Last night I had the chance to see the great pianist Keith Jarrett perform a solo concert in his trademark, entirely improvised manner to a packed, joyous hall. To see a great American master performing works that have never been heard before and will never be heard again (except perhaps on a recording) was profoundly moving. The concert-goers showed great affection for Mr. Jarrett and complete accord with his musical vocabulary.
Mr. Jarrett’s concert improvisations
are were often quite massive, but last night he played a series of relatively short pieces. Some were of a distinct genre – ragtime and blues – but others were as spiky and “difficult” as anything by Boulez, Schnittke, or Nancarrow. I heard echos of Debussy and Shostakovich. His well-known vocalization and his physicality were much in evidence, as he stood erect, crouched, marched, and danced.
If you are new to Keith Jarrett, I suggest his Koln Concert as a starting point. The La Scala and Paris concerts are very good; the Vienna Concert might be his best. He also has a good Goldberg Variations on harpsichord and a complete set of Shostakovich’s 24 Piano Preludes & Fugues.
UPDATE: I should add one improvisation anecdote. Mr. Jarrett played five encores. Sitting down for the third to sustained applause, he remarked, “I need all the time I can get. [Laughter] If I had brought Debussy or Beethoven or Schumann, I would know what the first note is, and I’d just be waiting to play it. Since I don’t, your applause is that much more important to me. [Laughter]” (Close paraphrase, not exact quote.)
The sections of Friday night’s concert added up to something as powerful as the totality of the Cologne concert, but achieved that in different ways, in different amounts of time.