san francisco — keith jarrett stepped onstage friday at davies symphony hall to thunderous and worshipful applause. spot-lit, he made a deep emptying buddha-bow toward his 2,700 fans in the sold-out hall, then sat down at the at the piano for a solo recital. the ritual was about to begin.
quietly, he launched a free-form improvisation, flicking fingers at keys, building sounds from scratch, making them denser and rumblier, adding in right-handed squiggles like jackson pollack paint splatterings. then someone coughed.
to jarrett, 64 years old and among the most revered figures in jazz, coughs are signs of ingratitude and insufficient attention. they break his concentration, interrupt his creative flow. it's been an issue at his concerts for four decades.
he stopped playing.
"perfectly placed," he snipped, about the cough. deep sigh. he was about to play again when someone else coughed.
"oh, now there's going to be a contagion."
jarrett stood up and wandered away from his instrument and over to a microphone to complain about audiences everywhere; they just cannot stop coughing when he tries to play softly for them. "even the japanese have started to cough. that's how weird it is."
surely, this was now building toward one of his classic rants, which ecm — his record label, which recorded friday night's show — should collect and issue as a multidisc set titled: "curb your enthusiasm!"
jarrett was there to perform for people who love him, who paid up to $90 per ticket, yet here he was, doing a larry david routine. he didn't look happy with himself, but he kept on with it, one minute playing the role of professional victim, the next behaving like a proustian eccentric who just can't tolerate what he called "impurities entering the system."
meaning coughs and inattention to his creative process.

verging on heartbreak

over the next half-hour, jarrett managed to alternate his ornery outbursts with tender interludes of meditative impressionism, or the rollicking blues-gospel vamps that are his calling card. he stood, crouched over the piano as he played, left foot stomping, his hands working in tandem, like call-and-response choruses in a church, or his right hand carving improvised arabesques, graceful as a figure skater.
he began one of his searching ballads, where the harmonies never quite resolve, leaving the listener in a state of wistfulness verging on heartbreak.
but then someone again coughed, quietly.
jarrett stopped in midchord, and wandered back to the microphone.
"i have a theory. maybe music and mucus are similar." with a pained smile, he offered another theory: "we've forgotten how to concentrate." true enough. his own lack of focus was undermining this event, presented by sfjazz as a highlight of its spring season.
"i did a whole talk to several audiences already," jarrett continued minutes later, "and when they write the reviews, if there are any, they mentioned that i complained."
imagine that.
"i'm going to keep complaining 'til i die," he promised. "i mean, where does the music come from but a complaint? i walk out on the stage — out from this world from which i came, and i realize what a complaint i have against it."
thank you, mr. david.
now about coughs: they are annoying, but they happen at every concert, especially in wintertime. at quiet concerts, they tend to stand out. and jarrett was choosing to play quietly.

took requests

after intermission, he improvised a lullaby, more gentle music from this ornery performance artist — this sensitive man in meltdown.
more coughs.
he stopped playing, shaking his head and just staring at the keyboard.
"ok, i give up."
he stood up.
"i flew my engineer from switzerland to do this," he said.
he was affronted by the lullaby's curtailment: "i was in the process of making something. i had to cut it short."
the coughs, he explained, are "on the tape."
and now from the balcony: "just play!"
another voice: "shut up!"
jarrett looked stricken: "i've been a really good guy since perugia," he said, referring to his 2007 performance at the umbria jazz festival, where he infamously cursed out the crowd for taking flash photos.
a defender at davies shouted out: "let him talk!"
jarrett went on: "am i wrong that there's something weird going on in san francisco?"
"this reminds me of the tour i did in europe," jarrett said. "they hated americans there."
throwing up his hands, he asked for requests.
the first was "what is this thing called love," and he played it. someone asked for "in-a-gadda-da-vida," and he laughed. he played a gospelized "summertime" and soon was ready to call it a night.
jarrett left the stage. but about two-thirds of the crowd remained: his fans stood and cheered for their hero, shoring him up.
looking both miserable and grateful, he returned five times, for five encores, including a purely felt "over the rainbow" and a tepid blues.
the tapes were running, presumably. maybe there'll be enough for an album.
There are 14 comments, leave a comment.
lol!!  i can't believe the great improviser cannot incorporate a cough into his spontaneous compositions:)  perhaps he should visit the thread "you know your a real musician when..."  i congratulate myself for creating, on the fly, such legendary compositions as "blues for blender" and "barmaid cleavage".  i regret there was typically so much random noise in the rooms where i performed that a cough would go undetected.  personally, i would have welcomed the challenge to create a tune like "hackin up flem" or "cover your mouth buddy"

and the japanese???  i can't believe they are coughing now!!!
...and just for the record, i know "flem" is spelled "phlegm" and "sarcasm is the lowest for of wit", i was just being silly - no more disrespect intended for mr. jarrett than he had for his audience:)  in fact, i've become a musical hermit and prefer to play only at home when i am by myself. which brings me to this question:  if he is truly that disturbed by something a simple as a cough, i wonder why he chooses to play in public?  if it's for the money, then i think he should suck it up and roll with it

...just my thoughts
i think it is obvious the man has some personal problems of a pschological nature.  i am not an expert on the topic but i do not think it is unusual for performers famous or not to have love/hate relationships with their audiences.  i think dr whack is saying that he has such a relationship when he says " in fact, i've become a musical hermit and prefer to play only at home when i am by myself."
i know i have a such a relationship when i almost punched an elderly lady when she requested "pianoman" in my ear while i was playing "giant steps".    certainly miles davis had such a relationship with his audience.
poor jarrett. ever since miles forced him to play electric piano in the on the corner sessions he's been a lost soul.
actually that is an interesting topic how that seemingly had no effect on keith jarrett at all whereas in chick coreas case... i have been listening to an interview he did for the 2010 chamber music award he won.  in that interview he talks about the electric piano and the love hate relationship he has had with the fender rhodes in detail.  he talks about how when he started return to forever with stanley clark (who was playing acoustic upright amplified exclusively at the begining) he had stoped playing accoustic piano entirely.  i was like... wow... i never knew chick had stoped playing accoustic entirely for a while.  now it makes sence to me .. it partially explains why his rhodes playing was so totally outrageous.
i think keith should stay in the studio if he expects no coughing
to show up on his recordings.  i guess he could always stop and say
"take 2!".
what i would give to for the chance to catch jarrett live in concert.  luckily all you guys who have such a hard time with his problems are never going to be forced to go to one of his concerts.  and if anyone ever gives you one of his concert tickets for free there are plenty of guys like me who would die for the chance to go to one of his shows and pay you handsomely for your ticket.
i am sitting front row piano side at our hero's june 17th carnegie hall trio concert. not too bad, $90/tic. i shall leave my respiratory system in the coat check room.

dave frank
don't eat beans at least 3 days before the concert :-)
more seriously i'm in front of a dilemn as we have here on the french riviera 2 of the most prestigious jazz festivals in europe : nice jazz festival and jazz à juans (50th anniversary this year) taking place at almost the same dates in less than 10 miles (what a shame it is) and on july 21th i could hear kj's trio at juan and here in nice bojan z tetraband, the stanley clarke band with hiromi and finally herbie hancock in the same night to name a few ! knowing that i've already seen kj's trio (but also hiromi, and also stanley clarke with chick's rtf), the choice is hard. never seen herbie, so herbie vs kj ... what's your view on that ?
no-brainer. kj.

herbie gets my voted.  all he has to do is play one note and i instantly feel "ahhhh....yes". if you've never seen him live, i would highly recommend it.
vote not voted - dhop!!
...and herbie's spirit is certainly more  engaging and delightful
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