«Title of Document: A DEEP JOY INSIDE IT: THE MUSICAL AESTHETICS OF KEITH JARRETT Jason C. McCool, Master of Arts, 2005 Directed By: Dr. Richard G. ...»
It is the process [of creativity] that motivates every human activity, from the Sunday Sermon to the Happy Hour at the local bar. If you know it [creativity] incredibly well you write Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. If you refuse to even consider it, then cocktail hour may be your most important experience… Creativity is what makes humanity move (again whether they know it or not). We were Created to Participate.158 Jarrett to Art Lange in Down Beat, June 1984; as quoted in Carr, 124.
Liner notes to Bridge of Light (ECM New Series 1450, 1993).
Carr, Keith Jarrett, 139.
Contained in the liner notes for Jarrett’s 1986 recording Spirits is the following
Musicians can and do fool themselves every day when they say they are “making music.” They mean they are playing their instrument very well.
This can be done by computers. What computers cannot deal with is value: meaning.159 More recently, Jarrett has spoken of the music he makes with the trio as “[a] spiritual involvement in something that is not our own… something beautiful that is not ours.160 This statement serves to indicate the sort of Eastern-inspired renunciation of ego that Jarrett’s aesthetic lays claim to, as does the following: “I thought someone could show that music wasn't about material. I wanted to say that we don't possess this, this isn't our music. If you own anything you're not free.”161 Clearly, Jarrett’s stated positions on creativity appear inscrutable, tangled and decidedly non-Western, and it is perhaps in this area that his individualistic, outsider status in modern music is most apparent.
Jarrett’s physical transcendence As an improviser whose music is so dependent on finding the flow of inspiration, Jarrett is particularly susceptible to the visceral influence of musical performance on his body. Jarrett is infamous for his theatrics at the piano, standing and swooning, humming along discordantly as he plays, contorting his body in pained ecstasy as the music channels through him.
Liner notes to Solo Concerts (ECM 1035-37, 1973).
Liner notes to Spirits.
DownBeat, December 1995 The late journalist and author Frank Conroy comments on witnessing Jarrett listen to
an excerpt from his own 1976 Sun Bear Concerts:
When he listens, he is swept away, and it is a sort of muted version of what happens to him when he plays. After every phrase he gives a sharp, reflexive exhalation of breath, as if he has lived through that phrase in the act of listening to it… The music, the phrases are a kind of breathing to him. When the lines get long he rocks back and forth, and dips his head, and then raises it as the line soars. The gestures are pressurized, and mysteriously eloquent. It is as if he is straining to physically become the music, to turn his body into sound.162 Coming from his background in improvised music to the world of classical music, where a stylized demeanor and proper decorum are expected of performers, Jarrett found himself on unfamiliar turf. He quickly became frustrated by what he saw as the sterility and emptiness of this world, and lamented the fact that classical performers, at least in his experience, do not recognize the potential for transformative experience
that music allows:
Their life [classical musicians] doesn’t seem to change by virtue of what they play on stage. I’ve noticed that they are the same people when they leave the stage as they were when they went on. And they play the finale, and their hair shakes around a lot at the end because they’re double fortissimo and everyone knows that it’s the end and everyone is excited and applause happens.
In the classical circles I’ve been in, I could never commit to that 100% as a world. I couldn’t live in it because the word ‘music’ is in small letters and it consists of better and worse pieces. I might as well have jigsaw puzzles as a hobby then!
To me that isn’t what music is about… it’s about your blood flowing and do you know it and do you know where it’s flowing and can you feel it, From ECM website: www.ecmrecords.com.
Carr, Keith Jarrett, 101.
With respect to reaching what Gernot Blume calls “the state of grace” in his music, Jarrett articulates what he sees as a clear difference between organic music-making and the common practice of self-consciously “using technique.” In this respect, Jarrett’s attempts to renounce his ego seem decidedly non-European, and stand in stark contrast to the obsession with virtuosic displays of technique found in both the classical and jazz worlds.
There is a fine line between using technique and making music. We must be open to the spaces (silence) in order to fill them just right. We must see the spaces, inhabit them, live them. Then the next note, the next move, becomes apparent because it is needed. Until it is apparent, nothing should be played. Until it is known, nothing should be anticipated. Until the whole appears, nothing should be criticized. Until you are participating in this, you cannot hear. Until you hear, you cannot play.
Until you listen, you cannot make music. Music is a part of life. It is not a separate, controlled event where a musician presents something to a passive audience. It is in the blood. A musician should be able to reveal this. Music should not remind us of the control we seem to have over our lives. It should remind us of the necessity of surrender, the capacity in man for understanding the reason for this surrender, the conditions that are necessary for it, the Being necessary for it164 Jarrett’s statements about organic musical processes might be taken by some as a haughty artist being deliberately or self-consciously obscure. What seems a more accurate description of this, however, is that Jarrett’s improvised music comes from a place that is genuinely mysterious, even to Jarrett himself, and his attempts to figure Carr, Keith Jarrett, 154.
out where it comes from – to describe this process in words – spoil the purity of his intent. In Jarrett’s own words, “And we’re left with nothing but words and words and words…”165 Perhaps because he is so keyed in to the listening and reacting process, Jarrett is critical of other music that he feels doesn’t come about organically, which, perhaps not surprisingly, seems to be most music not made by Keith Jarrett.
I cannot say what I think is right about music; I only know the ‘rightness’ of it. I know it when I hear it. There is a release, a flowing out, a fullness to it that is not the same as richness or musicality. I can talk about it in this way because I do not feel that I ‘created’ this music as much as I allowed it to ‘emerge.’ It is this emergence that is inexplicable and incapable of being made solid, and I feel (or felt) as though not only do you never step in the same river twice, but you are never the same when stepping in the river. The river has always been there, despite our polluting it. This is a miracle, and in this day and age we need it. At least I do.166 One major reason why Jarrett’s aesthetic clashes so harshly with classical models of music-making is that Jarrett’s outlook seems so inherently non-Western. He claims to have derived inspiration from “Eastern” music and thought, and mocks Western society for outlawing alternate means of experience.
We don’t have an ecstatic tradition – a tradition where the state of ecstasy is the main goal. … We actually didn’t want that. We were the Puritans.
We didn’t want the dark side, so we had to get rid of the other shit, so we ended up with the middle.167 Liner notes for Spirits.
Liner notes for Spirits.
Jarrett, “The ‘insanity’ of doing more than one (musical) thing,” 8.
In fact, the feeling that Jarrett is referencing when describing his experiences as an improviser is perhaps best described as “ecstasy,” and in fact he has used this term himself rather frequently.
If you’re improvising it’s a much clearer, closer representation of ecstasy than when you’re performing written music, because all the subject matter is coming through you. You’re not interpreting something. When the information is coming in and what you’re playing is good, there’s no way to describe it other than ecstasy.168 I know that when you’re an improviser, a true improviser, you have to be familiar with ecstasy, otherwise you don’t connect with music. When you’re a composer, you can wait for these moments, you know, whenever.
They might not be here today. But when you’re an improviser, at eight o’clock tonight, for example, you have to be so familiar with that state that you can almost bring it on.169 Jarrett claims that his favorite descriptive word is “ferocious,” which apparently Jarrett had come across in a description of the work of a favorite Persian poet. (This poet is presumably the thirteenth-century Sufi and ecstatic poet Rumi; Jarrett often quotes Rumi in his liner notes). Jarrett applies the term to the delicate yet fierce trumpet sound of Miles Davis – also famously described by jazz reviewer Whitney Balliett as “like a man walking on eggshells.”170 Someone could say, “Oh, anyone could play like Miles.” He has a trumpet sound that is almost like a student has when a student is learning trumpet. You get that same sound – almost – for a while and then you get more brassy and then you play more and more and you lose this “innocent” sound that Miles has. So the whole world can say, “anybody can get that sound,” but nobody can get it. And the reason Miles gets that sound and no one else gets it is because Miles wants that sound more than Utne Reader Online, as quoted from http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~jdale/text/notes/music.shtml, accessed on 8 June 2004.
Carr, Keith Jarrett, 131.
Whitney Balliett. Andrew Clark, Editor. Riffs & Choruses: A New Jazz Anthology (Continuum Publishing, 1991).
I’m trying to get out of this thing where “want” means something like “desire.” I don’t mean desire. Ferocious is too fast for desire. Desire is ‘I’d love to do this.’ The kind of want that would make me play the note I hear isn’t ego. That’s not ego, that’s a sort of harmonizing with reality in a powerful way.171 Potential for ecstasy in classical music Perhaps surprisingly, Jarrett has referred to a similar sort of transformative experience occurring during a performance of classical music. In 1999, ECM released Jarrett’s recording of Mozart’s Concerto No. 9 in E-flat, K. 271, with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra under Dennis Russell Davies. Jarrett describes a brief experience he had playing this music, claiming to his wife that “these three notes are worth the whole thing.” One of the most transcendent musical experiences I think I’ve ever had in music happened at the last Mozart recording... [in the Andantino of the Eflat concerto, K. 271] It’s a C minor opening and the orchestra plays an introduction. Most of the motifs are in there as they usually are and then they stop and there’s three pick up notes as they say and then I’m on one of the first bar and the orchestra’s back in. And those are all octaves and with a grace note octave under it, G, C, E-flat, and then G at the top is the actual tutti. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bigger musical experience than playing those first three notes.172 In describing this moment, Jarrett couches his experience in the familiar language of “transcendence,” no different from the way he discusses ecstatic moments of improvisation.
Keith Jarrett, “In search of folk roots,” 113.
Keith Jarrett, “The ‘insanity’ of doing more than one (musical) thing,” 4.
However, Jarrett seems skeptical about the ultimate potential of classical music performance to reach the “state of grace” that is possible in true improvisation. In a recent interview, Jarrett was asked the following question, “You have been described as a musical ecstatic. Can you achieve this state while playing classical music like
you can in jazz?” Jarrett’s response:
Classical music is kind of barren in that respect. I don't think classical players are changed by the music they play. First of all, the music is already old, and even if it's new, it's old. Somebody has been poring over it, rewriting it, erasing it—by the time the music is rehearsed and played, it represents a time that is gone. As a jazz player, you're asked to do the opposite. You're asked to be emotionally fluid, like a liquid, and that's what we are anyway—we're 98 percent liquid. Because of that, a jazz player can get life-affirming or life-changing experiences that a classical player cannot. I have never seen a classical player who's happy. Usually they talk so fast that it's hard for me to believe that there's any part of them that's relaxed! I personally think that the stress of learning and interpreting that music is greater than the rewards.174 Jarrett’s intellectual ponderings here, like so much of his writings, come off as deliciously subjective and patently unprovable. His assumptions that classical players en masse cannot undergo life-affirming experiences, based on the fact that the music they play is not theirs, are obviously rather large; no one will ever accuse Jarrett of shrinking from controversial statements. These comments do however articulate the core of Jarrett’s contrasting attitudes toward the performance of classical music and the process of improvising jazz.
Keith Jarrett, “The ‘insanity’ of doing more than one (musical) thing,” 4.
Keith Jarrett, JazzTimes, Jan/Feb 2004.
Chapter 13: Keith Jarrett’s Music Outline of career Obviously, Keith Jarrett’s aesthetic positions would not merit nearly the same consideration if his artistic activities did not support these beliefs. Jarrett’s musical activities reflect a diversity and productivity perhaps unprecedented in American music, yet his music can be placed into a few loose categories.
The bulk of Jarrett’s recording career might be summarized along the following lines:
Keith Jarrett Trio Of any of his musical projects, the context of Jarrett’s jazz piano trio perhaps provides the most convenient model for comparison with older historical models.