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«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. ...»

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Though Jarrett himself is reluctant to allow for the validity of assigning categories in music21, it seems that it is in the jazz world that Jarrett feels most comfortable. The concept of pedigree plays an important role in jazz history, as individual players have often found recognition and acceptance based on their association with other prominent musicians. For instance, John Coltrane first gained widespread public recognition in the band of Miles Davis, who himself had first become known while playing with Charlie Parker. Keith Jarrett’s pedigree boasts membership in what were perhaps jazz’s two most famous ensembles for talent grooming, the bands of drummer Art Blakey and trumpeter Miles Davis. Jarrett’s recording career began in 1966 with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, a group that from 1954 to 1990 provided apprenticeships for many noteworthy jazz musicians – besides Jarrett, Clifford Brown, Horace Silver, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Chuck Mangione, and Wynton Marsalis are the best known. After a notable stint with the popular jazz-rock band of saxophonist Charles Lloyd, in 1970 Jarrett was picked up to join what was then the preeminent group in jazz, that of Miles Davis. For three decades, Davis’s bands had featured some of the most important figures in jazz, many of whom would go on to Jarrett: “We have substituted quantity for quality, and to make up for the lack of real “voices” on these [new] recordings, new categories are constantly being invented. I suppose people say to themselves, ‘Well, maybe this alternative will be better than the last. We’re tired of that last one.’ Of become leading players and bandleaders in their own right – Coltrane, Bill Evans, and Cannonball Adderly in the 1950s incarnation; Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Tony Williams in the 1960s. The 1970s Davis bands continued this trend, and Jarrett counted important musicians such as Chick Corea, Hancock, Jack DeJohnette, and John McLaughlin as fellow members of this ensemble. The fact that Keith Jarrett originates from within this tradition, having performed with what are perhaps the two most important “workshop” bands in jazz history, not only situates Jarrett’s current musical ventures firmly within jazz, but also lends authority and legitimacy to his statements regarding this music. In stark contrast to the modern jazz world’s tendency toward hero-worship, rarely does Jarrett expend energy exalting his predecessors. Thus, two instances where this did occur stand out. Jarrett’s 1990 double-album Tribute, in which he uncharacteristically pays homage to legendary jazz musicians such as Lee Konitz, Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Jim Hall, and John Coltrane, perhaps gives a clue into Jarrett’s reverence for the jazz tradition.

Secondly, Jarrett’s album Bye Bye Blackbird, released in 1993, was recorded on October 12, 1991, just two weeks after the death of Miles Davis, and Jarrett dedicated this release to the memory of his former boss Davis.

Role as jazz spokesperson Jarrett’s 1992 New York Times article is cast by the author himself as a direct response to what might be called the “authoritative vacuum” that came into place in

jazz after the death of Miles Davis:

course they are. There was no music there. We all need variety sometimes, but when every channel has nothing, shouldn’t we notice?” (Jarrett, “Categories Aplenty,” Sec. H, p.19.) Every year the number of musicians who remember why they play music in the first place gets smaller, and the greatest loss from this handful was Miles Davis, who died last year. His death, among other things, prompts these remarks.22 From the mid-1950s to the early 1990s, a stretch of almost 40 years that encompasses a majority of jazz history, Davis was seen by many as the unofficial authority and “spokesperson” for jazz. With the possible exception of John Coltrane, Davis was the most important jazz musician of the second half of the 20th century – his album Kind of Blue is jazz’s most universally acclaimed masterwork, and his groups consistently broke new creative ground. Due to his stature and his own penchant for setting new trends and shifting musical gears, Davis was seen by many to possess an authoritative, if controversial, voice regarding what “jazz” was, as well as where it was headed. Even today, Davis’s 1990 autobiography, Miles, written with Quincy Troupe, is practically required reading for jazz musicians and connoisseurs.

However, Miles’s reputation for controversy, and the nature of his personality – thorny, uncompromising, and antagonistic – never lent itself to easy media coverage, and Jarrett’s aesthetics follow this example.23 Perhaps not coincidentally, almost immediately after the death of Miles Davis, jazz seemed to undergo a renaissance of appreciation in the media. The emergence of Wynton Marsalis as media darling and (in Jarrett’s words) “self-appointed jazz expert”24 quite naturally appeared to fill the void left by the notoriously difficult Davis, and so it seems that Jarrett’s comments Jarrett, “Categories Aplenty,” Sec. H, p.19.

I recall being a high school jazz fan, sitting with my parents and watching Barbara Walters interview Miles on television. My father’s rather disturbed reaction was “what a strange man...” Jarrett, “Categories Aplenty,” Sec. H, p.19.

were made in part to counteract this. Certainly Jarrett has taken up Miles Davis’s mantle as resident “myth debunker” in jazz – similar to Davis in his own time, no other major jazz figure exists today who espouses such controversial, contentious





opinions as does Jarrett. Jarrett offers validation for his New York Times article:

When I did that writing, I had in mind young musicians. The people who were buying into the myth. At the time, people were talking about the New Jazz Age, and you just can’t be that simplistic. I felt [the media] were not giving young readers enough material to do their own judging.25 Jarrett is notorious not only for his controversial statements about music, but also for his perception as a prickly artiste – he is known to berate audiences for what he considers “inattentive” concert behavior – talking, taking flash photography, even coughing. This behavior might derive at least partial inspiration from Davis’s infamously curt concert demeanor – Davis would frequently turn his back on his audience while performing. Regarding the contentious tone of his piece, Jarrett offers

the following:

Well, somebody has to detonate the water. When you’re young you need to hear opinions that you wouldn’t normally get to hear by hanging out with all the other people who didn’t get to hear them. With the [New York Times] piece, I just hoped that it would be read by young musicians. I didn’t care if it made the superstars mad… I don’t know how to solve the problem, but I do want to alert the people that there is one.26 From the very beginning of his career to the present, Jarrett’s sense that he must step in and “alert” or correct misconceptions regarding jazz manifests itself as a constant Keith Jarrett, “Order and Ordeal: A Conversation With Keith Jarrett,” interview by Tom Moon, JazzTimes, May 1999, 41.

Keith Jarrett, “The ‘insanity’ of doing more than one (musical) thing: Interview with Keith Jarrett,” interview by Ted Rosenthal, Piano and Keyboard, January-February 1997 (accessed on 8 June 2004, available at http://www.tedrosenthal.com/tr-kj.htm), p. 10.

theme in his writings. One might wonder of course if he “doth protest too much,” for if Jarrett was truly content with his role as a valued jazz musician, perhaps he would not feel compelled to continually “detonate the water.” Based solely upon the sheer number of words he has spilled in defense of what he considers “real” jazz, however, Jarrett is clearly not content with the world outside his recording studio, and he feels a deep desire to criticize. One must note, however, that outside of paying homage to historical figures like John Coltrane, Jarrett never quite articulates who these practitioners of “real” modern jazz might be, other than himself. This dynamic only underscores his desire to feel valued and validated, and as Jarrett creeps up in age, his role as elder statesman of jazz should do nothing to diminish his outspokenness.

Chapter 5: What Jarrett Values About Jazz Jazz as “organic” music Of any musical style that he is involved in, Jarrett clearly values jazz the most. The element of jazz most appreciated by Jarrett, perhaps, is the potential jazz performers have to express what he might call “organic” music making. Jarrett has made numerous statements praising the creative freedoms and openness allowed in jazz;

indeed, it seems that Jarrett believes that without openness and flow, music does not occur.

As far as music is concerned, they [the jazz musicians] are as open as one can be, and that is precisely the essence, the essential in music. That is why I go as far as to claim that jazz is the most precious music that we still have in the modern world.27 Clearly, Jarrett favors the unified entity of composer/performer/interpreter that lies at the heart of jazz. To Jarrett, improvisation provides the best opportunity for this scenario, to the point where seems to possess an inherent mistrust of “interpreters”

who are not composers themselves:

So many interpreters are not composers and not improvisers. It boggles my mind that they can even think they know how to play somebody’s else’s music just by learning their biographies.28 Klaus Umbach, “Musik sagen, Kasse meinen,” Der Spiegel (Hamburg, 1992), 321, quoted in Gernot Blume, “Musical Practices and Identity Construction in the Work of Keith Jarrett,” (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1998), 151.

Robert L. Doerschuk, “The Reluctant Virtuoso, Provocative Reflections on Creativity and the Crisis in Modern Music,” Keyboard, March 1993, 85, as quoted in Blume, 264.

Jazz as a multiplicity of musical approaches Another element of jazz that attracts Jarrett is the potential the form contains for a multiplicity of musical influences. Jarrett imagines jazz as a uniquely American hodgepodge of interactive cultural borrowing and ingenuity. In a way, Jarrett’s unending, broad musical eclecticism mirrors the very nature of jazz itself, a music forged out of so many different paths.

I think jazz – no matter what we end up spending hours talking around the table with other so-called jazz experts – there is an essence that’s American… because there’s a mingling of cultures in that music that’s not existing anywhere else. It would be as if you were to write poetry in more than one language at a time, and make it somehow into a coherent language of its own. The instruments that are used are instruments that were not invented for jazz, with the possible exception of a couple of them – they were adapted. So the whole thing is indicative of America at its best.29 To Jarrett then, “organic” music requires a connection to local geography, and he identifies jazz as America’s truest form of musical artistry. In this sense that he is desiring to articulate an intrinsically “American” musical viewpoint, Jarrett shares impulses with American composers like Charles Ives and Aaron Copland.

Many people think that the world should speak the same language… But I don’t agree. If that was the way the earth was two hundred years ago, we would have no jazz. We would have no folk music to listen to from anywhere else. We would have only one thing, it would be like New Age music forever. So to me something local is important. Something that’s only in a certain geography.30 Jarrett pines for the dynamism of the jazz scene during his formative years of 1960s, insisting that today’s music places inordinate emphasis on technique. Jarrett’s not-so Keith Jarrett, transcribed from recorded ECM promotional CD interview with Timothy Hill, ECMDJ-20004-2, 1994.

oblique personal reference to a “technician/godhead” in the following statement is

almost certainly to Wynton Marsalis:

The incredible breadth of musical styles represented by [1960s era jazz musicians] means that jazz was what it was supposed to be: a melting pot of truly original voices. Of course, in [today’s] age of insane fascination with technical achievement … elevating a mere technician to godhead is, finally, possible… But don't call it genius.31 Keith Jarrett, “In Search of Folk Roots,” 114.

Keith Jarrett, “The Virtual Jazz Age, A Survival Manual,” Musician, March 1996, 34.

Chapter 6: Jarrett’s Views on Classical vs. Jazz Processes Comparisons In 1994, ECM released two recordings simultaneously, one featuring new classical works by Jarrett, the other containing a live performance of Jarrett’s trio at the Deer Head Inn near Allentown, Pennsylvania, a place that Jarrett had frequented early on in his career. Regarding these recordings, Jarrett comments on the different processes required in jazz and classical performing, and compares the potentialities of the two projects, clearly favoring the freedoms allowed in his jazz project.

(interviewer Timothy Hill, regarding recording with the orchestra): Is there anything like what happened at the Deer Head?

Jarrett: No, that only happens in jazz…Everything you could say of one thing was the opposite on the other project. I didn’t have to care about Paul32, but I had to care about every [orchestral] soloist. Paul cared for himself because he was just trying to be there for the music, but there wasn’t any music until he played. And then with the orchestra thing, everybody was already aware of the music, and were worried about their role, and I had to de-tox the anxiety each person had.33 In a manner perhaps paradoxically similar to Marsalis, Jarrett has a penchant for making absolutist (and some might say ego-heavy) statements regarding the “correct” way to play jazz, the blues, or even music in general. Given this degree of selfabsorption, one wonders if Jarrett might deem any other musician, outside of his select group of compatriots, capable of playing good music at all. This said, Jarrett’s specific points regarding the performance of written music, as contrasted with the true Paul Motian, former drummer with Jarrett’s 1970s “American Quartet,” filled in for the unavailable Jack DeJohnette on this recording – this is the only recorded example of this substitution occurring.

Transcribed from recorded interview with Timothy Hill, 1994, my italics.



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