Sometimes We Are All Keith Jarrett

The other day I was listening for the umpteenth time to jazz pianist Keith Jarret’s “Koln (Cologne) Concert,” the renowned and best selling solo piano album of time, I believe in any genre.  Jazz may or may not be your cup of tea, and improvisational solo piano is an acquired taste but I hope that someday you, too, will reach that plateau of sophisticated consciousness to appreciate this album as much as I do.  (Do I really need to insert a sarcasm tag?)  Admittedly, personal tastes cannot be accounted for sometimes, I mean I have a younger brother, perhaps my closest friend, who listens to country music.  Country music!  Oh, the horror.  It is almost impossible to believe that we share either any nature or nurture, but there it is.

Album cover art courtesy of ECM Records, via Wikipedia.

And once while I was in high school listening to some avant-garde ensemble music on the stereo (Amon Duul?  Univers Zero?  Mahavishnu Orchestra?) my saintly church-organ-playing mother gently knocked on the bedroom door and stuck her head in.  “Don,” she asked in genuine bewilderment, “are all of those folks playing the same song?”  My Baptist preacher father and mother were petty strict about the music in the home, no vulgar lyrics for example, but were far more flexible on the music itself outside of that constraint.  I will note they probably remained convinced that they’d brought home the wrong baby from the hospital.  They only knew that I listened to both Gregorian chants and jazz, and that did not fit into any template.

Back to Keith Jarret and the Cologne Concert.  The tale of the concert is a fascinating one.  Jarret was emerging at the pinnacle of his prowess as a solo composer and performer after a decade in major ensembles and was embarking on his first major solo tour IIRC.  Almost everything about the concert went wrong.  He was exhausted from travel, didn’t even get a decent meal before the late-night Saturday concert, and the piano was an inferior, out-of-tune substitute for the concert Boesendorfer he had requested.  He almost walked away from this steaming pile of circumstances but the impassioned pleas to continue from the promoter, a German teenager, persuaded him to have mercy on her and give a concert.

Despite, or more probably because of, the challenges — his exhaustion, the poor quality of the tool at his disposal (the upper and lower registers were essentially non-functional) — he drew on the unquenchable fire of creativity within him and sat down and began to play.  Every note and combination of notes was being created uniquely in real time at that moment.  The limitations he faced drove him to accomplish what is generally considered to be the most brilliant performance ever witnessed in the realm of improvisational jazz.

The parallels are unmistakable to me and for our tribe of creative artisans.  I find that my interest in many projects depends on the difficulties inherent in them.  I wonder how many of you are motivated by the same stew.

We might not have exactly the right tool or the right piece of wood..  We might be out of sorts.  We might be tired or hungry or have a backache.

And sometimes in such moments we draw deep on the reservoir of creative genus we possess and magic happens at the workbench.

And sometimes in our shops we are all Keith Jarrett. a kid of Hungarian and Scots-Irish heritage from Allentown PA who set the world on fire that miserable evening in Cologne, Germany.