I first came across Keith Jarret back in the late 1960s when he was a member of the Miles Davis house band, but at the time it was difficult to assess his real talent when it was submerged within the “noise” produced by the Miles Davis group (try Miles Davis at Filmore and you will perhaps understand what I am getting at).
He then went on to lead his own groups playing with both American and European musicians (including Dewey Redman and Jan Gabarek) before launching forth on a solo career and gradually into totally improvised performances.
His breakthrough album was “The Koln Concert” which became the best selling piano record in history and along the way Jarret stepped into “classical territory” by recording works by Bach and Shostakovich.
Many of the solo concerts contain pieces that last up to one hour with Jarret exploring all musical styles from down home blues to the lyrical beauty of classical melody, my personal favourite is Piece1 from the Vienna Concert which contains melodies that could almost be an amalgam of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. It has often been reported that Jarret considers this, his finest ever concert performance.
It is fair to say that people who see Jarret perform for the first time are often taken aback by his eccentric “humming” along with the melody (not dissimilar to Glenn Gould the classical pianist) and his little dances at the piano which many consider distracting.
As is often the case with “people of exceptional talent” there is a downside. Jarret is notorious for berating audiences if they take photographs, cough or make a noise whilst he is performing ( there are the now famous / notorious Umbria and Perugia concerts in Italy when Jarret had a “meltdown”).
Despite all of this, I consider Jarret to be one of the true geniuses of modern improvised music and I have derived many hours of pleasure from listening to The Vienna Concert, The Paris Concert, Concerts Bregenz / Munchen and the Carnegie Hall concert. Yes, they require attentive listening and at times I have thought “where the hell is he going with this?” and then a wonderful these or melody will emerge.
The video I have posted is a 5-minute encore he played at the end of a concert in Japan and demonstrates his lyrical inventiveness as well as some of his eccentric behaviour.