Listening to Keith Jarrett
It’s hard to describe to other people what it feels for me to listen to Keith Jarrett’s music, because it sounds so mystical. It’s sorcery. When it finally works and the fire has been lit up, it is an opening of oneself, an immense liberation. I am possessed by the music and possessing it at the same time. It’s a connection to something greater that has been there all along, and the sudden certainty that everything so far that has led to this moment has been worth it. It’s a feeling a little like “telling the truth”. Whatever.
A thoughtful member wrote on the Keith Jarrett discussion group that all it takes is attentive listening to be taken to a different place. To me, this is true only some of the time. I feel inescapably bound to making the music appear, some days I can effortlessly feed my mind many hours of it and sometimes it takes months before I can again listen to Jarrett improvising. It’s a struggle, what is recorded in the audio file seems to be more like the key to something within me for which I can’t always find the lock. After twenty years of listening I am still confronted to this every time. If I am at the same time playing the piano in 1973 and being the entire audience there and listening in my bedroom today, then why do I have so little command over experiencing this elevation?
Certainly Jarrett must have his own set of confrontations and conflicts too. He is the ultimate link between all of us and something beyond, and at the origin of all those ephemeral “manifestations”, for lack of a better word. But at the same time he is a professional performer, expected by everyone to produce those on order in two-set events that are booked in advance. Later, at commercially sensible intervals, the magic is pressed into shitty little rectangular plastic boxes wrapped in cardboard stamped with a brand of the largest and meanest music corporations of the planet.
I think Jarrett’s troubled relationship with his audiences is sincere. I don’t believe he is arrogant. I think the audience and the improvisation are parts of what makes it all work; that he is torn between wanting to soar with all of us and being, time and time again, disappointed when he finds that two thousand humans are just as messy as everyone else could have predicted. I saw him reject audiences in ways meant to hurt, and I pity him — if only he had Chick Corea’s or Hiromi Uehrara’s good spirits! To make things worse, his relationship to technology is superstitious, and I find, ill-reflected. But he is walking on the crest of mountains, telling us of the other side, and I readily believe the crest is really sharp and treacherous.
I think of him with kindness. Jarrett recently suffered a stroke that left him unable to play. We, and especially him, are orphans now. I wish him well.