Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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JARRETT, Keith

(b 8 May '45, Allentown PA) Piano, other instruments; composer. From large musical family; began on piano at age three, played a concert of his own compositions at 16; almost went to study with Nadia Boulanger, instead went to NYC to play jazz. Worked with Roland Kirk, Art Blakey, Charles Lloyd '65--6, Miles Davis '70--71 (the last time he worked as a sideman and the only time he played electric instruments). He told Leonard Feather that he had no favourites but admired anyone who was sincere; he approaches music in a sort of new-age way as a transcendental experience; he is the most controversial pianist currently working, along with the very different Cecil Taylor: the only thing they have in common is that people either love them or hate them. He recorded with Jack DeJohnette, Gary Burton, others; he had formed a trio '69 with Paul Motian and Charlie Haden, then formed his 'American quartet' by adding Dewey Redman. He made small-group LPs for Atlantic, Columbia and Impulse; from '71 he also recorded for ECM. Andy Hamilton in the Wire (June '86) wrote that he and Chick Corea had 'inherited the Romantic tradition of Bill Evans and diluted and spent it'. Jarrett seems to need strong collaborators to keep him from a whimsical pretentiousness; his improvisations can seem to go on for ever, much of his ECM output appeals to fans of new age and space music, and he vocalizes as he plays, which irritates some listeners. Mysteries: The Impulse Years is a four-CD set that captures the 'American quartet' both before and after its more famous ECM recordings, starting out with romanticism and ending in a tense democratic free-for-all.

Albums on Atlantic and its subsidiary, Vortex: Life Between Exit Signs '67, Restoration Ruin '68 (Jarrett playing several instruments and singing, with string quartet dubbed on some tracks), Somewhere Before '68 (recorded at Shelly's Manne- Hole, LA), The Mourning Of A Star, Birth and El Juicio '71 ('The Judgement' was first of eight Jarrett albums to make top 200 LPs in USA). Of Restoration Ruin even his fan Ian Carr, who published a sympathetic biography of him, complained that he can't sing and his lyrics were banal. Much from '68 remains unissued, incl. an album with vocals and guitar by Scott Jarrett; there were also singles on Vortex, e.g. 'You're Fortunate'/'Sioux City Sue New'; Bob Dylan songs 'Lay Lady Lay'/'My Back Pages' '68--9. On Impulse: Fort Yawuh '73 (at Village Vanguard); Treasure Island, Death And The Flower and Backhand '74; Mysteries, Shades and Byablue charted '76--7; Bop-Be '77 did not. Also Expectations '72, adding guitarist Sam Brown, Airto, horns, strings on Columbia; and trio set NDR Jazz Workshop '72 on Norddeutscher Rundfunk.

He is now so strongly identified with the ECM label that some of his fans probably don't know about the earlier albums (but Foundations is a two-CD compilation on Atlantic). The two- LP set In The Light and single LP Arbour Zena '75 (both with strings, the latter with Jan Garbarek and Haden), solo keyboard two-LP set Staircase/ Hourglass/Sundial/Sand and single LP My Song with his 'European quartet' (Garbarek, Palle Danielsson on bass, Jon Christensen on drums) all charted '76--8; since then the charts have been abandoned to pop groups, but most of Jarrett's ECM albums have kept selling. Small-group sets incl. Ruta + Daytya '72 (duo album with DeJohnette), The Survivors Suite and Eyes Of The Heart '76, both by the quartet incl. Motian, Haden and Redman; two-disc Nude Ants '79 with the 'European quartet' at the Village Vanguard; Standards (three vols) and Changes '83--5 with the 'standards trio' incl. Gary Peacock and DeJohnette; Standards In Norway '89 was issued later. By the time of the trio set Still Live and solo Dark Intervals, both released '88, critic Richard Williams thought that Jarrett had matured, moving from the solipsistic fantasy of the '70s--early '80s to finding some musical strength. The Celestial Hawk incl. the Syracuse Symphony led by Christopher Keene; composition Ritual was played by two pianos (with Dennis Russell Davies).

More albums have incl. solo sets: three-disc Solo Concerts '73, two-disc The Kln Concert '75 (a steady seller, now on one CD), two-disc Hymns/Spheres '76 (organ at Ottenbeuren Abbey), Sun Bear Concerts '76 (a ten-disc set made at concerts in Japan, described as 'grotesquely egotistical' by Williams, now on six CDs), two-disc Invocations/The Moth And The Flame '79 (plays pipe organ and soprano sax on the first, solo piano on the second), G. I. Gurdjieff Sacred Hymns '80, Concerts Bregenz '81 (three discs altogether); Book Of Ways '87 (solo clavichord). The European quartet made Personal Mountains live in Japan; the standards trio made Changeless '87 (modal improvisations) and Bye Bye Blackbird. This is not a complete list; he has probably made too many records for his own good, and he slowed down somewhat in the '90s. At The Deerhead Inn '94 had Motian and Peacock; Keith Jarrett At The Blue Note: The Complete Recordings was a six-CD set of the standards trio made in June '94, also released as singles. He has also recorded Mozart piano concerti and Bach on piano and harpsichord for ECM; on Book Of Ways he played two harpsichords. Solo La Scala '97 on ECM in two parts totalling over 70 minutes was again self-indulgent with not much happening, though his fans may love it, incl. one of his overblown folk-like 45-minute improvisations.