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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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innovation. Jazz composer and scholar Gunther Schuller comments on this:

Jazz is, unlike many other musical traditions, both European and ethnic/non-Western, a music based on the free unfettered expression of the individual. This… is perhaps the most radical and important aspect of jazz, and which differentiates it so dramatically from other forms of music making on the globe.121 Marking the difference between jazz and classical music aesthetics, Schuller


Individualism is not only not sought after in classical music, but actually repressed and frowned upon. There the performing practices center on rendering, in a more or less predetermined sound and style, an already existing composition, rather than extemporaneously creating one in a highly personalized way.122 This provides a good context for Jarrett’s statements on individuality, of which there are many. In contrast to the afore-mentioned “conservatory” approach to making jazz, Jarrett does not value the idolization of any “musical hero,” outside of perhaps himself. Often, young jazz musicians learn how to play by playing along with recordings of historical jazz musicians. For example, trumpet players tend to worship Gunther Schuller, Musings: The Musical Worlds of Gunther Schuller. Da Capo, 1999, 27.

Ibid, 31.

Clifford Brown’s playing, while for saxophonists, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane are venerated. Of course, Jarrett was deeply influenced by his early teachers, as well as jazz pianists like Ahmad Jamal, Paul Bley, and especially Bill Evans, but the point is that Jarrett left these figures a long time ago. This is exactly what all of the greatest musicians in jazz history have done – indeed, if John Coltrane had focused only on “becoming” Charlie Parker, we would never have had Coltrane’s contributions.

Jarrett comments regarding this dynamic:

If I thought to play like Coltrane would be my goal, then I’m wrong. If I thought to play like anybody was my goal, then it’s wrong in jazz.

Because the whole survival of jazz depends on there being people who aren’t playing like anybody else. It would be like someone saying “This is my favorite poet, therefore, I would like to write their poetry.”123 Jarrett goes on to quote (famously) from the 17th century Japanese poet Basho: “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise: Seek what they sought.” Not surprisingly, all of Jarrett’s admitted musical heroes adhere to his aesthetic of individuality. All of these musicians are iconoclastic in some way, and Jarrett’s aesthetic (at least partially) borrows elements from all. From the jazz world, Jarrett has praised the organicism of controversial saxophonist Ornette Coleman (“Please listen to Ornette, guys! There is natural intelligence and nutrition.”124), the spiritual questing of John Coltrane, the “un-self-consciousness” of Miles Davis, and the individualistic pianists Jamal, Bley, Evans, Lennie Tristano, Bud Powell, and Jaki Byard. Interestingly, Jarrett claims to have derived influence from the individual Keith Jarrett, “The ‘insanity of doing more than on (musical) thing,” 10.

Keith Jarrett, “Categories Aplenty,” Sec. H, p.19.

approaches of saxophonists: “Saxophone players in particular have influenced me, not pianists.”125 To Jarrett, jazz is nothing without individuality, and he laments the loss of

individualistic voices in contemporary jazz:

Music isn’t categories or technology. It isn’t the result or an image or a theory. It’s not productions or records. It’s not even talent… It is the individual voice, present to itself, that needs to be heard.126 Jazz at its best signifies the vitality of the individual. If I look around and say “what’s missing now that was around in the 60s?” – I think I could say that the vitality of the individual is missing…. Individuals still exist, but the news is now focusing away from anything to do with that.

Everything’s either money or marketing or economy, that’s it.127 There’s very little individual music happening right now. I’m hearing information when I hear those guys play. They’re well informed about styles, but they’re so close they’re far away. It’s the idea that the way to get to jazz is to investigate the styles, and now that we know all that, what do we know? Nothing.128 Of course, the conservatory approach to learning jazz, which trains young musicians to be eclectic and versatile, springs directly from economics: jazz players earning college degrees, like classical players, want to be able to market themselves and make a living playing music. In today’s music world, there are countless opportunities for young musicians to freelance for “club dates” and wedding jobs, and it’s only natural that well-rounded musicianship should include familiarity with different styles of music. Jarrett is of course in the enviable place of having already made his fame and Keith Jarrett, “The ‘insanity’ of doing more than one (musical) thing,” 5.

Keith Jarrett, “Categories Aplenty,” Sec. H, p.19.

Keith Jarrett, “The ‘insanity’ of doing more than one (musical) thing,” 9.

fortune through music – he won’t ever have to “scrap for gigs.” Jarrett however

criticizes the common approach to learning jazz primarily as a repository of styles:

“You’ve got a guy who can play 60 different styles in 10 minutes, but how much music is he making?”129 Complicating his criticisms is that fact that Jarrett himself is familiar with as much jazz history, or more, than most other jazz players, and without this knowledge, much of his music would be unimaginable. In fact, Jarrett’s stylistic conjurations often seem to reflect T.S. Eliot’s oft-repeated artistic credo: “great artists don’t borrow, they steal!” Yet Jarrett’s stylistic syntheses, which often fuse together elements from ragtime, blues, gospel, boogie-woogie, bebop, avant-garde and free jazz, remain his, all within a level of artistry and command that most “style” imitators cannot reach.

Jarrett biographer Ian Carr comments on this:

There is a difference between having a wide knowledge of diverse musics and using what you require of them in making your own music, and being eclectic. A musician who is eclectic is a person who is all circumference and no center, a repository of music not his own.130 Lincoln Center/Wynton Marsalis Due to many factors including his insistence on musical exploration, his valuation of free jazz, his uneasy relationship with marketing, and probably most for his outright dismissal of Marsalis in writings and interviews, Keith Jarrett is seen by many as the “anti-Wynton Marsalis.” The debate over neo-conservatism stands as a colossal issue Keith Jarrett, “Order and Ordeal,” 42.

Keith Jarrett, “Order and Ordeal,” 42.

in jazz during the past twenty years, and is too broad to tackle here, suffice to say that Jarrett’s aesthetics appear diametrically opposed to Marsalis’s (and Ken Burns’s, by default) revisionist history. Ken Burns, who by his own admission owned two jazz CDs prior to making his widely publicized, and for many definitive, 2000 documentary Jazz, drew almost exclusively upon the testimony of Marsalis and poet Stanley Crouch. Keith Jarrett, by practically any accounts one of the most important and influential jazz musicians of the past 30 years, is barely mentioned in the film, and nowhere does his music appear on the 5-CD compilation set. Writer William

Berlind comments on Burns’s project:

It's clear from the tight-assed perspective of Jazz that trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, the “senior creative consultant” on the project, is the real intellectual force behind the film....Mr. Marsalis, who is also the creative director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, has long made it clear where his affections lie. It's “yes” to Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, and “no” to post-60's jazz. … His traditional programs seek to establish a jazz canon, to make jazz a classical music. … Jazz lives, but you wouldn't know it from this film.131

Regarding Marsalis the musician, Jarrett has offered the following criticism:

I haven’t heard him swing. Or play the blues. Or play music, really.

There a point where it’s up to history, but if the jazz world is saying this is good, accepting this, we’re creating a new generation of people who are not really listening.132 Jarrett contentiously discusses what he considers to be Marsalis’s lack of individuality.

Carr, Keith Jarrett, 34.

William Berlind. "Burns' Jazz Doesn't Swing," The New York Observer, January 15, 2001.

Andrew Solomon, “The Jazz Martyr,” New York Times Magazine, 9 February 1997, p. 35.

I’ve never heard anything Wynton played sound like it meant anything at all. Wynton has no voice and no presence. His music sounds like a talented high-school trumpet player to me. He plays things really, really badly that you cannot screw up unless you are a bad player… And for a great black player who talks about the blues – I’ve never heard Wynton play the blues convincingly, and I’d challenge him to a blues standoff any time. He’s jazzy the way someone who drives a BMW is sporty.133 Jarrett’s criticisms of Marsalis fall squarely in line with his cynical attitude toward the state of modern music. Outside of the jazz world, Wynton Marsalis is generally perceived to be the most important, greatest American jazz musician, and it is easy to wonder whether Jarrett envies his position. What is more likely, however, is that Jarrett genuinely feels that others (including himself, presumably) are far more deserving of this title. Remarkably, in a 1996 piece for Musician magazine, Jarrett rattles off a list of 125 (!) important jazz musicians from the 1960s, the time when he himself was learning the music. Jarrett follows this with the following comment relating to Marsalis’s ascent to authority: “I would guess that about 30 of these names could have claimed ascendancy to the jazz throne more legitimately than Wynton Marsalis.”134 Writer Gerald Early discusses Jarrett’s frustration with Marsalis’s role as “media darling,” touching upon the sensitive issue of racial politics in jazz.

One's immediate response to Jarrett's remarks was that he was jealous because Marsalis had achieved the fame Jarrett felt he himself deserved and, worse still, that he believed Marsalis had acquired this acclaim largely because he is black and the public, both black and white, demands a black musician to be the authenticator of jazz. This reduces Jarrett to being the equivalent of a disgruntled white man who is upset because he believes some prominent black is where he is because of affirmative action, not merit. His remarks about Marsalis grow from his general disappointment with the current jazz scene, which Marsalis symbolizes Andrew Solomon, “The Jazz Martyr,” 35, my italics.

Keith Jarrett, Musician, 1996.

more than anyone else and which seems to be producing, to Jarrett's mind, little vital music.135 Jarrett’s “outsider-ness” A distinct “rebel” nature and the challenging of easy assumptions are qualities that have marked Keith Jarrett’s aesthetics from the beginning of his career. At the age of 16, Jarrett turned down an opportunity to study in Paris with the great teacher Nadia Boulanger, mentor to so many important American composers including Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, and Philip Glass. In Jarrett’s words, “It wasn’t a casual ‘No.’ I was developing a way with music that was better off minus the labels on everything, minus the descriptions, minus the analysis.”136 Jarrett was kicked out of Boston’s Berklee College of Music in 1964 for “playing on the inside of the piano,” among other serious musical transgressions. In Jarrett’s words, “Mostly, I learned that this kind of training was not for me. But I was 18 and at least it got me out of Allentown.”137 Keith Jarrett’s firebrand artistic personality contains so many elements of what might be called a distinctly “American” individualism. Gernot Blume comments on this facet of Jarrett: “[His] outsiderness seems to be one of the few unchanging axioms of his own identity construction. Whatever Jarrett does, it is, by his own emphasis, radically different from the mainstream. This assertion of marginality… has become Gerald Early, White Noise and White Knights: Some Thoughts on Race, Jazz and the White Jazz Musician, as quoted from http://www.thecityreview.com/jazz.html, accessed on 8 June 2004.

Walsh, “Growing Into the Silence.” Liner notes to Somewhere Before (Atlantic 8808-2, 1968).

a central aspect of his art.”138 John Rockwell discusses Jarrett’s status as outsider:

“His concentration on the beyond and his defensive isolation have cut him off from the musical currents of his time, be they classical, jazz, or popular.”139 Jarrett is quite aware of his distance from the mainstream; in fact he seems to embrace it, claiming “There’s one thing that I know well – that I feel very alone. It’s the price you have to pay if you want to be yourself. And I don’t believe that I suffer for it, but it seems to me that I have nothing to say to the majority of people.”140 Jarrett also seems aware of the distinctly non-rational, obscure, even impenetrable nature of much of his aesthetic, saying, “I’m very much alone in terms of my relationship to music. I don’t know anybody who knows what I’m talking about if I talk long enough.”141 Blume, 3.

Rockwell, 183.

Carr, Keith Jarrett, 48.

Carr, Keith Jarrett, 141.

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