeah, I know what my tendencies are in conversation, and what Gary’s are and what Jack’s are. If Gary and I are having an intense debate about whether there’s one Truth or many, Jack might be the guy who says, “Okay, let’s go have some coffee somewhere.” But the thing is that it all drops away when we play. But on the other hand, those intense conversations don’t happen any more. We’ve been together for so long and we’ve all learned so much during that time, that we’re now not who we were back at the other Downbeat article. We’ve grown since then. When Gary and I talk now, we get to some incredibly beautiful, deep places, and we understand each other’s language. Sometimes it takes 18 years to understand somebody’s language.
TP: It can take a lifetime.
JARRETT: Yeah, and you keep interpreting it wrong. Gary used to interpret several words wrong, and I think it’s because of his upbringing and religion; he doesn’t have a good feeling about the word “God” or anything like that. Jack doesn’t mind those words. I kind of do. So it’s a nice combination where it all ends up being neutral, and it’s time to play…
TP: I suppose that process is a metaphor for what happens in the musical language as well over 18 years — the conversation and the dialogue and the understanding evolve to that kind of collective simplicity.
JARRETT: Yeah. And trust.
TP: You cut through a lot of the verbosity or whatever, not that the trio was verbose… That’s an interesting coda you’re giving me.
JARRETT: I’m trying to. Because I don’t think that one-word thing is really cool at all.
TP: Oh, I wasn’t asking for one word at all.
JARRETT: That was my choice. I was trying to think of the words I had thought of before. We’ve been watching each other grow all that time. So it’s sort of like we’re friends and we’ve been together this long, but it’s also like we were watching kids grow up — and we’re one of the kids. When we play, we’re morphing into more and more of what we could have been before, but we didn’t know it yet.
TP: How much more in this year and the early part of next year is the trio scheduled to tour?
JARRETT: We have five concerts in the States, and that’s it for the rest of this year, and nothing planned for 2002. I have an ongoing physical monitoring system, and I have to take time off to make sure everything is…
TP: Can you comment a bit on your physical well-being these days?
JARRETT: Well, except for these disk problems, which I’ve had for years, which is really on my case, and I’m trying to avoid surgery…
TP: Was that exacerbated by the CFS?
JARRETT: No. That was exacerbated by music. Better not to put this in the article in case I want to get insurance. But I am still on the medications for the bacterial parasite that I was being treated for…
TP: Are those allopathic or homeopathic.
JARRETT: They’re major medical, like antibiotics and stuff..
TP: So you’re on a constant diet of antibiotics and stuff.
JARRETT: All I can tell you is that I believe if I hadn’t gone on this protocol, you wouldn’t have heard any more from me.
JARRETT: Are you aware of the anagram of “Riot”? It’s easy but I bet no one is going to think of it. “Trio.” [LAUGHS] How do you like that? It’s one of those that’s just too simple.
TP: Can you tell me what your daily regimen is?
JARRETT: Besides the 79 charcoal pills? Now, sometimes because of my shoulder and my back, I have to not have this regimen at all. But here’s the day. I get up (I won’t tell you what time, because that’s not fair). I have breakfast, and then I almost every day take a very brisk treadmill or outdoor walk, depending on the weather, for 2-1/2 miles or so. Then I do some stretches and exercises for my upper body, which I really can’t… I usually have to see the chiropractor every day, and I usually practice in the evenings, 45 minutes to whatever amount of time.
TP: What have you been working on lately?
JARRETT: Just moving my fingers. I’ve been just playing tunes in the studio. Sometimes the Goldberg Variations. That’s it. I’m going to get my studio worked on, and I’ll try to get that practicing in before it all goes down.
So it’s a very boring day. Then I always read at night. That’s a must. What am I reading now? If you saw the house, there are so many books around that people often ask, “Did you read all of these?” And I have to say, “Not all of them, but more than you think.” I got involved with a writer named Gene Wolfe, and I am surprised about this guy. I’m trying to give him as much space and as much time as possible. If you saw the book in a bookstore… If you were me, you would never buy a book with a cover like these. They look like these…what do you call them…these Quest novels, like Ursula Leguin type… But the guy is into some stuff that I feel is very good for the mind, and I actually recommend him, but you have to meet him halfway. So let him do what he’s doing and be patient. But I think anybody who’s read good writing eventually realizes how great this guy’s writing is.
TP: Have you tended over the years to be more involved in fiction or non-fiction or both?
JARRETT: Both. If I had to say which I’ve read more of, I’d say fiction.
TP: Any favorite writers?
JARRETT: A lot of them.
TP: Tell me a couple.
JARRETT: Robert Musil. Calvino.
TP: A true skeptic, Robert Musil was.
JARRETT: Yes. He was also interested in Sufism, which I didn’t realize until I read his book twice. I read Antonio Demassio, who writes about the brain and how we perceive things That’s a mindblower in itself. That’s neuroscience, not fiction. But one of the books is titled “The Feeling Of What Happens.”
I have two kids. One of them is 30 already.
* * *
Keith Jarrett (Sept. 9, 2008):
TP: How does it feel to be inducted into Downbeat’s Hall of Fame?
KJ: I was getting Downbeat when I was a teenager, and I’m aware of the magazine’s deep roots and history, and of the people who are there. So yes, it’s meaningful, as far as people thinking my work is important. But if I think of what fame means right now, it’s not so meaningful! Years ago, in Vienna, when I was about to do a solo concert, the press was interested in talking to me and I did an interview with Der Spiegel. One of their first questions was, “What is it like to be a star?” I said, “Man, that is out of somebody else’s book, not mine.” Then also, I remember, at the only class reunion I ever went to, the question was, “So, are you successful?” I said, “Yes.” They said, “So are you making a lot of money?” So these words like “fame” and “star” have relative meaning. If you were asking, “What’s it like to get a Grammy?”, I’d think, “No.” It would be the beginning of the descent from the mountain.
TP: In his biography of you, Ian Carr places the beginnings of your obsession with jazz to your late adolescence in Allentown, Pennsylvania, when your parents divorced, and you began doing little gigs in town.
KJ: When I was around 14, which is when my parents were having trouble, I had a remarkably good classical teacher, but once a week I had to take a little time off from the end of the school day and to drive to Philadelphia for the lesson. She was a firm believer in my not spreading the peanut butter thin. In other words, she didn’t like that I was interested in anything else but the Debussy or the Beethoven that I was studying with her. Strangely, in about a week-and-a-half in Philadelphia, I’ll be playing again in what turns out to be where she used to live, and it will be jazz.
Allentown was a cultural vacuum. There was one record store, I think, called Speedy’s Record Shop. As a kid, I had an allowance maybe, but we didn’t have much money. Occasionally, I would play classical concerts for the local women’s club, and I’d save as much as I could to look for new things that I knew nothing about. Every now and then my brother and I would try to sneak records out of the stores, because we couldn’t afford them. It’s not easy to steal a record! We got caught once, which wasn’t fun. Of course, the selection for pianists was between Oscar Peterson and Andre Previn, and also Errol Garner and Brubeck. One pivotal moment came when I found the Ahmad Jamal white album. I didn’t know who Ahmad was, but it looked interesting. Years after the trio was already a working band, Gary, Jack and I started talking about the album, and found we’d all had the same experience with it. I was playing drums at the time, and I got my drumming together through emulating Vernell Fournier’s great brush playing in the sparse spaces of Ahmad’s music. It was my introduction to actual jazz versus popular jazz.
After high school, when I was in Boston, trying to go to Berklee, I got a job with a vocalist in the upstairs lounge of the Jazz Workshop. Herb Pomeroy, who was my big band instructor, was playing downstairs, and one night when Ray Santisi, who was one of my piano teachers, hadn’t shown up, Herb asked me if I wanted to play. Pete LaRoca was playing drums, He was my favorite drummer at the time, and this was just too much to conceive of. If Ray hadn’t shown up, I would never have gone back upstairs. It was the most beautiful way to go through the gate, to the nirvana place that one would want to be. That was my first world-class connection as far as actually playing jazz.
TP: By then, you were probably up on what Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner were doing…
KJ: No, I wasn’t. In the beginning, I was pretty conservative. I hadn’t heard Coltrane yet—or at least I hadn’t liked Coltrane yet. People would say, “You must be listening to Bill a lot.” “Bill who?” “Bill Evans.” I had heard him, but wasn’t feeling like I was in that direction. Actually, I’d heard Bill when I came through Boston on a summer bus tour with Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians. I won’t make any derogatory statements about that experience, except that it was, in all ways, terrible—except that some of the people were nice. They realized that I was talented. They also respected that I was resisting the urge to do something inappropriate for the musical format, restraining myself from being a crazy person in this situation. That made it worthwhile to do those things for a certain amount of time. I think it’s a mistake for people always to be able do what they want. I think my sons see my career as always having my way. But that’s because they were born after all this other stuff.
TP: Early on, did you know that music would be your life?
KJ: Yes. I had a very normal childhood, because that’s the way I wanted it most of the time, and when I did classical lessons, since I wanted to go out and play sports with my friends, I’d turn forward the timer on the kitchen stove, as my grandmother wasn’t paying much attention. But when my mother or father would discover I’d done 2 or 2½ hours instead of the mandatory three, they’d say, “Then we’ll have to sell the piano.” For all I knew, they were serious—my father was a real estate man and probably had enough, but he had five kids, and if the piano wasn’t being used… That stopped me in my tracks. I would think, “No, that’s not an option.” When I was 8, I got my first grand piano, after actually paying for it myself from concerts in Allentown. I slept under it in order to be able to play it immediately upon waking up.
Q: You seem to have been quite focused and mature about how to proceed—resisting the temptation to rebel when playing with Fred Waring, rejecting an opportunity to study with Nadia Boulanger, waiting a couple of years before you matriculated at Berklee.
KJ: I didn’t know what the future would bring, but I had really good instincts about who I was. I couldn’t have explained why I said no to Nadia—I was looking to study with her! To me, I was not negating an education. But I didn’t want to learn the names of things. I wanted to be involved in a process that was pure, and I didn’t want to get analytical about that process, or have anyone tell me that something wasn’t possible because it wasn’t musical. My ears were going to guide me. I don’t fit that well into any particular category. Whatever musical story I tell is not all jazz; at times, it’s something uncategorizable. If someone started to tell me, ‘Okay, this sound goes with this sound,’ I might believe it, and I might never have experimented putting different sounds next to each other.
When I heard Brubeck’s quartet live the first time, I remember thinking, almost verbatim, “There’s more than this.” There’s always more, and if you get it all down, maybe there isn’t any more. If you make a map of something, and that map isn’t changeable, you’re stuck with the map. For driving, that’s good, but for music, I’m not sure. Inclusion has been what it’s about for me.
TP: You’ve said that saxophone players influenced you, not pianists.
KJ: Let’s broaden the statement to include horn players. There’s a fluidity in an instrument that uses air. I’ve always wanted to get as close as possible to subtracting the mechanism of the piano from the whole affair. Now, that may no longer be true. Every little period of time I go through, I reinvent what I do, and will let the piano be a piano. You can see that in my recent solo things.
Early on, my favorite bands were usually pianoless—for instance, the Gerry Mulligan small big band. Strangely enough, I would call Monk’s bands often pianoless—he wasn’t always comping, and when he was, it was more orchestral. Even his solos were not pianistic, because he wasn’t a virtuosic player; he sort of played like a composer. For Ornette, no piano. People whose ears were open always attracted me, and I liked what Paul Bley was doing with the piano, especially when it was a funky instrument. When I heard him on a Bosendorfer on something that was recorded maybe 6 or 7 years ago, I would never have recognized him.
Pianists in jazz do not work on touch. I was lucky that I started with classical hearing. I was also lucky—or smart—to play Mozart around the time that the trio was playing ballads, because Mozart demands a certain refinement of touch that I had not developed until I started to play Mozart. Only since then has my ballad playing been closer to what I hear.
TP: Can you talk about your conception of the trio with Haden and Motian vis-a-vis the present group?
KJ: The early trio represented three free spirits, and I chose them because of that. We were in the midst of that revolution period. and I felt that we were defying the norms of the time. That means in all ways. Free playing wasn’t the same as free players thought it was. Most free players couldn’t play time. Most might not even be able to play their own instruments, but they could be extremely influential because they did things that no one was willing to try. If we wanted to swing, we could. If we didn’t, we didn’t. If the overall context demanded both, we could do that. At the Village Vanguard one night, Max Gordon said to me, “Keith, you know, you could get a lot more people here. You guys can really swing; you should do that.” I said, “Max, it’s going to take a while, but the people will come, because we’re doing exactly what we know we should be doing.” Now, how did I know that? I was a young upstart talking to an old club-owner who knew what he was talking about. But my instincts were good. Words come out of your mouth and you don’t remember, “Gee, I’m not sure when I’m going to eat my next meal.”
TP: That’s how it was during the ‘60s, wasn’t it.
KJ: That’s right. We were trying to build a tradition. I would say I wanted to be free of everyone’s bullshit, and that included my own. I was never trying to be a stylist. So I wasn’t going to be sparing. I was going to be merciless on myself. If I could write something that could find its way to a different place than everything else, and it was still something I felt very close to, then that would be successful.
Now, how does that pertain to the present trio in 2008? I would say we’re trying to preserve those precious values. As opposed to the ‘60s, now it’s like, if we don’t do it, who’s doing it? If I think of one thing that it is, it’s how Miles attacked the beat on his trumpet. When we went into the studio to do our so-called Miles tribute, Bye Bye Blackbird, a couple of weeks after he died, I talked to Jack and Gary, and I said, ‘We’re not doing a tribute album. Maybe we’re going to play some material that Miles played. But my idea is to play as though I were Miles, not play like a pianist who would play Miles.” If you extrapolate from that to what we do when we play standard material, we’re trying to find this place that we don’t hear many people coming from. We don’t hear people swinging that often, if I can speak for Gary (and maybe Jack, too). What young players know about the music is so stilted somehow. They do their best, and they might be great players, but there’s a lot of wasted energy going on.
TP: In light of that remark, it’s interesting that so many younger players mention both your American and European quartets as extremely influential. Do you have any speculations on the impact of those explorations on the way jazz sounds today?
KJ: I don’t. But possibly one reason why I don’t sense it is because it was so personal. One of the reasons why the American quartet was so interesting is because none of us knew what the hell we really were doing. With both quartets, I took into account everything about these guys while writing the pieces. As an example, I did this for Jan Garbarek with strings, on Arbor Zena and Luminescence, where I got inside what I thought was Jan’s way of playing. When he came over to rehearse for Luminescence and look at the sketch, I played it on the piano and did his part. He asked, “Do I play like this pattern?” I said, “Yeah, you do it all the time.” He said, “I had no idea.” There was something like a minor second, and then a third down, and then a second, and then another third, so it was completely out of a key. I heard him do that many times. Another example is that Dewey Redman did not like to play on chords.
TP: Now, you went from working incessantly with two different groups, after always having worked in groups beforehand, to making solo concerts the focus of your activity. How did the idea of creating form from a tabula rasa begin to gestate for you?
KJ: I was just curious about the process. So far as I know, no one was investigating it. It happened by accident. After Facing You, I came on stage after Friedrich Gulda at a festival in Heidelberg. I started playing a song, which I don’t remember, then I attached that, without stopping, to another song. Then there was some kind of transitional material, and it ended up being whatever amount of minutes of that. That led to me to wonder whether those transitions themselves were something, which led me to investigate that. It’s such a different universe. I wasn’t really even ready for this discovery, because only recently did I become a good enough player to use both hands properly under those circumstances! So whatever amount of years I spent doing it, it was as an inferior player to who I am now when I play now.
TP: By “recently” you mean what?
KJ: Five or six or seven years ago.
TP: So not until after you had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
KJ: Correct. And I worked my ass off in a new way. I realized jazz pianists don’t do their left hand. It gets to be just like an appendage. When they do solo albums, typically what you hear is, “Where’s the bass? I’m waiting for the rhythm section.”
I have to credit the disease with giving me a tremendous amount of creative information—it was a great opportunity to sum up my work. I had no idea if I’d ever play again, so all I had to do was think about what happened to me. When I’d listen to my solo stuff, I’d think, “What the fuck am I doing? There’s too many notes here. If I did this again, no, I’d never play this, I’d never play that.” Over that period of time, I realized that, if I ever returned to playing solo, I’d never do it that way. When I started to practice and was able to play at all, I found myself stopping, because I’d be playing something I didn’t really hear in my head. I didn’t like it any more.
TP: You went through a similar crisis during the ‘80s, when you made Spirits, and transitioned from one set of habits into a new realm of investigation.
KJ: That’s correct. Although when you’re sitting at the same 88-key instrument and you’ve got the same two hands to undo the architecture you’ve built up over two decades of doing this thing you thought you understood, it’s a freaky experience to go through. However, the freakiness only lasts a second, and then you realize, “if I have the energy to do it ever again, I at least know where to start.”
TP: You’ve remarked that you discovered Gurdjieff while you were on the road with Charles Lloyd, and later became involved in Sufism. Did the solo playing have anything to do with constructing some kind of aesthetic philosophy from those investigations?
KJ: All through my entire history, there’s a mixture of philosophy, spirituality, and just plain musical desire—desire for the instrument. I never took drugs, for example. I didn’t need that. I would see people…I would roll cigarettes for them. I was with the Animals in London. Jimi Hendrix was interested in doing a project, and I was working on ideas of how to work with him. I wanted to do a project with Janis Joplin. There was a rough mix of ingredients in the ‘60s and ‘70s that we really don’t have now. We might call this the “information age,” but I consider that complete bullshit. What IS the information? Of what value is it if it doesn’t attach itself to something? In the future, I can see that there might be an audience that literally thinks all music is equal, and there’s no such thing as good or bad. So I’m happy to be as old as I am, and I’m happy particularly to get this award while I’m alive, because in that sense it does mean something. Somebody is saying that something is better than something else, and that’s a relief.
TP: What are your criteria for documentation? It’s different than the actual process of music-making.
KJ: It’s not all that different, in my life. At this point, I record all solo concerts, and if it’s good enough I might send it to Manfred Eicher—although on a different day of the week, listening to the same music, I might have an absolutely different take on it. I don’t really like to do that. When you’re aware you’re recording, it’s completely different than when you’re not being documented. It changes both the trio and solo music. It’s possible to forget it for a while, but unfortunately, coughs mean something if they happen when you’re recording. They might mean you can’t use this track, and you know that you’ve just played this the best that you’ll ever play it. There’s no second takes.
In 2006 I played a solo concert at La Fenice, which is the opera house in Venice that was totally destroyed by fire, and wasn’t rebuilt for several decades. That concert might never come out, but at the moment it’s at the top of the list. Since 2006, it’s been up there a couple of times, but then I decided, “No, there’s something newer that’s more interesting.” For whatever reason, it did not manage to be the right thing. I am not using that as the Bush version of “the right thing,” that I know what’s right. Just the instincts weren’t there for this to come out, because other things were more timely.
TP: Although you are always the “decider.” Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
TP: Why don’t you do studio recordings, by the way?
KJ: Well (a) I hate studios, and (b) more of the time I feel that what I do is for a public that’s actually in the space. Manfred and I talked about me doing another solo thing in the studio, and I’m open to it, but in general, that vibe is wrong for me. There’s too many wires around. Too many lightstands, too much metal around. The control room and the speakers are usually worse than the ones I have in my house. I don’t know if I could engage that.
TP: Is there something about performing for an audience that facilitates your focus?
KJ: No. It’s actually the opposite. It’s harder to be focused. However, given that, I have the valid feeling that there are people there who are ready for whatever happens. That facilitates something, but I can’t call it focus. Focus is easier alone probably.
TP: Do you have inklings to return to performing classical music?
KJ: Possibly. I don’t really know. I’ve been thinking about the possibility of recording the Goldberg Variations again, for one example. But I haven’t taken myself seriously enough to undertake it. That would be done in, oh, a hall like the Salle Pleyel, with no audience.
TP: You’ve been quoted that it’s insane to do both jazz and classical music.
TP: What in your personality or character allows you to do it?
KJ: It’s insanity.
TP: You certainly don’t sound insane.
KJ: No, that’s one of the great things about insanity! The thing is, you can do it, but you have to do it with scrupulous concern for both your mental focus and the needs of the music you’re about to do. When I was working on Mozart’s concertos before I got sick, I was doing as little of anything that was not Mozart as I could. Many people wouldn’t have that possibility, and if they don’t, then I wouldn’t recommend it. Like, back-to-back, “Okay, this is the classical stuff, then I’ll do improvisation after.” In that sense, even I am not that insane. [LAUGHS] That would be total insanity. Unless you want to strip them both of their innate qualities.
I did a bunch of harpsichord recordings, and you cannot seriously conceive of playing piano when you’re working with the harpsichord. Now, a few days after you’ve finished a harpsichord project, you might want to play a solo piano concert because you’re curious what will come out. The fact that it’s new, that it feels somehow different again, are positives. But I would have to set the stuff up with immense care to be able to do it without going more insane.
TP: Because of the retrospective nature of this piece, I have to ask about your experience with Miles Davis. It does seem that your time with Miles was crucial.
KJ: I believe I can call it camaraderie. From the moment I started to play with him, we had an understanding that it was temporary, that I had this other direction that had nothing to do with electronic keyboards, and that I wasn’t at all into that. Around 1967, Miles brought his whole band to a little basement club in Paris where I was playing with Aldo Romano and J.F. Jenny-Clark, who is not alive any more, and later, every now and then, he would show up to hear the trio with Charlie and Paul. I’d walk past the table, and he’d say, “When are you going to play with my band?” I’d say, “Well, I have a lot of work coming up, but I really appreciate that you like the music,” blah-blah-blah. Once I came off the stage from set with Paul and Charlie, and he said, “Keith! You play the wrong instrument.” What could I say? “I know!” So my comments about horns and voice and so on, he was hearing that already, even though we were playing this strange music. A couple of times, he asked me how I could play from no music. I said, “I don’t know. I just do it.”
Once, after we’d spoken, I heard the band with Wayne, Herbie, Ron and Tony at the Village Gate, and Miles played a beautiful short solo—he played all short solos—and then the rest of the band played long solos. He walked off the stage, went to the bar, had some water, stood there for a long time, and then finally went back on stage and played a tune, and then went out. I heard that happen each tune, and I thought, “You know, I’d like to help out somehow, but I’m not sure what that means yet.” When I joined him, the band started turning electric, and I wasn’t sure what my role could possibly be. He asked me which instrument I wanted to play, and I said, “You know, Miles, I hate them equally, so I want both.” “Okay.”
When I say “camaraderie,” I mean that I was meant to be a part of this, and I could tell Miles felt that. What he really needed at the time I joined him was someone on keyboard who could be both challenging and funky, and I think that’s what I contributed. Once the band with Jack and I and Mtume started to play, Miles was staying on the stage the entire time, and going into his crouch—obviously, I made him happy for a while, He didn’t have any question about who should be in that band then.
TP: Back to your position on the jazz timeline, it’s hard to find anyone under 50 who doesn’t mention you and your fellow sons of Miles as key to the way they think about things. How do you see it?
KJ: I think they’re right. [LAUGHS] But I think many of us got waylaid. Keyboard players got enamored of electric instruments, and never could go back, and they never have been able to go back since. These are artistic decisions, and you can’t make them lightly. It’s like a painter throwing away their paint, saying, “Well, I want to get these,” but they’re all monotone, and then, “Well, no, I want my old paints back.” Sorry. They went out in the garbage.
My generation’s impact should have been greater, because there were a lot more great players. But Fusion somehow ate them up. I don’t include Miles exactly in that, because Miles got away with being able to play his stuff. I mean, he always wanted to do something different, something new, and if that’s your M.O., it won’t always be correct. Actually, a Japanese producer friend of mine asked Miles if he would sit in with the trio—as Jack and Gary and I all had played with him already—at the Antibes Festival for one or two tunes. I was hoping he’d say, “Sure, that’s a great idea.” I was sure he probably wouldn’t. But I think his answer is very important. He said (of course, through this third party), “No, I already played with Keith.” I wrote him a note back through the same guy, saying, “You played with me, but not on my instrument.”
TP: Did he respond?
KJ: No. But he knew what I was talking about.
TP: It seems like your M.O., rather than that straight line, is more of a circle.
KJ: Could be.
TP: Circling back and picking up on things you’d done before in a different context.
KJ: Yes. I think if I were a different kind of artist, I’d use found objects. I wouldn’t go looking for new technology. I remember seeing Herbie backstage somewhere when he’d just started getting seriously into electronics. Instead of having a conversation, he was saying, “Wow, have you heard this wire, this thing, connected to this and this over here?” I said, “Herbie…no. I don’t want to talk about wires. I really hate seeing them on the stage.”
[END OF CONVERSATION]
* * *
Manfred Eicher on Keith Jarrett (Sept. 24, 2008):
TP: To start, can you tell me how he came to join the label, how you became attracted to his music, and the process by which he began his contractual relationship with ECM?
EICHER: I first heard Keith live in a festival in Norway with Charles Lloyd, and I heard him again with Charles Lloyd at the Montreux Jazz Festival. I was very curious about his playing, and I was very moved by the trio as well that played with Jack DeJohnette and Ron McClure. That was before I even had a record label. I was just a student and playing in an orchestra in Berlin. So I moved around and heard people in jazz festivals. I heard Keith Jarrett also in Bologna in ‘68. Then when I had the label, I wrote to Keith, and sent him some test pressings—of a Chick Corea solo record as well as a Jan Garbarek record, Afric Pepperbird, which was my first recording, that I made in Oslo. Keith wrote back and said he liked this music and the sound, and he would be interested in talking to me. So he came to Munich with Miles Davis, and we met in the park in the afternoon after the concert, and talked about a lot of things, and decided to make a recording together. In my first letter to Keith actually, I introduced to him also a trio record. In fact, Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock was the idea. But Gary at that time didn’t play the bass; he came back from Japan and the West Coast, and was not sure whether he should continue or not. I suggested another thing, but he called me back and said he would like to do a solo record first. So he did a solo record in Oslo in ‘70, and Facing You was the first.
TP: Then he continued for a while under contract to you and to Impulse…
EICHER: While we talked, this was, so to speak, between the contracts. He left Atlantic, went to Columbia, and then started something for Impulse as well with the American Quartet. But the solo things and the trio, and all those kinds of things, he started to record for ECM.
TP: It seems with ECM, he was able to do almost anything he wanted, to document almost anything that was preoccupying him at a given time…
EICHER: I wonder whether it was so easy. It had also to do with what was my aesthetic idea was with the label, how I wanted to introduce music. Keith was the ideal partner. I liked very much his piano playing. I liked his aesthetics. I liked his ideas. The first recording we made was a solo record in the studio, then the next recording was a live recording of a concert in Bremen and Lausanne, which resulted in a trio record set. At that time, it was unusual to have an entire solo concert, live recordings and so on, put in a 3-record box. It was quite new for that time. Then Keith showed me his string quartet writing and he showed me other things, so I became very interested to introduce that kind of work from Keith, which was not the work of a jazz musician per se, but of a wonderful musician and talent who had other talents than playing the piano. So we introduced these things, and they resulted in orchestral recordings with soloists like Jan Garbarek or Charlie Haden, Arbor Zena, for instance, or Luminiscence, and the records with string quartets and quintets with a flute player. So we have a nice oeuvre from the very beginning that introduced the musician Keith Jarrett.
TP: Can you speak more concretely about how the qualities of his aesthetics merged with your sense of what you wanted to produce?
EICHER: First of all, I thought his way of phrasing, his touch, his quality of suspension, his way of (?) and rubato playing was very close to me as a European. So I heard many influences of the great American kind of jazz book, and I heard many influences from Chopin, Debussy, and all those kinds of things that I liked and I grew up with. To me, it was an idea of a symbiotic thing, because also his touch had reached me right away and touched me quite a lot from the beginning. So from then on, it was clear that whenever I could work with Keith, I would like to work with him.
I’d also like not to forget his great compositions. His way of writing was very idiosyncratic and special. One could identify a composition immediately when hearing Keith’s work.
TP: It also seems that the influence of both the American and European quartets has been immense on an international level.
EICHER: Absolutely. The American quartet consisted of Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian and Keith. It was a very individual group with a wonderful individual sound. But Keith also had another side which probably was a bit more virtuosic, more light rhythmically, weighted for the dialogue and interaction with players like Garbarek and Jon Christensen and Palle Daniellsen. When I suggested this group to Keith, he was very open, because he’d heard Jan Garbarek a long time ago, and he heard him again in the Molde Festival in Norway, playing trio with Arild Anderson and Edvard Vesala in a club. Keith and I were together, and he was convinced that this was the sound he would like to write for. So the Belonging group was Keith’s group that he was writing for. All the material that you hear there was around, and played by a lot of young jazz musicians—here, at least, in Europe. Pieces like “Belonging” and so on became classic.
TP: The American Quartet’s influence has also been immense, maybe more on American musicians…
EICHER: Not just American musicians. European musicians, too.
TP: Everyone talks about that group.
EICHER: A wonderful group. But it was so different. Keith could write for the idiosyncratic personalities in these groups very well. So these groups differ very much. Of course, it was entirely Keith’s introduction of the music, but the individuality of the players couldn’t be more different.
TP: I was curious why, after years and years of playing in groups (and he seemed to like playing in groups and being in bands), he spent so much time absorbed in the tabula rasa solo concerts. Between 1977 and 1981, almost everything in his sessionography is a solo concerts. Can you discuss your experience of this?
EICHER: That’s right. He started in the early ‘70s with solos, like Lausanne in 1972 or 1973, then followed by Cologne, the Japanese box, the Sun Bear concerts… There was always a lot of solo between the other groups. But then it became a very solitary thing for him to do solo only for a while, before he formed the trio with Jack and Gary. But I think none of us could have expected such a successful resonance to the first solo concert. These concerts became something different, became something else, because no improviser had played entire concerts before not interrupted by pieces, but entirely concerts that took sometimes 45 to 50 minutes, and maybe then a second set. That was something really new at the time, and it was very successful in Japan and in Europe, and Keith seemed to enjoy very much being on stage alone.
TP: Do you have any speculations on why it seemed to suit the zeitgeist then?
EICHER: I don’t know the zeitgeist…it’s still going on.
TP: I mean, at the time, the late ‘70s…
EICHER: Well, it’s speculative, because very different people… Like, Peter Stein used the music in Death, Distraction and Detroit, a production with Robert Wilson in Berlin, in the Schaub(?), which was a very advanced and important theater group in Berlin that went for this. Not many people would have used the Köln concert at that time. Marguerite Duras, in her diaries which were introduced in Liberacion, has written about Keith Jarrett’s Köln concert that she hears in France in the summer in different situations. Henry Miller. Many people have written… It was more than the zeitgeist. It was something that was coming out of the time, and blossomed out, and influenced a lot of people from very different genres, different kinds of music. All the art field was checking out what Keith was doing.
TP: Most of his musical production since he was ill…well, a couple of solo concerts, and the trio is now in its 25th year. Can you speak of your first experience hearing this trio playing standard material?
EICHER: Before they came together to play standards, we had already a recording under Gary Peacock’s leadership and with his pieces. That was the wished-for combination, the combination that I always wanted to have together in the studio to make this record, and it was something really remarkable, I guess. When I listen back to this record, it has such wonderful pieces, like “Vignette.” The way they played together was like they’d played always together.
So later on, Keith wanted to do a standard trio from the American Songbook, and we decided to do that. The evening before recording in Power Station in New York, we went to an Indian restaurant and talked about a lot of things, and made some plans, and went in the studio with the idea to make one record, but we had studio time for three days, and in those three days, when we came out of the studio, we had made three records, including the mixage. We had recorded and mixed. This process was unbelievable. The interaction between these three people was wonderful. You can hear it in the record which just came out again how close they were already in their understanding of each other, and how beautifully their exposition of each piece came out.
TP: It’s certainly and developed, and they seem to take as much joy in it now as they did then. He’s also recorded a fair amount of European classical repertoire for you, and recorded as a classical musician. How did that transpire from your perspective?
EICHER: We did a very special and remarkable recording on the piece of Arvo Pärt, “Fratres,” played together by Gideon Kramer and Keith Jarrett. It was their first meeting and recording, and the last recording. It’s still a classic, I would say, which you can hear on Arvo Pärt’s record Tabula Rasa. It’s an electrifying performance between Gideon and Keith. I would never miss that day and how it happened. It was wonderful.
Then we recorded all the Shostakovich, which still is in the catalog and very successful, and recorded Mozart, and he’s recorded Bach, The Well-Tempered Piano, Book 1 and 2—the second one was recorded on harpsichord. Then we did the wonderful recording with Kim Kashkashian and Keith on the Gamba sonata of Bach, and there are other plans eventually.
TP: Can you speak to the qualities he brings to classical repertoire?
EICHER: He plays it very truthfully as a musician without any outside musical ideas about showing his ability to do different phrasings and whatever. He has prepared himself very seriously for all these recordings. Some people thought Keith should maybe include more risky elements such as phrasing, and maybe even some cadenzas improvised, like in the concerts of Mozart. But he didn’t. In all the years after, many musicians, classical musicians talked to me about these recordings and how musical they feel they are. Keith’s approach was very pure and down-to-the-text, so to speak, not more, not less. I tend to listen to his Bach quite often. And to the Mozart…and if you wish, you can go into the whole scale what I listen to. But it’s very truthful, artistically done music, and without speculation for any kind of fashion or trend.
TP: He said that immersing himself in Mozart was of great value to his jazz playing when he returned to performing after recuperating from CFS, that it developed his musicality, his touch, and also his left hand.
EICHER: Definitely his touch and his left hand. He had a good partner in developing these things, with Dennis Russell Davis, the great American conductor who always was around when Keith played orchestra music, performing this music in America and Europe together.,
TP: He said that he feels that his solo performances since the illness are far superior to what he was doing before, partly for the reasons that I mentioned. Can you speak about his personal evolution as a musician, both pianistically and conceptually?
EICHER: Many things. I’ll relate it to the musical ideas and to the program of a musician. What Keith played in the ‘70s and ‘80s were quite different in musical approach than what he’s doing now, especially in the solo concerts. For me, his technical abilities playing the piano was always on a high level, and I would say that his touch has changed in all these years, and it’s remarkable how it did change this way, small nuances first and more and more into a fine-tuning. But it has also to do with his affinity for certain pianos that speak to him. All this together, I think, in the way he wants to be recorded today and how he was recorded in earlier times, digital, non-digital, piano tuning—all those kinds of things have a certain effect on what is documented, of course. But Keith’s playing these days is on the highest level as a pianist.
TP: I spoke to him about documentation, and why concerts are successful, why he chooses to document one vis-a-vis another. He said that he records everything, that when he thinks something is good he then sends it to you, and what he decides to release pertains to his state of mind at the time. As an example, a solo concert from the opera house in Venice was at the top of his list, then something struck him as more interesting. How do you interact in determining what gets releases, the sequence of recordings, and the content. You’ve had a professional relationship for so long.
EICHER: We’ve known each other 40 years or so. It has changed, his approach. In the early days, I was at every recording, and we were very close in deciding every little thing, in the studio and outside the studio, in how we approached it. Now it is not possible for us to be always in the same place. Sometimes we are just in different places, and then he trusts his engineer and manager, who are very important for decision-making. But when the music is done, Keith sends it, and then we start to talk and discuss and sometimes fine-tune on the thing, and then we decide together what to release. But we can always have a good agreement on what to be done. The sequence of releases is also discussed, and since they are concerts that go from A to the end, we don’t have to talk about the sequence inside a recording any more because we take the music as it is. If Keith feels it’s appropriate to do so, we release the music as it is.
TP: That brings up the point that ECM is so known for the sound of the recordings, the way you address the sound in the studio, and it’s been a long time since he did a studio recording, and he doesn’t like being in the studio so much…
EICHER: Any more. He used to like the studio very much, and he also has a studio at home. But in recent years…or for many years… It started with the trio. All these recordings are done outside the studio, in concert halls. That’s right. And he likes this approach. I think he needs also the interaction with the audience, and probably the risk of going to the edge there is more appropriate than being in an intimate studio where conditions are always very different. I think it’s not a question of better or worse. It’s a question also of interacting with the public.
Recordings like Belonging and the earlier recordings that we made in studios couldn’t have been made that easily in concert live. We have done wonderful recordings with great balance and sound that would only have been possible to make in a good studio situation. Later on, it did fly into other directions, and that’s also fine. It’s important to assist a musician in his needs and his ideas, and then get the best out of it.
TP: Most of the Keith Jarrett Trio recordings of this century were made in 2001 and 2002. It seems that 2001 was a very interesting year for him, both as a trio and solo player.
EICHER: That’s right. I don’t particularly look so much into the recording year. For me, time is flying so quickly that I forget sometimes that all these years have passed already. We are listening at the moment to a tape that we will release in January called Yesterdays, which is a Japanese recording from 2001. It sounds incredibly fresh and good. After he recovered from his illness, new life and new ideas were coming into the trio and the solo playing, so since then we have remarkable recordings already released, and we have still some very good recordings that wait to be released in our archive.
TP: The Tokyo recording is also a trio date?
EICHER: It’s a trio.
TP: Will a solo recording come out in 2009?
EICHER: I guess so. There will be a solo recording. Since we have not finally decided, Keith and I, I cannot talk about which one it will be, but it looks like there will be another solo record coming out.
TP: Can you describe your overview of where Keith Jarrett fits into the timeline, both on the jazz stage and on the world stage?
EICHER: When you think about how long Keith Jarrett already is an influential musician. It started when he played with Charles Lloyd, then later on got a lot of attention in Europe and with Miles and all, and he has written such wonderful songs, and is such a great listener when he plays with other musicians—and for the music always. He is one of the most influential and best musicians that I know. “Best” is always a strange term, but his musicianship and his personality, and also his influence to music-making means a lot to me.
[END OF CONVERSATION]