TT 220: Jarrett Video
Rick Beato has interviewed Keith Jarrett for a reasonably slick video presentation. Any one who cares for Jarrett will need to watch. While it is tragic to see a giant after a debilitating stroke, Jarrett is unexpectedly and joyfully straight up in his rap, quite unlike much of his personal presentation in the past.
My own (print) interviews with the titan are here and here. The survey of the American Quartet with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian is one of my more substantial efforts as a critic.
Truly ESOTERIC and UNFRIENDLY commentary:
Yesterday I listened to Keith Jarrett’s recording of “Stella by Starlight” from Standards Live. In my high school years I loved this record, but I’m less positive now.
Of course I still find wonderful things. The flexibility of his phrasing is undeniable; also, Keith rarely overplays. He could start in top gear from the git-go, bursting in with a thousand notes per square inch like Oscar Peterson or another super-virtuoso, but he almost never does. It’s a trio with two other major voices, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, and the pianist is inside the music with the bass and drums, not merely on top of the bass and drums. The ebb and flow of the trio is hypnotic.
In the Beato video, Jarrett says that when he was finding his voice, he didn’t want to play modal like McCoy Tyner. He then says he wanted to be more “Bach-ian,” meaning voice-leading in the contrapuntal European tradition like Bach.
I am about to make too much of this, but this snippet of discussion with Beato reinforces my priors. In the essay I suggest that while I prefer Keith Jarrett to Chick Corea, Chick actually knows more about bebop: the real bebop of Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and so forth.
Jarrett learned Bach as a kid. Then he learned modal jazz a teenager because that was the dominant style. (He plays quite a bit like McCoy Tyner on his first notable record, Charles Lloyd’s Forest Flower.) Then, seeking to become even more personal, he added “Bach” back into his aesthetic…and that was basically that, at least in terms of playing with swinging bass and drums. Keith never really did his bebop homework, not like Chick did. Keith told me himself that he didn’t know who Bud Powell was when he showed up for his first DownBeat interview.
In the end part of the real bebop is a specific relationship to clave. I’m not sure what else is in the mix, we need to consult Barry Harris or another higher authority. But there’s something in there that Keith doesn’t have, and if he had that too, the Standards Trio would have been even greater.
What ever it is, Bach doesn’t help. (Bud Powell would help.)
Jarrett didn’t want to cop too much McCoy, but McCoy certainly had a thorough grounding in the real bebop. Indeed, McCoy learned some of those folkways and mores in person from Bud Powell himself. When Jarrett replaced McCoy with “Bach-ian” in his personal hierarchy, he skipped a step.
This is a fairly obscure point, perhaps only relevant to my own personal journey. Indeed, I am so far down the bebop wormhole that I almost don’t like Jarrett’s “Stella by Starlight” anymore…and it used to be my favorite thing. My opinions go in cycles: In another decade I will possibly love it again.
Everyone knows that Jarrett sounds great pretty much all of the time. On the Beato video, even in these reduced circumstances, Keith’s line sings. His relationship to the keyboard is unique.
To be clear, if the genre is not swinging jazz, then it becomes an entirely different topic. The latest Jarrett release is Bordeaux Concert from 2016. His growth as a solo improvisor has not been in the forefront of the discourse, but in terms of the esoteric "atonal yet pulsing" aesthetic — like the first track of Bordeaux — Keith is perhaps proving to be the greatest of all time. A lonely path. Due respect.
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