The celebrated pianist Keith Jarrett first established his reputation in the popular Charles Lloyd group (Dream Weaver) where he proved himself to be a dazzlingly gifted player. A period with Miles Davis in the early '70s (Live Evil and At Fillmore) did not lead- as with pianists Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul and Herbie Hancock- to the subsequent formation of a jazz-rock outfit. Jarrett's career has been remarkably diverse.
Born Allentown, Pennsylvania, on May 8, 1945, Jarrett learned piano from age 3, exploring improvisation and composition as early as 7. At 15, he took formal lessons and by 16 was presenting program of his own work even touring with Freddie Waring's Pennsylvanians. In '63 he spent an eventful year on a scholarship to Berklee School of Music and built his early reputation on having being kicked out of Berklee.
After working around in Boston, in '65 Jarrett moved to New York becoming an Art Blakey Jazz Messenger (for three months) and working with Roland Kirk. In February '66, Charles Lloyd found Jarrett playing as a cocktail-bar pianist and, over the next three years Jarrett toured Europe six times with Lloyd, covering eighteen countries including a trip to Moscow (Charles Lloyd in the Soviet Union).
In '69 Jarrett formed his own trio with bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian, later adding ex Ornette Coleman saxophonist Dewey Redman (Byablue etc). With this group Jarrett displayed his ensemble talents. The music is vigorous, driving and the interaction between the players- particularly between Haden and Jarrett- is phenomenal. There is a great variety of approach towards Jarrett's compositions, from the simultaneous soloing on Great Bird, the rapt duet for bass and piano on Prayer (Death And The Flower) to a tapestry of percussive effects on Kuum (Backhand) where all the musicians double on maracas, drums etc.
In '70 Miles Davis invited Jarrett to join his first line-up. At first, Jarrett resisted because of his own commitments but eventually agreed and their resulting association is well documented.
In '71 Jarrett became committed to acoustic solo performance, recording Facing You for ECM, Manfred Eicher's quality label which has established new standards for freedom for the artist. Although Jarrett returned to the group format for his classic and enduring Belonging (with saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen), to say that Jarrett has recorded "prolifically" as a soloist is almost understating the case. Few other musicians would have the clout let alone the nerve to release 20 sides of pure improvisation as one set (Sun Bear Concerts). Hours of live, unaccompanied acoustic piano (The Koln Concert and Solo-Concerts, Bremen and Lausanne etc) seemed at their time of issue a sure commercial disaster but The Koln Concert alone sold over one million copies for ECM. Jarrett's sheer approachability and dedication to beauty have won him a popularity beyond that of a coterie jazz following.
Impossible to categorize, his rushing stream of improvisation ransacks the classical, baroque, gospel, country and boogie bags, rolling them over ostinato rhythms that hypnotize the senses. Not restricted to theme and variations, Jarrett's longer pieces, untitled, treat form as a verb rather than a noun. He has also produced several albums as an orchestral composer (In The Light, Luminescence and Arbour Zena) which have a brooding neo-classical feel. Saxophonist Jan Garbarek's contribution leavens the overall tristesse and dolorousness of the string section.
Jarrett's recorded projects are often a personal revelation- like his album dedicated to G.I. Gurdjieff (Sacred Hymns). Or just plain intriguing- like the digitally recorded double, Invocations/The Moth And The Flame, which finds Jarrett in the depths of Ottobeuren Abbey at the pipe organ and on soprano sax. Extraordinarily gothic, chillingly gloomy- but soul-stirring.
In the mid-'80s, Jarrett returned to the trio format in company with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack De Johnette, producing the improvisational Changes. A surprising move, with this rhythm section was Jarrett's return to a standards repertoire. The three Standards albums (Volumes 1 and 2, plus Live) include only one self-penned track (So Tender on Volume 2), all other material being old favorites, almost in the MOR mold but subjected to the 'Jarrett Treatment'- All The Things You Are, God Bless The Child, I Fall In Love Too Easily, Stella By Starlight, Falling In Love With Love etc.
In '86 Jarrett confirmed his change of musical direction touring with his trio (Peacock and De Johnette) and performing a standards repertoire. Despite Jarrett's undeniably significant contribution to Miles Davis' ground-breaking electric jazz period, Jarrett has since defended the acoustic piano as though the Fender Rhodes has never been invented. He has declared: "I am, and have been, carrying on an anti electric-music crusade .."
While Jarrett's solo concert albums undoubtedly created a market for the sound of the grand piano again, his electric approach and lyrical gifts have converted many who were baffled by the dissonance of Cecil Taylor.
With Jarrett, you will hear down-home blues right next to the European Classical tradition as stated by Delius, Debussy or Satie; sedate lines of plainsong can crop up alongside the hot gospel; explorations of some ancient Moorish scale can suddenly give way to some raunchy rock & roll. Jarrett's music is primeval and futuristic at the same time. Not for nothing has Keith Jarrett been described as 'the most influential pianist since Monk.