Jazz Profiles from NPR
Keith Jarrett

Produced by John Diliberto

Keith Jarrett  

Like Herbie Hancock and Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett is one of the most influential jazz pianists to emerge after Thelonious Monk. His lengthy improvisational explorations and emotional poignancy is heard in many of the latest generation of pianists like Brad Mehldau, and Marilyn Crispell.

Listen to music journalist Tom Moon, saxophonist Jan Garbarek, and saxophonist and composer Charles Lloyd talk about Jarrett's music.

Whether playing solo or in an ensemble, Jarrett has always taken improvisation to its highest degree. When playing solo, he often begins with no music or preconceived notions. His top selling 1975 album, The Koln Concerts provides ample testament to Jarrett's prowess on the piano. Incidentally, when Jarrett improvises, he really doesn't hear the piano.

Listen to Moon talk about Jarrett's ability to compose music on the spot

Jarrett was born on May 8, 1945 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. At a very young age, he began showing signs of being a child prodigy. He began playing the piano before he was three-years old, and entered 3rd grade when he was six years-old. Even then, he was improvising on Mozart.

Listen to Jarrett recall improvising off of classical music as a child

Eventually Jarrett delved into jazz by listening to the records of pianists Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, and Ahmad Jamal. His investigation of jazz would later take him to bandleader Stan Kenton's Summer Camps, where he studied jazz with members of the big band.

Gary Peacock  

Soon afterward, Jarrett started a trio in his hometown and played regularly at The Deer Head Inn. There, he met bandleader and vocalist Fred Waring. While touring with Waring, Jarrett saw pianist Bill Evans for the first time.

Listen to bassist Gary Peacock (left), who was playing with Evans at the time, recall the first time he met Jarrett

By age 18, Jarrett was already attending the Berklee School of Music. Two years later, Jarrett's magnificent playing caught the ears of saxophonist Charles Lloyd, who was just starting his own group. Jarrett joined Lloyd's ensemble, which was also comprised of drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Ron McLure.

Listen to Lloyd recall hearing Jarrett play

Charles Lloyd  

The Charles Lloyd Group became of one of the most popular jazz ensembles in the 1960's. While performing with Lloyd at San Francisco's historic rock venue, The Filmore West, Jarrett gave his first solo piano recitial.

Listen to Lloyd (left) recall Jarrett's first solo piano performance

While still performing with Lloyd, Jarrett formed his own trio with drummer Paul Motian and bassist Charlie Haden. In the 1970's, the legendary trumpeter Miles Davis asked Jarrett to join his band. According to Jarrett, he joined the band because he didn't like it.

Listen to Jarrett explain why he didn't like Miles' fusion band

"I go in emptier than you can get because, I actually have to wipe myself clean of any thoughts of music when I walk out there. If it doesn't start from silence and then just go into sound, the rest of the piece suffers."

-- Keith Jarrett  

During his tenure with Miles, Jarrett continued to lead his own quartet. He also met record producer Manfred Eicher who was beginning to launch his legendary label, ECM. The first result from Jarrett's signing with ECM was his 1972 album, Facing You, which marked Jarrett's return to the acoustic piano. Facing You also spearheaded a string of solo live and recorded performances for Jarrett.

Listen to Jarrett recall when Eicher offered him a recording contract

For much of the 70's, Jarrett led two quartets --- The American Group, featuring Haden, Motian, and saxophonist Dewey Redman; and the Belonging Group featuring Norwegian artists, saxophonist Jan Garbarek, drummer Jon Christensen, and bassist Palle Danielsson. During the 70's, Jarrett also began writing orchestral works. In 1973, he released In The Light for a chamber orchestra, which was followed by Luminescence written for Garbarek.

Jarrett continued recording and performing heavily into the European classical realm well into the early 80's. Apparently frustrated from playing so much European classical music, Jarrett overdubbed himself on tabla, shakers, recorders, flutes, and piano on the album, Spirits. In 1983, he reunited with DeJohnette and Peacock to record a group of standards. The result was the 1985 album, Standards, Volume 1.

Listen to Jarrett and Peacock explain how they wound up playing standards after so many years of playing original music

Throughout the 80's and much of the 90's, Jarrett continued to perform and record. Known for his boundless energy, Jarrett was sadly struck by chronic fatigue syndrome in 1996. The disease prevented him from touring and lengthy playing.

Listen to Jarrett talks about dealing with chronic fatigue syndrome

Afraid of not being able to make music again, Jarrett's inner-strength prevailed and he began recording love songs as a Christmas gift to his second wife, Rose Anne. The album resulted in The Melody At Night, With You. Still committed to music, Jarrett is currently working his way back to good health so he can continue his long legacy of great music.

Listen to Jarrett detail his committment to music


View Keith Jarrett show playlist


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