«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. ...»
Jarrett, “The ‘insanity’ of doing more than one (musical) thing,” 10.
Music as “object” To Jarrett, the world of classical music training appears as an empty abyss. Music students are almost never expected to compose or improvise their own music; the music they perform almost always comes from someone else. For performers, conservatory training focuses on “interpreting” music written by the classical masters, and even most composers are not expected to perform their own works. The vast majority of music theory and history classes required for conservatory students are focused on the analysis of European classical music, almost to the exclusion of any other modes of musical creation. Music theory students are expected to possess the ability to “break apart” sections of music within pieces, in order to discover meaning or intention, or uncover technical craft. This valuation of rational, objectified music has resulted in the perpetuation of what might be deemed a stylized, laissez-faire approach to music-making. Though it may “come alive” through performance, “the music” is most often viewed as a sterile, paper-bound object that needs rehearsing and dissecting prior to its re-enactment. It is this objectified system of music-making that Jarrett most ardently opposes in his writings and interviews.
Jarrett is reluctant to view his own music as an object; he has made specific comments regarding his desire to “de-objectify” his solo concerts, allowing the emphasis to be placed on process, as opposed to objectified results. Perhaps deriving influence from Eastern philosophies of “non-identification,” Jarrett seeks to envelop himself entirely in the flow of improvisation. In his desire to renounce his ego and simply surrender to the inclinations of his muse, Jarrett’s aesthetic stands far removed from the emphasis on technique found in classical music.
The one thing that has governed what I’ve done, throughout my musical career, has been not to identify with something I did. The minute I would identify with what I’m playing, I wouldn’t hear the next thing, and that’s particularly true of solo playing. You just cannot go and improvise music if you’re hearing what you do and considering it to be yours.50 Jarrett is unwilling to break music apart in terms of distinct “musical ideas,” claiming “I don’t even think there’s such a thing as an idea – a ‘musical idea.’ There’s either music or there’s not.”51 He speaks of his reluctance to break apart music harmonically: “I play piano, but I don’t believe in chords, in the sense that they’re vertical structures.”52 This valuation of an “organic” music-making process provides an undercurrent that runs through Jarrett’s criticisms of classical music.
When classical players talk to each other, they hardly ever talk about the music. They talk about some music, like a passage of music, or a bar, or a phrase, or how you interpret this dotted quarter note.53 Jarrett, “Order and Ordeal,” 42.
Jarrett, “The ‘insanity’ of doing more than one (musical) thing,” 5.
Carr, Keith Jarrett, 154, my italics.
In musical terms, Jarrett’s version of organic music also has a great deal to do with maintaining a flexible rhythmic feel. Jarrett’s musical career began with his involvement in late 1960s and 1970s free jazz, within which the steady, metronomic flow of rhythm found in earlier jazz (and certainly classical music), was often usurped for a looser, dynamic sense of pulse.
I collect watches because I’m very interested in time. Now with everyone wearing a digital watch, it says time goes in a straight line… one, two, three, four, five, six. Time does not move like that. It’s never perfect either. Digital time is like record production. In record production we have the bass, then you say now we add the vocalist, now we have the conga drums, we go this way – one, two, three, four. Real music, when people play together, is like this: you come together, you go away, you come together. There are no edges, no sharp edges.54 Regarding his seminal 1986 improvised “folk” recording Spirits, Jarrett compares his own rhythmic process to the uneven flow of the human heartbeat: “I wasn’t even concerned with keeping time perfectly. In fact, sometimes it was important that the time be more like heartbeats, and heartbeats are not perfect.”55 Influence of classical music on Jarrett’s music Keith Jarrett stands out above all as an individual, for he belongs to neither the jazz nor the classical worlds exclusively, but more to a world dictated by his own muse.
Jarrett navigates the rocky terrain between the jazz and classical worlds principally by placing focus on his own relationship to making music. In Jarrett’s own perception, Keith Jarrett, “In Search of Folk Roots,” interview by Kimihiko Yamashita, On Music, The Ecco Press: Hopewell, NJ, 1994, p. 111.
Liner notes to Spirits, 1986.
his widely varied approaches to music and genre-crossing are natural acts based entirely upon inner directives.
I think of my musical evolution as being completely straightforward. I have moved into various categories when each one of those categories seemed to be the closest thing to the music within me.56 However, having played classical music from his youth as a child prodigy in Allentown, PA,57 Jarrett’s prodigious technical ability on the piano is inconceivable without the discipline of classical training. As an adult, Jarrett has continued to develop his technique, and has commented on the influence of classical playing on this development: “I have become a better pianist… than I was before by virtue of practicing and diligent discipline.”58 This statement might seem to contrast with his stated belief that jazz cannot be practiced, yet herein lies one of the rare occasions when Jarrett speaks in strictly analytical, technical terms; however briefly, he is at times capable of isolating technique from process.
Jarrett is certainly not the first jazz player to come to jazz with the pedigree of classical training, yet what is rare about him is that he has retained and carried over into his jazz playing the sense of pristine pianistic touch. His background in classical music has surely influenced his approach to the keyboard as a jazz artist. Jarrett
discusses how playing Mozart has influenced his jazz playing:
Playing Mozart helped me know what I can do with ballads and melody.
You don't get that kind of challenge in jazz. If you're a jazz player, you Carr, Keith Jarrett, 40.
Jarrett gave his first public piano recital at the age of 6.
Art Lange, “The Keith Jarrett Interview,” Down Beat, 1984, 63, as quoted in Blume, 202.
It might seem natural to speculate whether the flip side of this is true, that Jarrett’s classical playing might be influenced by his background in jazz, but according to him, the influence moves primarily from classical to jazz.
Technically as a pianist it doesn’t move from jazz to classical, it moves the other way. So I can play ballads with more micro-variations of touch, now that I’ve been working on Mozart, than I might have had before.60 You can’t let that clarity you can develop [from classical performing] become something you use in jazz because it would be like hearing a white Oscar Peterson solo!61 How Jarrett’s aesthetic allows him to play both forms One of Jarrett’s most unusual and unique attributes as a musician is his ability to successfully inhabit both the classical and jazz worlds. One element that sets Jarrett apart in the jazz world is his deep knowledge of and respect for classical music.
Interviewer Mike Zwerin claims to have held a half-hour discussion with Jarrett regarding equal intonation as postulated by the seventeenth-century theorist Andreas Werckmeister.62 Jarrett’s recorded versions of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, as well as the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II, both performed on harpsichord, employs what is known as Werckmeister Three tuning. In Zwerin’s words, Jarrett can be seen as “a Keith Jarrett, “Someday we’ll all be free,” interview by Kristi York, Vibes, 20 February 2003, accessed on 8 June 2004, available from http://www.atlantacreativeloafing.com/2002-02vibes_feature2.html Jarrett, “The ‘insanity’ of doing more than one (musical) thing,” 1.
Keith Jarrett, “Sons of Miles” jazzman who feels the need to out-research classical specialists to prove his legitimacy.”63 Jarrett feels that his participation in jazz and classical music benefit one another. He describes this relationship: “The resonance between them (classical and jazz) is what I need... they cannot be close to each other, but they are highly susceptible to gaining from each other.”64 However, by Jarrett’s own description, his approach to classical performing is markedly different from his process as a jazz improviser. For Jarrett, in his desire to carry on a dual career, his artistic vision is only sustained if he keeps the two areas entirely separate from one another. For instance, Jarrett has clearly stated that he would never perform “classical” on the first half of a concert, and “jazz on the second.” This obviously ties into Jarrett’s reluctance to attempt improvisation in a self-consciously “historical” style.
Shut down all the other doors and just open the one you’re working on.
This is what I think is so hilarious about “crossover,” so called. I don’t think you can do both things unless you have a certain kind of insanity that you are conscious of and you create it… Your system demands different circuitry for either of those two things.65 For all the criticism that Jarrett directs toward what he sees as a classical music world too dependent on interpretation, he does value playing classical music. This is obviously the case, otherwise Jarrett wouldn’t bother to prepare and record this music. However, another deep paradox appears here, in which Jarrett contradicts his Ibid.
ECM promotional website, accessed on 8 June 2004, available at http://www.pressnetwork.com/prarch/Jarretpr.htm Jarrett, “The ‘insanity’ of doing more than one (musical) thing,” 2.
own statements regarding the inferiority of playing “other people’s” music. His following comments about “finding depth” in other people’s music contradicts his stated views that musicians “not speaking with their own voices” are not creating organic music. However, in terms of Jarrett’s desire to somehow disable his ego while playing any kind of music, this acceptance of “someone else’s music” as means to achieving an ecstatic state is perfectly acceptable.
Improvisation is really the deepest way to deal with moment-to-moment reality in music. There is no deeper way, personally deeper. But there is no less depth in working with someone else’s music – having found his depth becomes exactly the same. And the people who think the two things are different are going to lose out when they come to listen to one or the other.66 In response to some classical critics who have ridiculed both Jarrett’s reserved performance style as well as his rather conservative original classical works, Jarrett defends his aesthetic in terms of its very breadth and exploratory nature.
When audiences decide what they think someone is great at, they tend to undervalue other things that same someone does. One example in the Romantic era is Chopin, whose concerti are looked at as examples of bad orchestration rather than beautiful musical ideas, because we “know” Chopin mastered the solo piano genre.67 Consistent piano sound A recent review by Tim Page in the Washington Post of a classical piano recital by a prominent pianist contains the following: “A listener has the sense that […] is demonstrating the proper way to play a piece rather than playing it for us outright.68 Carr, Keith Jarrett, 149.
Liner notes to Jarrett’s recording of the Handel Suites for Keyboard (ECM New Series 1530, 1993).
Tim Page, “The Keys to Wisdom,” The Washington Post, May 3, 2004, C5, my italics.
Jarrett’s performance aesthetic stands in stark contrast to a criticism like this; one aspect of Jarrett’s musical aesthetic is the absolute commitment and focus that he imparts to each one of his excursions. To label Jarrett as a mere musical chameleon seems to do injustice to his uncanny ability to place his own voice within the stream of whatever he happens to be performing. Regardless of the context, Jarrett always “sounds” like Jarrett – his sound on the piano is crystal clean, nimble footed, simultaneously pensive and joyful. These characteristics lend themselves as easily to the pre-composed, rigorous counterpoint of the Well-Tempered Clavier as they do to improvised jazz; Jarrett’s consummate musicianship is carried over into all aspects of his music-making.
Relationship to the piano Drummer Jack DeJohnette, recognized as one of the greatest drummers in jazz, has been playing music with Jarrett since both were members of Miles Davis’s band.
(DeJohnette is now the drummer for the Keith Jarrett Trio, a group that has been in existence for over twenty years.) DeJohnette comments on Jarrett’s intimate
connection to the piano: