Criticisms Against Keith Jarrett…

The majority of criticism raged against Keith Jarrett concerns his on stage behaviour.  I find this topic boring now but I do admit I found it fascinating when I first discovered Jarrett and his work in my mid-teens.

However, I do find criticism against his music interesting. Look at the Myspace of any up-and-coming jazz pianist and Jarrett, more often than not, will appear under the banner, influences. His talent and dedication to his music is awe-inspiring, and has obvious universal appeal, but is it possible to simply not dig it?

The late Ian Carr dedicated a closing chapter to this issue in his now dated biography of Jarrett, The Man And His Music. Carr’s approach when defending his subject is representative of the approach taken by Jarrett’s defenders worldwide; you’re either too stupid to geddit, or you don’t want to geddit!

Here is an article Garry Giddins wrote in 1977. Giddins doesn’t geddit, but he is eloquent in his reasoning. It has one of the most alluring titles I’ve ever read for a jazz criticism, Keith Jarrett: Virtuosity Is Not Enough.

Below is a review of Dark Intervals. It’s a typical example of the sort of review Carr discusses in his book, where the critic can’t help but have a little personal slight at Jarrett the man, rather than the music.

Funny thing, hindsight. At the time I’m sure Michael Tucker wasn’t alone in thinking that the short, sectional solo concert would not be the future for Jarrett, mere blips on the radar. And he was right, up until those Japanese concerts given in 2002. Radiance literally radiated the path Jarrett’s solo concerts were to take and it seems the likes of Dark Intervals and Staircase (Jarrett’s most under-championed recording) were early signs.

I’ve also uploaded an old article from Wire Magazine (before Wire became all engrossing). Don’t Shoot The Pianist. Again, title-wise, not bad. This is below the words.

I use to have a musical love affair with Jarrett, but now we’re just friends. I do geddit, I think, even Spirits, Book Of Ways and that Gurdjieff doodling (However, Restoration Ruin?! I think that’s best left to Carr to defend).

By sure_nuff at 2011-10-14


About Will Rodway

what you hear, what you read...
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22 Responses to Criticisms Against Keith Jarrett…

  1. Larry Tanner says:

    Jarrett is not invulnerable to criticism. He can be too sugary at times. He can fall back on personal musical cliches. His solo concerts, at one point, became patterned and predictable. He put out records that probably should have remained in the vault.

    He has not hit a musical home run every time. Yet I don’t think anyone expects him to. And I don’t think anyone is under the impression that every note he’s ever recorded is “great.”

    I’ve been a fan of Jarrett’s since the 80s, when, as a teenager, I heard Solo Concerts for the first time. It was mind altering for me because here was a person being so arrogant and bold as to walk out and just play. Whatever came out of the keyboard would be his offering to the audience. And it was good, too. It was beautiful and adventurous, searching and swirling, and sometimes muddled before regaining a sense of purpose.

    Over my almost-thirty years with Jarrett, I’ve appreciated his dedication to building and documenting a personal musical vision. He’s never wavered from the idea that the music he wants to make is what he should put out. He seems to take seriously the idea that he alone is final authority on his musical decisions.

    As I said, some of these decisions have been head-scratchers for me. But other people seem to enjoy albums that do relatively nothing for me. That’s the way it goes in the arts.

    If we wanted to, we could make a healthy list of legitimate musical criticisms for Jarrett’s body of work. I don’t see the point of doing this, however, other than as a way to kill time in the pub. The ultimate criticism comes when we decide to play a CD of his or not.

    • Will Rodway says:

      Hi Larry, thanks for your response, truly appreciated! By approaching this subject I wanted to start conversations like this – although the pub would be a much better setting! You’re use of the term sugary is one I’ve read before. I think it was in the UKs Jazzwise magazine and the pianist Liam Noble was speaking about Jarrett’s newer solo concerts. I’ll have to dig it out.

      I find many people do think Jarrett hits a home run every time, or at least they feel they have to fall in line and say he does. I love Ian Carr’s Miles Davis biography, it truly is one of the best pieces of jazz literature I’ve ever read, but his Jarrett biography, I’m afraid to say, falls foul of sycophancy. Something I find also on many forums.

      Referring to Giddins’ critique though, there is one line that leapt out at me
      “I was turned off by the unrelenting lyricism…”
      Giddins wrote this after watching Jarrett’s great European group in ’77. What a concert that must have been! I adore the melodies Jarrett wrote for this group. They were a fantastic counterpart to the rough-and-ready style of his American group. But, as I said in the blog, Giddins just doesn’t get it! You have to respect that, and as a fan I think it is important to understand why a man of Giddins’ jazz stature doesn’t.

      I find many young jazz musicians today prefer the American group and the early solo concerts to his more lyrical stuff. Kit Downes composed a fantastic tune call “tambourine” which perfectly emulates this style, and Ethan Iverson said something along the lines of Jarrett’s American group is the father of the Bad Plus.

      One last thing. Whilst it could be considered just a bit of fun to collect such writings, it also gives fans the opportunity to defend their opinion, to truly test their passion for the music, and to simply get us communicating!

  2. Red Sullivan says:

    It IS interesting to collect these writings… Thanks for the piece in The Wire. It’s highly informed, but the guy’s tone is so misanthropic, as to be funny. Of course this type of writing is total cliché in every sense – his arbitrary statement of Evans being past his prime, his misinterpretation of what the word “stroll” means, his calling Haden “a liability” (wow!) and saying he seems to know why Motion opted out of the new trio. I find it thoroughly entertaining, engrossing even*, but, man, can you imagine one of the musicians reading this, and the fury it’d inspire? (Painful). As I say, more than anything, that kind of writing is “CLICHÉ”, definitively so – hugely ironic in view of the very claim that a musician’s job is “to find new forms”. (No, it’s not!). But that’s the moment and trajectory of criticism. No other art form has been more damaged by criticism than jazz. No other.
    So, I realise, i’ve critiqued that writer, not Jarrett (which pleases me).
    Thanks for the post, the work involved and finding the pieces!

    * actually, really, though, it’s distateful.

  3. Will Rodway says:

    Hi Red, and thanks for taking the time to comment. I don’t find it a distasteful article, but his overt agenda does limit the weight of any decent point. Just extending your point, even though Steve Lake was talking about Jarrett having to orchestrate Haden on a personal level, rather than a musical one (“I’m sure Jarrett knew what he had in that band, musically”), he doesn’t give any evidence or examples of Haden being a “sick” “liability”, which IS WRONG and a serious allegation. His assumption for the reason for Paul Motian not joining the Standards Trio also reads wrong, simply because Motian was on the At The Deer Head Inn album! Whilst we’re on the subject Jarrett obviously still loves Haden as they play on Jasmine as a duet! Hindsight, eh!

    If you’re the Red Sullivan who wrote the essay on Gordon Beck for DTM, then thank you, it was an informative and joyous read.

  4. Red Sullivan says:

    I’m so pleased to have your approval for what I had to say about Gordon Beck for DTM! Thank-you!
    That was an highly personal piece, shall we say… I very nearly didn’t write it at all, and then I thought e.i. would think it unpublishable, but e.i.’s kind and generous suggestion to me was too precious an opportunity to try and have Beck re-evaluated that, had I demurred, it would have been genuinely sad… So I wrote what I felt.
    My point about he playing “American Music” is a conviction I do have… and, in fact, it’s amongst the many things that makes his music most relevant. He played American Jazz, and so did Tubby, so does Peter King – so does Louis Stewart in ireland (that country’s greatest musician in any idiom , ever, by the way).
    Innovations in modern music, nor “The New Wave In Jazz” are never going to come from anywhere but New York City… never… (i know a person who thinks he’s a “Jazz Innovator” and he operates from Dublin…. “Nope!”, nor will i even wish im luck!).
    In your excellent newest piece here on your fine blog, you do say that “Shakespeare and jazz didn’t have a lasting relationship” – it occured to me that I’d just like to take you back to the Ellington Suite you do reference anyway, “Such Sweet Thunder”, and say that, well, that one is for the ages – and it stands as “The lasting relationship”…
    For your parallel concerning British pop music – do you know Beck’s “Experiments With Pops” – it does speak VOLUMES!!
    – –
    It’s not the overt agenda for The Wire’s writer that irked me, just his tone… real “uniform critic-speak” – even though you can tell he does, in fact, love the music (the breath of knowledge is good), he wont allow himself express enthusiasm. THAT’S a cliché!! There’s just a tone to it that’s unatractive: he’s amusing himself, and very, very conventionally too (therefore the irony).
    I hate commentators who identify and follow “trends”.
    Ok, enough!
    Much rather, thank-you. And I’m glad you know how I feel about Gordon Beck!!

  5. Red Sullivan says:

    Oh – if I may… Just a little P.S. for you…: “Ballads & Blues” just happens to have been the very first Tommy Flanagan record I ever bought… The first one, and not the last you see.
    For me, his greatest record is “The Cats” on Prestige, but “Ballads & Blues” was my first.
    (Do you know his contributions, offering Bud Powell repertoire, on “I Remember Bebop” the double LP with many piansts reprising classic modern repertoire, but all recorded specifically for this French CBS LP project c.1981? Scarily inspired Flanagan… also highly recommended, but by me, if you’ll allow).

    • Will Rodway says:

      Peter King is a favourite of mine, in any jazz sphere. And you’re right, he plays American music! I don’t understand why this is seen as such a negative in certain circles. On Gordon Beck I have heard Experiments with Pops. It would be interesting to compare this record with the current crop of artists eager to cover Radiohead or other indie bands, now that’s an article!

      I don’t know the album I Remember Bebop, sounds interesting though and I’m gonna have to try and hunt it down! Thanks for your prompt with the Such Sweet Thunder album, most appreciated. I’ve added another review to the Criticisms again Jarrett post. I don’t really want this to become a library for anti-jarrett pieces (simply because it’s far and removed from my own opinion!) but I felt with this article (a review of Dark Intervals from ’89) it would allow me to explain more my position and thus reasoning for the post in the first place. Anyway, it’s all interesting stuff! Back to Flanagan (who I suspect will again be the theme for my next major analysis post) two new (to me at least) albums of his have crossed my path; Thelonica and The Tokyo Recital. His solo on Off Minor from Thelonica sounds so fresh, so unlike stereotypical Flanagan, it really has to be heard. His solo on Take The A Train from Tokyo is another must. Best.

  6. Fred says:

    Oscar Peterson called Jarrett “the Liberace of jazz”. I wholehearted concur.

  7. Fred says:

    err… wholeheartly

  8. Fred says:

    dang Fred,, learn how to spell.

    • Will Rodway says:

      Fair enough, Fred but why do you agree? What characteristics of his playing persuade you to the opinion that Jarrett is “the Liberace of jazz”? Some jazzers might label Peterson himself with that title!

      • Fred says:

        I simply can’t imagine anyone labeling Oscar “the Liberace of jazz”. He is one of the all time greats for a reason. Keith? not so much. Jarrett is the Steve Vai of pianists, imo, or maybe the Allan Holdsworth. So utterly self absorbed as to exclude others.

      • Will Rodway says:

        Without reducing this discussion to unnecessary ad hominem swipes, you’re wrong. Oscar Peterson was great, technically, but he often reduced his solos to cascading runs up and down the keyboard, showman style, like Liberace. Jarrett, on the other hand, takes the underlying harmony in to great consideration – extending, modulating etc. but always referencing it. Also, the idea that Jarrett excludes his bandmates when performing is just absurd! Have you ever heard a Keith Jarrett trio recording?! On the other hand this is what Miles had to say about Oscar on the same issue:

        “He leaves no holes for the rhythm section.”

        Have you got the names mixed up? 😉

  9. Gordon says:

    That’s so true, Will, I agree completely on your Peterson/Jarrett comparisons.

    • Fred says:

      It’s almost like living in Bazaaro World, that one would put Peterson/Jarrett in the same category. Oscar oozes of God giving talent, the music is just part of him, while Jarrett sounds and looks like he learned everything he knows from a book. He certainly mastered the book, but it’s all technique, with over-the-top feign emoting thrown in for good measure. Sorry, he doesn’t fool me.

      • Will Rodway says:

        Hmmm, we’re just not going to agree are we?! No problem, but let me just throw in one more subjective adage into the mix…

        My favourite Oscar Peterson record is Night Train. His playing is relaxed (not necessarily slow) and you can hear his soloing thought process a lot clearer compared to much of his (particularly live) output. He also doesn’t allow his piano to swamp the rhythm section. It’s a truly great record.

        This leads into why I love so much of Jarrett’s output. He’s inventing and creating lines and alt. harmony, not just repeating them. Do I think there’s a tad too much faux spirituality and mysticism attached to some of it? Sure I do. But he’s a once-in-a-lifetime artist of such weight that you accept this as part of the package. But, at the end of the day, “the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum”.


  10. thomas plotkin says:

    I believe, without being absolutely certain, that the Wire critic’s reference to Haden as “sick…a liability” has nothing to do with music and something to do with Haden’s personal problems at the time, involving certain habits, which made him a trial for any employer. Haden has referenced the unpleasantness of that period of his life in interviews in the wake of the duet album with Jarrett “Jasmine.”

  11. Thomas Vigier says:

    I have listened to Keith Jarret since i was 7, i have always be a real fan of his music although his conduct on the stage is unsuall, or i should say a bit disrespectful for the audience but when i listened to him in Antibes ( in France ; yes i am french ), no one respected him during the song ( everyone claped their hand ) so i can understand that sometimes he stoped playing just to say ” SHUT UP”.
    Thanks for this article.

    P.S : I am 15, and i am learning English so can anyone tell me what he thinks about my text ?

  12. mike says:

    I ‘m not a fan of Steve Vai music but was suprised that in interviews
    he seems is a very nice open guy , no ego and almost nuturing of anyones attempt to expand musically

    he is the anti keith jarrett in personality

  13. Eddie says:

    Found it funny when Jarrett went off on Wynton Marsalis and said, among other things, that he couldn’t play the blues and that he (Jarrett) would challenge him to a “blues standoff” lol. Anyone who challenges someone to a blues competition DOES NOT understand the blues or music. Jarrett putting down Marsalis is like the pot calling the kettle black. I don’t think Jarrett has an once of god given talent. He is a machine with a player-piano roll hard-drive.

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