Jarrett – a consolation statement

Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette will be playing in the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday evening. Aside from a few wheelchair spaces it looks from the Southbank Centre website like all the seats are sold – and, no, I am certainly not suggesting you able-bodied slackers who don’t already have a ticket should fake a mobility problem to get in!

I don’t have a ticket, partly because I am one of those slackers who didn’t quite get around to booking in time, but also because, exciting and absorbing as it was last time around, especially as I was seeing Jarrett in concert for the first time, I’m not sure that hearing this music in such a large venue and with all the hype that has started to surround Jarrett’s appearances is really not making too many compromises.

What do I remember of that evening two years ago? Well there was certainly some lovely music played oh so far away by those three small men on that vast stage. They did seem to play a very short concert followed by quite a long series of encores, which meant that between each of the last half dozen tunes there was an awful lot of applause and walking on and off and general worship at the shrine of KJ.

But when one’s overwhelming memory is of how many times you have been told to switch your phone off and warned that if you so much as think of taking a picture you will have your eyes surgically removed layer by layer, or if you even emit one too heavy a breath you will be removed for insulting not only the guru Keith but all of music that has ever been played in a public place since the gargling of the first amoeba, then one has to ask: has the point been lost here somewhere?

By complete coincidence, a couple of days ago, I paid a visit to my favourite record shop, Polar Bear in Kings Heath, Birmingham, and found that sitting there in the glass cabinet of box sets, between Amon Duul II and Delta Blues Greats, was Keith Jarrett At The Blue Note: The Complete Recordings. ECM 527 638-2 dates from 1995, and comprises six CDs documenting every note played by Keith, Gary and Jack over six sets in three nights in June 1994 at the famous Manhattan jazz club. It was in immaculate condition and only £50!

As I write this the band is working up a small tornado in the the middle of Alec Wilder’s While We’re Young, having previously warmed themselves up with Dave Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way and George Gershwin’s How Long Has This Been Going On (Well, only half an hour so far, since you ask, but I’ve still got five and a half more CDs to go). I’m already in heaven and expecting to visit even higher clouds in that particular firmament over the next few hours… or days, even.

It’s terrific stuff, and miked nice and close, so that, if you close your eyes, not only could you be there, but you could be at a table right at the front. This is wonderfully conversational and intimate music, and the close confines and warm atmosphere of a jazz club is where it was first created and where it really should be heard.

So, I know that listening to music that has been translated into digits and back out again to flow from your living room speakers is not at all the same as listening to the musicians there in the room and feeling the sound waves from piano, bass and drums hitting your eardrums without interruption or translation. But I also ask: on Wednesday evening, when I am sitting at home in a small city in Staffordshire listening to Keith Jarrett, will I be less happy than that full hall of Jarrett fans, many of whom have paid £75 a seat to see three small men on a vast stage play an hour and some with loads of threats before and during?

If you are lucky enough to have a ticket, I wish you a truly wonderful evening, memorable for all the right musical reasons; for the rest of you, might I suggest you slip a Jarrett trio disc into the CD player, pour yourself a glass of your favourite, and reflect with me that there is more than one way to experience the art of one our greatest living musicians. And that this latter method might be the less encumbered, purer way of  enjoying that art.



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10 replies

  1. I saw this trio at Jazz à Juan (Antibes) in 2007 and it was an extraordinary experience. It wasn’t, as you describe, a short set with a lot of encores but 2 sets, the first about 45 minutes and the second considerably longer. They were really cooking and seemed reluctant to stop. Having enjoyed it so much, I went back the next year (they’ve been regulars at Juan since roughly the turn of the millennium). This time, I deliberately got a cheaper seat, further back, so that I could see the bay behind the stage while the performance . Whether it was because I was further away, or because the view was competing for my attention, or because I was missing the excitement and surprise of seeing them for the first time, the music didn’t engage me nearly as much as it had the previous year. They still played brilliantly, as you’d expect.

    So, I sympathize with the sentiment that seeing three mall men far away on a vast stage is probably not the optimal way to appreciate this music. Jarrett and a few others (Mehldau, increasingly) will sell out any “intimate” venue so quickly that most people won’t notice that the tickets were ever on sale. I don’t think much can be done about that. I’m grateful to have heard Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette twice. I don’t really expect to hear them live again but that’s OK.

  2. i think i was still a teenager when I drove 3 hours in torrential rain to see the jarrett trio at the same venue . this was the ill fated gig (1991? ) that turned more then a few people off the most hip trio of its day.
    we actually missed the 1st half but we entered an uncomfortable room . a woody allen scketch was unfolding – some light halfway up the stalls (pa desk / exit light ) was causing a stand-off , with jarrett holding the room to account. no-one could find this phantom red light ( jarrett wrongly thought was video camera.) then it kicked off . ”Rudolph Serkin wouldn’t have this problem, said the great one. ” ” well he’s more professional then you , ” shouted someone from the back . someone RIGHT at the back . the house errupted.
    someone else shouted ” Relax keith!” , and then woody allen (keith) said nonsensical words.
    i hated him at this moment. just having read his autobiog about how the music passes thru him . about how selfless an artist has to become. well this was hardly a ‘state of grace ‘. (unless you’re larry david )
    i still isten to his beautiful music and over the years spent a small fortune on his albums . im glad the music actualllly passes through him though, cause the guy’s a tit.
    Alex Hutton

  3. If you didn’t get tickets to see Keith, then next best that night is my gig at the Pizza Express, Dean St. More intimate, for sure, and you’ll see Adam Waldmann, Jasper Høiby, Shlomo, Katie Elliott, Helen Burnett, Aisling Lavelle, and me. Will be a night to remember. We’ll play tracks from my album Door Mouse and other good stuff.

    Jeremy Kahn

  4. I completely agree, and I’m glad someone else has said it. I’ve seen some great piano trios from up in the gods at the Barbican, and despite the quality of the music, I’ve often left underwhelmed. The jazz piano trio is essentially a kind of chamber music, and my best experiences of them have always been in small jazz clubs or chamber recital halls, or, as you also mention, on record. I didn’t get a ticket when I saw the Jarrett gig advertised, because I thought it was a choice between needing binoculars or paying £75. I’d rather see Jeremy’s gig in Pizza Express (though I can’t make it on Wednesday – sorry).

  5. Well I know where you’re coming from, but it was great. Even if I have come away humming Julie Andrews from the sound of music! (Something good). He didn’t seem so groany tonight, and so many exquisite moments. Only paid £30 each this time, and it was better in that the sound was great, but my eyesight meant I couldn’t see some of the more peculiar bottom wiggling very well. Id love to know the full playlist. Best Sara

    • Can’t believe I mistook When I fall in love, for Something good, but I guess, unless Keith writes in to say otherwise, I did. How embarassing. Very churlish review from Jack Massarik in the Standard. Do wonder if he’s a bit past it himself. The sound, and energy, was perfect from where I was sitting.

  6. Like I say, wasn’t able to go to that gig as I had my own, so I can’t comment directly. But last time I saw this trio (the night of 1000 encores) I had exactly the impression that Jack talks about, and also a strange sensation that the other people in the crowd didn’t seem to notice. Certainly the trio had lost its spark.

  7. First set: in oyur own sweet way; Basin St Blues; Sandhu; ? Showtune segueing into original?; Answer Me My Love.
    Second set & encores: Bop-be; Yesterdays;? another be-bop tune?; When will the Blues Leave?; God Bless the Child; Once upon a Time: When I Fall in Love. (I think I missed one out.)
    “Answer Me My Love” was as good as it gets – sublime

  8. I own just about every Jarrett recording, and his music touches me to the core. HOWEVER, I remember seeing him back in the 80’s, and he was upset because various people were coughing from time to time (imagine that happening in Minneapolis in the winter–the nerve of some people). And Jarrett scolded the audience, and suggested that we all cough upon his command and get it out of our systems. I saw him three or four times in the 70’s and 80’s, but I’d be hesitant to do so today. I think I’d be afraid to cough and would be sucking on lozenges just to be doubly sure I didn’t. I love his music, yet I am saddened that one of the most financially successful jazz musicians in history–if not THE most financially successful–is seemingly so ungrateful and relationally unskilled. I suppose other art forms have had their share of prima donas (sp?), whereas in the jazz world, because so many musicians are struggling financially, Jarrett’s behavior is particulary repulsive. Perhaps he should just record in a studio with the well behaved Manfred Eicher on hand, who I am sure, will clap on command.

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