This article and interview (scaled down) appeared in the Jan-Feb 1997 issue of Piano and Keyboard magazine. The interview that is presented here between pianists Ted Rosenthal and Keith Jarrett is a virtually complete version of the entire interview.

The "insanity" of doing more than one (musical) thing

by Ted Rosenthal

Copyright 1996

For those people that need to classify or pigeonhole musicians into categories, Keith Jarrett will certainly cause sleepless nights! Best known as being one of a handful of jazz piano innovators to emerge in the late '60s, in the last fifteen years Jarrett has also performed and recorded major classical works on the piano and harpsichord. In addition, he is a composer whose works range from orchestral pieces, to jazz tunes for his working bands. Finally, his solo improvisations almost single-handedly created a new genre of free, extended improvisations for the piano. He pursues each activity with a focus, intensity, and single-mindedness that is indicative of his artistic standard for creating music of the highest integrity and deepest emotional expression.

Born in Allentown, PA on V-E day, (May 8, 1945) Jarrett's prodigious musical talent was recognized early. Piano Lessons began at 3, and at 7 he performed his debut recital playing both traditional classical works and his own compositions. In his teens, in addition to composing and playing classical music, Jarrett began to play jazz and gigged locally around Pennsylvania on piano and drums. At 17, Fred Waring, the musical entrepreneur of the area, heard Jarrett and arranged for him to go to Paris and study composition with Nadia Boulanger. Instead, Jarrett decided to go to Boston's Berklee College of Music (for a year) and then on to New York to pursue jazz.

At 21, Jarrett gained wide exposure touring the world with (saxophonist) Charles Lloyd's Quartet. Noticed by Miles Davis, the trumpeter asked him to join the band in 1970. Jarrett spent almost two years with Davis and during this time he also recorded his first ground-breaking solo piano improvisation, "Facing You." Throughout the '70s, Jarrett's busy musical life included playing solo concerts, touring with his American Quartet, (with bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Paul Motian, and saxophonist Dewey Redman) and touring with his Scandinavian Quartet (featuring saxophonist Jan Garbarek).

Always maintaining an active interest in classical music, Jarrett decided to record and play in public near the end of the 70s. He first performed contemporary works (Bartok, Barber, Stravinsky concertos) and then focused more on Baroque and Classical works. In 1983 Jarrett formed his "Standards" Trio with Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. The group continues to perform the "Great American Songbook" with an open, improvisatory approach and no preconceived arrangements. Currently, Jarrett divides his time between classical music, the Standards Trio, and solo concerts. He maintains the only way he can work in diverse areas is to perform sparingly, one activity at a time, and allow for sufficient time between projects.

Jarrett is an uncompromising artist and not afraid to speak his mind. He will berate audiences for talking, cancel concerts when the piano is sub--standard, and respond to critics he feels are ignorant. Jarrett has also written articles about his dissatisfaction with today's neo--conservative movement in jazz , and its mass marketing. His out--spokenness combined with unorthodox mannerisms at the piano and singing during his improvisations all contribute to his controversial status.

To interview Jarrett, I drove to his home in rural western New Jersey, where he lives with his wife, Rose Ann. We talked openly on many subjects and I found Jarrett to be hospitable and generous with his time. We talked first about his current, ongoing project of recording the Mozart Piano Concerti with Dennis Russel Davies and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra. The first three (K488, K467, K595) were released last fall (1996) on ECM's "New Series."

TR: With your background in jazz, how do you think that musically influences how you approach Mozart.

KJ: I don't prepare the way everyone else does. I wait until I hear the orchestra to decide how it is I am actually going to play. So that part is more related to improvising than the way most people prepare. But technically as a pianist it doesn't move from jazz to classical. It moves the other way. So I can play ballads with more micro--variations of touch, now that I've been working on Mozart, than I might have had before.

TR: So you think your classics more influenced the jazz than vice versa, in terms of pianistic approaches?

KJ: Well you have to clean up your act to do the classical repertoire and jazz doesn't demand that, but the more of an arsenal you have to use, the better. So in that sense, jazz never demands that you work on a particular thing. It's up to the player to decide whether that's what they're going to do. That's why so many pianists in jazz don't have a touch. That didn't come into their mind that was something they should do. I think in music you need to experience the whole range of music in order to jump in when you want to be free. To be hitting a wall that you yourself didn't provide because you just didn't do certain disciplinary things... I could never play scales in thirds until I had to, or sixths, (or being) impeccable on any historical level with the ornaments until I started working seriously on the public side of my classical playing. So these are the things that I know that I think most jazz players don't know.

TR: Do you feel physically different when you're at the Blue Note playing trios than when you're in a big concert hall playing Mozart. Is there a physical...

KJ: Oh yes, I suffer from the same nerves that all the other classical players have. I've not heard about anybody who manages to escape this. But I didn't have that problem until I got into the classical world... And now that actually is contagious into the jazz sometimes. Not in the trio context but...

TR: Solo?

KJ: At times in some contexts. For some reason only the bad things are contagious, you know? {laughter}

TR: When you got back into serious classical playing, was there something that you felt was lacking in your jazz and improvisation work? Was there some musical thing you couldn't express?

KJ: Well I was doing this music all the time. It's just that at a certain stage in my career I could devote time. I didn't need to be gigging, as they say. (Time) to preparing, in my opinion, the only correct way. Shut down all the other doors and just open the one that you're working on. This is what I think is sort of hilarious about "cross--over", so called. I don't think you can do both things unless you have a certain kind of insanity that you are conscious of and you create it. It's like now I'm doing this and this isn't a part of me. Move the whole thing out of the room and all you are is a Mozart player for a while. This is literally what I do. (When) we're doing Mozart recordings and performances, I do the pieces I'm working on and if I do more it's usually more Mozart, like the sonatas.

TR: Would you ever be interested in doing a concert where you played Mozart the first half and then played a (jazz) trio (set)?

KJ: No, that's what I think is hilarious. I mean that is true insanity. The insanity I'm talking about is like a chosen practically impossible thing, but you know how weird it is! Then you have to try to figure out how you can go about doing both these things without them ruining each other in a funny way. I think the thing that can get ruined, that would be destroyed first if someone does both these, is the jazz.

TR: Interesting. Why is that?

KJ: Because if a player gets used to not disappearing into the music completely and starts thinking about the kind of details you have to think about in classical performance, that's not what you should be doing when you play the blues. Jazz isn't really as much about the how, as it is the ideas that you're coming up with. I think if someone sat down and looked at (the people) who play jazz and classical music, it's almost 100 percent across the board that they don't really have an individual jazz voice. If you think about who these people are and you take them one by one, they might be curios, but have not really contributed something lasting. You become a musicologist when you become a classical player. You go back to jazz and if you're a musicologist, then you're like a jazz professor. That's OK, but that's going to probably steal from the transcendent nature of that dive, you know?

TR: Is it a stylistic thing or an inner, whole approach?

KJ: It's the circuitry. Your system demands different circuitry for either of those two things. The chosen insanity is to learn the circuitry, and to be sure you're not inhibiting the wrong circuit by acting in a different zone. I would guess it's almost impossible to do more than one thing well. So that's the insanity, you know that and yet you're still doing two things! My God!

TR: Yes, I know. {Laughter} Would you ever be interested in (writing) a piece with orchestra where you're improvising, or am I just rephrasing?

KJ: That's happened already. "Celestial Hawk" was one example.

TR: Does it interest you further?

KJ: Not really. Because at this moment in my life, as insane as two things are, three things is suicidal. If I had to take one thing out of the mix right now, what I took out was the composing. Both things that I do that seem so different, I'm approaching them as the player. So there's the mysterious explanation for why standards (with the trio) and not originals.

TR: Getting back to Mozart, is there something you could say about your rhythmic approach (to the concertos) as a jazz player.

KJ: I once went to Japan and did Mozart performances there with a young Japanese orchestra. Something about that told me about the rhythm and where my (rhythmic) focus should be. The Japanese orchestra played Mozart in the way that I would imagine the pieces would have been played when they were first played. They were playing it like they were accompanying. I'm sure in the old days they didn't have all that much time to spend on phrasing every single little phrase the way a major conductor works on his version of something. They were relying on the conductor and, mostly the player to provide them with some information about what to do with the pulse. I remember saying to Dennis, "there's a key here somewhere that I didn't have to look up at the conductor, and look at the orchestra." In Japan, through the years of drum music and traditional relationship to pulse, they played Mozart as if you're playing with a jazz trio and you know that on "one," the bass player and drummer will be there. I talked to Dennis and said, "the dance side of pulse is OK, it's OK to have even meter. If you think about it, when they did performances in the past, they weren't preparing the one version that would be on CD for the rest of history. It would have been more casual -- as dressed up as they were! {laughter} It's only modern orchestras that start drawing these phrases into elastic non--metrical things. I remember when early instrument music performances started to happen Very early in that I was on their side, as far as my feeling about the pulse was concerned. Mozart was a player, so I can just imagine him thinking, "Let's just play." {laughter}

TR: Would you compare it (the pulse) to a (jazz) groove?

KJ: It depends on the piece. On the next release, there's a hunting type movement. We play it probably faster than it's ever been played. It turns into a trip, and it's just wonderful. That I can see happening in live performance in the past. They just start at a faster tempo then they thought they'd start at, and I can imagine Mozart sitting there going, "Wow! Far out! Let's see how this works!"

TR: I'm curious, had you ever considered improvising in the cadenzas. I know it's somewhat of an obvious question.

KJ: Everyone asks it. They either say that I should write them or improvise in them. There's a very simple answer to that. I don't improvise in historical context.

TR: So even at home, you wouldn't sit down and improvise in a Mozart style?

KJ: No, I never feel the impulse. I looked at various cadenzas. When Mozart writes one, I usually use it. If there's no Mozart, I tend to be using Badura--Skoda.

TR: When I was listening to your "Book of Ways,"(clavichord improvisations) there were a number of pieces that were in a contrapuntal, perhaps baroque or early classical style. So I thought you were improvising in that style."

TR: Well, when sound takes me there, then it's not improvising in a style to me. It's the sound (and) how it relates to what I've heard maybe. It can turn into that especially if the instrument is so provocatively historical which, of course the clavichord is.

TR: So those were completely spontaneous? The sound inspired you to go in that direction?

KJ: Yeah, that whole recording was done in one afternoon and everything was a first take and nothing was coming from any pre--ordained thing. I had no material.

TR: That was between two trio concerts I read...

KJ: Yeah, in the middle of a tour. We flew to Stuttgart for the afternoon and that's where we did it. Hadn't seen these man's instruments yet.

TR: From what you're telling me (about) not wanting to juxtapose jazz and classical performing close together, when I heard the "Book of Ways" I thought, "My God, this was between two trio concerts and here he is playing these...

KJ: But if you think about it just from sound, I wasn't juxtaposing anything. I was going from one context where the format and the material produced a sound that led me into jazz every time we made that sound. Then I sat at a clavichord and when I pressed the key down, it suggested a whole different thing. "Facing You"(Jarrett's first solo piano improvisational recording) was recorded between two Miles Davis concerts on electric piano... I think "Book of Ways, "is one of the recordings I wish more people would know. I think it has more of what I hear on it than a lot of things (I do) on piano because piano is piano. These two clavichords together made a different instrument. You could use vibrato on one of them and not the other one, and play unison. I was playing two at the same time as you probably could tell.

TR: That approach, short pieces of quite different moods, it's something you don't seem to do in the Vienna concert. It's just piano, and I was interested if you...

KJ: I've tried it. There's a Japanese video called Solo Tribute, I've done standards too alone which can be nice. But if you just think of sound, I had four instruments with the clavichord(s). I went back and forth and when I went from one track to the next, I probably would move to another instrument. That gave me a new beginning in sonic differences. Once I'm playing the piano it's a relatively, in my opinion, boring instrument! That's probably why I work so hard to get more out of it. Einstein hated math, you know!

TR: I want to ask you about your physical approach because I haven't seen you perform classical (music), but I hear you're much more stationary at the keyboard.

KJ: Yes.

TR: And you're not singing along the way you do in your jazz performances?

KJ: No.

TR: Is there a connection to the music that changes? Is that what's going on?

KJ: Well I think the singing comes from the fact that the subject matter is being dictated to me and I have to quickly "transcribe" it and then decide how to play it and in what dynamic and which finger and all that, so it's an explosive process. Whereas playing Mozart is not in that sense explosive. Although one of the most transcendent moments I think I've ever had in music happened at the last Mozart recording. It's an adagio in, let me see, was it a C major concerto? {actually it was the Andatino movement of the Eb concerto K.271} Anyway it's a C minor opening and the orchestra plays an introduction. Most of the motifs are in there as they usually are and then they stop and there's three pick up notes as they say and then I'm on one of the first bar and the orchestra's back in. And those are all octaves and with a grace note octave under it , G,C,E flat and then G at the top is the actual tutti. I don't think I ever had bigger musical experience than playing those three first notes.

TR: Why is that?

KJ: I don't know. I think I inhabited the world in which the music was conceived. Because I wasn't, on purpose, familiarizing myself with what the orchestra was going to be doing, I was open to this fresh thing. They played, and then they stopped and it's the entrance of the piano, and it was like entering where all the music comes from. It was a simple minor arpeggio slowed down. But in the breath between the stopping of the orchestra and the first note I played I was transformed from me playing the instrument to where all this really is coming from. I went to lunch after that and I said to my wife, "These three notes are worth the whole thing."

TR: When you play with the trio after a period of playing Mozart, how would you say the Mozart affects your jazz playing? I'm curious about the figurations, certain arpeggios, types of runs, does it creep in in some unconscious way?

KJ: Not that. Mostly the touch. If I think of what happens with my jazz playing, it's mainly that I could actually add colors within the same perimeters that I might have used before, and have there be more music in the same amount of notes than there used to be.

TR: So it's not some technical or...

KJ: No. That's part of what you have to know about the insanity. You can't let the clarity that you can develop become something you use in jazz because it would be like hearing a white Oscar Peterson solo!

TR: When I hear your long lines in your improvisations in jazz, to my mind I hear some classical influence, some sweeping....

KJ: I don't know if it would be classical as much as, well yeah, maybe it is. I wouldn't know what to call that. But I think I know what you mean.

TR: Would you say there's some source of the lines you play in general? You know, your lines are quite unique...

KJ: Well I'm not afraid to play what I've heard. In other words, one thing you're hearing is that I'm not worried about being me, so I can let things enter the music that maybe some players would worry about their identity. If you let enough of those things enter, then it reverses, the coin flips over again and you become very much an identifiable player, because you allow those things in. Gary (Peacock) said to me once, "every time the trio plays, it's like we are taking in more history each time we play." It isn't like people will say I'm using so and so's licks, but if you let something enter, then there's a bunch more possibilities. So a line would end up being longer. But if you tighten up a little, it will shorten up. If you let more air in, then the pulse gets freer. Then you play five notes in a in a two beat area and have it sound fine, you know?

TR: Yeah, they always do!

KJ: Saxophone players in particular have influenced me, not pianists. And if you think about Sonny Rollins or Ornette (Coleman), (John)Coltrane, because they're a voice, they have this freedom and they're not percussive. They can play a river of notes and it doesn't matter what the number is. So when I'm playing piano I don't want to hear the attack as a percussion attack. I'm listening to this flow. That's one reason the piano can make me mad. {laughter}

TR: Conversely, you also get into some just ferocious rhythmic (ideas)...

KJ: Yes. Which is easier, you just hit the gosh darn thing a little harder! No, it's not that simple. But I guess I would say in general what we have are people who are more or less primitive, more or less sophisticated, more or less loose or tight. What I want to do is experience the whole thing. So some of these things are much more natural to me. Some things I don't have to work on and one of them is relationship to pulse and intensity and...

TR: How does playing the drums enter into that?

KJ: Well exactly the way you would imagine. It actually was my first instrument, table tops.

TR: Did you ever actually study drums?

KJ: No.

TR: But you were gigging a little bit as a teenager.

KJ: Yeah, and not just as a teenager. Jack (Dejohnette) and I, whenever we had a chance we'd sit in and we'd go to the opposite instruments than we usually play. And I was also part of some drum workshops in Europe.

TR: So do you find yourself consciously translating certain rhythmic ideas from the drums to the piano?

KJ: No.... I don't know, I don't even think there's such a thing as an idea -- a musical idea. There's either music or not. And so I certainly am not doing it consciously.

TR: I wanted to ask you a couple of things regarding the standards group (and) some of your amazing intros to the songs. A couple that come to mind, ŇAll the Things You Are" from "Tribute" and "Imagination" from the Blue Note. (In)"All the Things You Are" I hear a lot of counterpoint and fantastic ideas, and I assume it wasn't worked out but I wanted to ask...

KJ: No.

TR: What might have been the influence?

KJ: I have no idea. That piece, the changes are so classic. Whenever we do that I tend to play an introduction, and they're always completely different, but they're often uniquely something different than the rest of the tunes.

TR: The progression brings to mind certain Bach or Mozart...

KJ: It's just easy to let yourself fall through those changes and produce some new things from them. They have a symmetry and a coherence that you can almost forget about them and they're still going on.

TR: In "Imagination," I'm hearing these chords, a general palette, of Bill Evans, or something in that (vein), but it's so uniquely you. I hear these rubs in the inside (of the voicing) and I'm wondering if there's anything you could say about it.

KJ: Well I play piano, but I don't believe in chords, in the sense that they're vertical structures. I think of everything under or around the song as possible priority (in) content. If there's a chord that should be sitting under a melody note, I want that chord to be alive and if it isn't alive just sitting there, then something moves inside it to keep it from just being a solid object somebody just dropped on the floor.

TR: Are you saying that you're thinking horizontally?

KJ: That would be too facile a way of putting it. I'm thinking texturally. In a kaleidoscope, in the glass, when you turn (it), it's not going to change color because the items in there are the same. I think what I see is the never ending motion inside the chords whether they're still or not. But the only way to keep them alive might be how you balance the chord, or how the lines continue to move inside this so--called thing.

TR: That's one big, if you want to call it, classical influence...

KJ: Well I wouldn't call it a classical influence. I would call it the influence of the piano itself. If someone sits there long enough, they'll notice that this is true, they'll learn that music is motion -- sonic motion. It doesn't have to be a big motion, it actually doesn't have to even be motion if the tone itself is full enough of things like overtones. If you take a piano and play that same note over and over again, the note will never be the same because the harmonics that the string gets are never exactly the same. So depending on the piano I'm playing and depending on the sound in the room, I would use more moving lines under the melody note or less. If it's a masterpiece instrument, there's even the possibility that nothing has to move because (the sound is) moving, it's alive anyway. But in (the Blue Note), where it's really dead, I think there had to be a lot of concentration on having the "stirring" continue because otherwise there would be a "blong" and the "blong" would not last long enough. The trailing edge of that sound would be too short.

TR: Well your intros, and really all your music, are a demonstration of your incredible focus. I think that's one of the things that's revered about you most by musicians.. you seem to become the music and the focus -- it's revered, it's awesome!

KJ: I'm glad to know that because I would be more thankful for people realizing that's what was happening than that there was any particular thing that I do that knocks them out. That's going to go away. The people that want the Koln Concert again never got it. I used to say that if the audience at a solo concert could remember every second that it was improvised, then they'd get into that process and they'd see what it was I was really trying to do. It wouldn't even matter whether the material worked that night or whether the concert was "a good one." It's the work at what you just said. The work is how to make the laser beam stronger, and more focused at the same time. Often when a laser beam gets stronger, it gets a little more bullish around the edges. It has to be just as focused and still be able to be strong.

TR: Is there anything you could say to musicians who say, "My God, how does he focus that way?" Is that something you can practice?

KJ: No. It's a mercilessness that they need to consider.

TR: Meaning?

KJ: Being nice to yourself isn't the way to go about it.{laughter} Everything about it isn't healthy. Let's say someone -- what they want out of life is to make good music, good enough that they can make a living doing it, and maybe have a family, and they don't need a lot of money but... They've already gone too far. What they have to say is "if anything else comes into my life I'll be lucky, but I've got to put everything I have into this seemingly non--rewarding (art) at this point in my life. It is some dark and deep work that has to be done and the lighter and the more technologically convenient our world gets, the less there are going to be people who even know that there's anything like that. They'll just say, "Gee he was awfully talented," instead of saying, "I wonder what work he had to do to get there?" Like I was born focused, you know? That's what my mother said when I was born, "Oh what a focused little baby!"

One of the great things about the trio has nothing to do with the music, it's to do with something about what you're saying. We've played in places that I don't think any other trio in history could have played. Just three guys on the stage for 12,000 people in Verona, Italy and had there be no sound in the audience and have rave reviews all over Italy about this concert as though the people could actually hear us! So one of the things that happens live is you can sense the focus better. I mean that is why we do it. Why would we even attempt to play for that many people if we didn't think, "we can draw them into this," without external manipulation. Without saying "Jack, could you play a triple fortissimo drum solo first?"

TR: Do you ever practice jazz?

KJ: No. If I'm going to play a solo thing where I play standards, which I haven't done recently. It's the only thing I can think of where I might have (practiced) in the last decade. Where I might have gone into the studio and tried to figure out what tunes to play by playing some tunes, and see if I remember how to play bass lines and stuff like that.{laughs} And then I remember old Lenny Tristano albums at that point.

TR: And when you're picking standards, is it the melody, or is it some of the progressions? How does...

KJ: It's an unfigureoutable thing. I'll bring tune ideas in, or Gary will, and we'll go over them at the sound check and maybe something that I would think would surely be good -- we play half the tune and I say, "No." Whereas something that I have almost hated in the past ends up being something that ... "Just in Time" I don't know what happened but...

TR: That's a great one.

KJ: I know, but I played that song in lounges and in dance situations long enough that I was sure there would never be a reason to play (it). I mean it doesn't have a melody that's worth anything, doesn't really even have any uniqueness to the chords. But we picked the tempo when we did it and it just went. It pointed at us and said, "You can play this tune."

TR: I always thought the melody had a good jumping off place developmentally. The way it sticks with one little fragment, it's pretty relentless....

KJ: Yes it does, but it's boring too. It's like "Hello Dolly," you know? I mean if you take just the melody and you get rid of everything else and sing it straight, it's...pretty terrible.

TR: And what about picking a key for tunes. Does that enter into your thinking much, or do you go mostly for standard keys?

KJ: Well I would say we usually start with standard keys... I think one of my seemingly unnoticed strengths, maybe the biggest strength with the trio is programming. As often as I've said this, it's true -- we do not know what we're going to play (until the moment). And if I played you the last 100 concerts that we have document tapes of, almost every one will be as though it was thought out to some extent. But it's one (tune) at a time. Then, I get a feeling for what tonal center we've been in and my head usually comes up with, "let's try this."

TR: How would you say the trio has changed over, it's been almost 14 years now?

KJ: Every year is a different kind of change. The most recent change in the music on tour is that we seem to be even less interested in arrangements than we ever were. I mean we're even less interested in any uniqueness of the exterior and just get into the shit every time. You know, it's almost like bebop. But not the "Nuevo Rancheros" bebop people. I mean the serious...

TR: Excuse me, I'm not exactly sure what you mean when you say "almost like bebop." Is it the spirit of...

KJ: Yes. When you listen to recordings from that time, you're listening to the energy, everybody's waiting to play (a solo). I think of Bud Powell and some of his tempos, if you just extrapolate from that... The kind of energy that the solos had - a forward moving energy, not a contemplative energy like the Bill Evans Trio, and not delicate but light. There's a lightness to it in the sense of sparkle-y-ness. The trio's been doing that live and we've been doing it in big situations where we used to be dramatic. (Now) we're playing things, and trying to find the feeling as soon as we can, and just sitting in that feeling and playing through it. So we're playing things like (Gershwin"s) "Who Cares," an old Bud Powell tune called "John's Abbey," and more blues than often. That's not like our usual material.

TR: The trio seems to have two distinct musical approaches. The chief one being the standards played, and the other category, if you will, seems to be the improvised, extended, often very static vamp type of tunes. I was curious how that came to be?

KJ: Well I think that's my thing. I think if there's anything that came from the solo (approach) and from my personal point of view, it's those things. In a way, I victimize Gary and Jack every time that happens because I'm sure they wonder sometimes what it is I'm doing and what they should do. The very successful things like that have been very few, but a couple of them are on the Blue Note (CD's). There's (a tape) from some outdoor concert in Italy. We were in a spacey place, it wasn't a tune, it was one of those things you were talking about. Somehow we kept the dynamics at a low enough level, that even made it more intense. Then these birds came by and (makes bird noises) you hear this tweeting in the background. It was really, really great. So once in a while there's magic there.

TR: My experience as a player and a listener is -- as a player I often enjoy those experiences more than when I'm listening to it. I wonder is there a way to listen to those things? Is it eastern vs. western listening?

KJ: I think so. For example we just played in Istanbul. I have a very big audience in Istanbul and I'm sure that part of that is that they understand those sections better than the other (standards) sections. I've played solo concerts there where because I have a strong relationship to that culture and that part of the world, (and) because of how sensitive solo concerts are, I end up playing their music for them! {laughs}

TR: What about an American who's sitting there and he hears D minor for 20 minutes, and he's looking at his watch. What would you tell (them)? Is there a certain emotional state to be in, or listen for other things than we may have been either trained for or subliminally (recognize)?

KJ: No, because we don't have an ecstatic tradition.

TR: What is an ecstatic tradition?

KJ: It's a tradition where the state of ecstasy is the goal. We don't have that. We actually didn't want that, we were the Puritans. We didn't want the dark side, so we had to get rid of the other shit, so we ended up with the middle. I think only an American who wasn't so American would be able to know how to listen to that. I'm not sure Jack and Gary know when it's there and when it isn't. But that isn't to say that they're not both having their own special experience. I know they are, otherwise it would sound bad.

TR: On a couple of records I heard of your European quartet, "Belonging" and "My Song," the ballads totally knocked me out! I wanted again to compare (the approach) to classical music where the pulse was kind of free, but it was not (totally) free. That playing was just phenomenal, the way you were weaving your lines through, (and) everybody sounded so together as if there were a (steady) pulse.

KJ: You know rather than saying it's classical, it might be more appropriate to call it European. Because to tell you the truth, it has always has to do with sound. With the higher tuning in Europe and the way German pianos sound, there's a certain kind of clarity that that sound has. Somehow it leads to spaciness, and not even long lines. It's a European angle on jazz and it would come from chamber music. It's got to do with the landscape too. (If) it's gray and damp, you don't go out on a gray and damp day and go (imitates walking bass) "dum dum dum dum dum." {Laughter}

TR: Like today!

KJ: This all interests me because I think if people thought further than their first impulse to come up with a conclusion about where something's from, there are always so many more elements. It's why Americans are American and Italians are Italian. The environment is a big thing. We're thinking always about the environment of what we see, but sonic environment is another thing. The type of materials that were used in the rooms that music was played in, in Europe, (are) usually stone, or marble. In jazz clubs (here) there is a dry sound. In that kind of sound, you wouldn't be able to do that thing you were talking about very well because (the sound) wouldn't hang. The (bass and) drums wouldn't have any resonance, and the cymbals would sound dry.

TR: I have a couple of questions about the Vienna Concert, which it's been said is your favorite...

KJ: Of the solo things, yeah... well let me qualify that -- as an object it's not my favorite one. But the solo things all along have been to get away from making an object. So as that, it is the only successful concert on CD or record. In the purest sense I have created the lack of an object. You hear the process and if you can't get into the process, it's nothing. My analogy was like pouring water through a sieve instead of wanting to have the water, you know? It's a philosophical thing. That part of my work requires more than when a musician listens.

TR: So when you hear it , the things that are successful, and why you relate to it, are not about any kind of musical structure or content or...

KJ: No, not really. The Mozart experience is it. I mean whether that was my C minor arpeggio slowed down or his doesn't matter. It matters, but not as much whether that is ever portrayed to someone else the way it was for me. You can't have that as a goal. I don't think Chick (Corea) talks like this now, but there was a time when he'd say he "wanted to communicate." I think you have to essentially go past that stage to the stage where you know you never, ever communicate. Then you'd start doing your work, because then it's for you. Someone asked me once about Cecil Taylor and I said, "Yes, I really appreciate his stuff. We were talking about the differences, that I was chameleon--ish, I could sound differently at different times in different circumstances, and then there's guys like Cecil Taylor who's been working on this one (sound). I said, "Well, I'm more selfish than he is. {laughs} I want experiences more than he does then." That's one way to look at it.

TR: Since you mentioned Chick, I recently came across an essay he wrote for Keyboard Magazine called "The myth of improvisation." I don't know if you're familiar with that.

KJ: No.

TR: Well he says essentially that improvisers are putting together things that they know, but in a new way at the time. And I wonder how that comes to bear with what you're saying, which seems to be very different. You've played the piano almost your whole life, so how do you start from "nothing?"

KJ: Sure, there is no such thing as real nothing, for an organism. As soon as we go out in the world we're collecting experiences. But if I know what Chick was trying to say, which other people have said, I think it's a justification for not going further. Because I don't imagine Cecil would say that, I don't imagine Ornette would say that. I think they would be going back further in the process in admitting to themselves that, "We don't know. {laughs} You know, it sounds like a nice theory but, we don't know." Gary and Jack and I talk about that all the time. How come that tune on that night was that good? We felt like shit, we hated the sound, why was that? Try to do it again or try to do it under good circumstances, forget it. Don't mess with it! So there's more there than Chick can know.

TR: I was curious how you see your influence on younger jazz pianists or jazz musicians?

KJ: I don't know. I think it's too soon to know. Except that I think that without certain keys to listening and to the work to do to master an instrument, people won't know what they're hearing. So I'm not sure what the influence will be because I'm not sure what they're going to hear. Plus recordings are I don't know.

TR: You've expressed a strong feeling about very few individuals in the current scene. I was wondering if you have anything you could tell younger musicians about how to find your own voice today?

KJ: I don't know. That's another I don't know. I honestly don't know.

TR: If you were 20 today what do you think you'd do?

KJ: Well I have sons who are musicians and they are that age, so I think about that a lot. I haven't thought of any answer partly because I think we've been given artificial power. We've been disconnected from our own volitionary powers. We don't have figures to look up to, to use as examples.

TR: Do you think that you're one of them?

KJ: I would hope to be, but I don't think one's enough, or two or three. I think there have to be enough dedicated individuals that you can't say it's a freak thing. I think basically we have a situation now where the dice have to be rolled and hope they'll come up lucky. But that would mean that we'd have to regress somehow. In order to do that we'd probably have to have a war or something first. Everyone's too cool. Young players think they can play just if they can play. That's not true. That's nothing!

TR: I have a theory that in the last few years, jazz has taken on many of the trappings of classical music. With the programs at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, the degree programs in the colleges, the vast educational materials (available), and the marketing of (slick, well dressed, young musicians). I wonder, is any of this good? Is there any up--side to getting some more respect and exposure for jazz players?

KJ: No, not that way. If the guys that really did the stuff that we know who are forever great, if those guys didn't need the kind of respect you're talking about to do what they did, then I don't see it has any role to play at all. It reminds me of setting up a museum. That's what you put in museums, things that are finished. So maybe it is finished. Let's come to terms with that instead of trying to find the wrong audience for it. To me that's all they're going to do.

TR: Are you worried that it is finished in some way?

KJ: Jazz at it's best signifies the vitality of the individual. If I look around and say "what's missing now that was around in the 60s" -- I think I could say the vitality of the individual is missing. The density of the center of an individual being is diffuse, not focused. (Individuals) probably exist still, but the news is now focusing away from anything to do with that. Everything's either money or marketing or economy, that's it. So if jazz doesn't die it would be kind of weird, you know!

TR: What about a young player in these neo--conservative camps who might say, " I love Bud Powell, I want to play a Bud Powell tune kind of like the way he played it." How would you compare that to you playing Mozart (with great respect to the score). Is there any validity to wanting to play (jazz) with some looking back?

KJ: Sure there's validity there, but Bud Powell didn't write something down to the detailed extent that it could be delivered intact to a future generation. What the emulation has to be, for that to continue, is to somehow understand what in life would bring up such intensity. So with Mozart, while it helps immensely if a player can do that -- because of how intense he must have been -- it's not a mandatory thing. It is mandatory with Bud. You can't take Bud with you, but you can take Mozart with you. The article I wrote for Musician had a quote in it, "Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise: Seek what they sought" (Basho). I'm not following in the footsteps of Mozart by playing Mozart. Mozart intended somebody to play his music. But if I thought to play like Coltrane would be my goal, then I'm wrong. If I thought to play like anybody was my goal, then it's wrong in jazz. Because the whole survival of jazz depends on there being people who aren't playing like anybody else. That's another thing that's wrong with this Lincoln Center psychology (and) the music they're playing. If they (composers and players) were alive, they'd either walk out or they'd want to play. Ellington would listen and say, "Hey, I don't want to hear that, I want to make new music." Or he'd say, "move over, let me play it."

It would be like somebody saying, "This is my favorite poet, therefore, I would like to write their poetry." You know how personal poetry is when it's good. No poet in the world is going to want to emulate this guy and think that that will be acceptable to the poetry reader. The only thing that will be acceptable to a real poetry fan is going to be a new voice. And that's true in jazz. It doesn't matter how many guys get together and form a band, and how many people are in the audience, and it doesn't matter how many records they sell. If it's just competent or talented players playing together in a jazz format, it still isn't jazz -- doesn't make jazz. It's bad science. The formula doesn't work. All (you) have to do is hear Miles play three notes on any given recording, and ask yourself if anyone else could do that better...

It's also a market thing. When time goes on and the imitation is accepted as greater than the original, there's a severe flaw somewhere. When how you play is more important than whether you're really making music, or when how you look sells what you do, then you know we're behind the older times. When we have buzz words, when we have categories, that eliminates the need to talk about it.

TR: So when you write these articles which obviously are very heartfelt, what is your motivation? Are you trying to call people's attention or change the situation? What makes you write to the Times and what is it that you're hoping to accomplish?

KJ: Oh well, somebody has to detonate the water. When you're young you need to hear opinions that you wouldn't normally get to hear by hanging out with all the other people who didn't get to hear them. With the piece you're talking about, I just hoped that it would be read by young musicians. I didn't care if it made the young superstars mad. The Musician piece is also for the same purpose. I don't know how to solve the problem, but I do want to alert the people to the fact there is one.

TR: When I was fourteen or fifteen, I bought a few of your records. When I saw your picture I thought, "I wonder if this guy's white or black."

KJ: Ornette asked me that way back in the 60s.

TR: Was there any intention to your appearance? Did you feel you had to fit in with a certain set of people?

KJ: No. It's how I wanted to look but, I didn't have my hair done, it just grows like that! I had a feeling of closeness to the world that I was a part of, and that world was in a large part black. I think it was just an environmental thing. But I had a hell of a time convincing a few people that I wasn't black. There was one guy who would have gone and done research into my family tree if he had the money to do it. He didn't want it to be true that I was white. {Laughs}

TR: Why not?

KJ: Well I shouldn't be able to do that (play jazz) or something like that. Ornette said -- it was more as a joke -- "You sure you're not black, man?" I said, "Yeah. I'm sure." He said, "I don't know." {Laughs}

TR: A hypothetical question, if you could only do one thing, what would you do?

KJ: Ha, ha. The problem with that question is if you ask me now and you ask me an hour later, it's probably could be a different answer.

TR: I know it's flawed.

KJ: Given the flaws in the question. If I could only do one thing, I'd probably sit with a hand drum in a...

TR: That wasn't the answer I was expecting, obviously. I meant a jazz trio, (classical) touring, solo (concerts)?

KJ: Oh, I see. Well see there you go. I'm back to the essentials.

TR: How could you bring out the most of Keith Jarrett?

KJ: I'm not that impressed with that possibility. That's why I brought up the idea of communication. "We just want to communicate, man." A lot of players say that. To me, as much as I'm considered to have a problem with ego, I think it's often mistaken. I think the real ego problems are from people who think that they know what they're saying when they are saying something else. To think that you are communicating is an egotistical thought. To talk about it sounds like an indulgent thing. That can be an egotistical thing to be indulgent, like you can know more than they do. But the creative process is always one of breaking down what has been built and looking at the elements again. And if you end up building the same thing, I think that's fine. If you end up building a completely different thing, if it's got value and if it's sonic, we'll know that when we hear it. I think people must have a very difficult time with my classical recordings because of what they are waiting to hear that isn't there. And to them it's a subtractive thing. I've known this from before the Goldberg Variations recording.

What their thinking is... now this to me is egotism. They assume they know who I am by what I've recorded already. To me that's ridiculous. I don't know who anybody is no matter how many recordings they make. So they're the egotists to think that they can do that. But more than that, when you assume things you apply those assumptions on the following act. When you read someone's book and you think it's great, and you buy their next book and instead of getting where they've moved to, you're disappointed because it isn't like the other one. Now the privilege of the arts is that it doesn't have to follow those rules. The rest of life does, you know? You can't come home to your wife and be completely unrecognizable. She won't know who the hell you are! But if you're honest with yourself...

When I was in Europe in the 60s, we were playing in Belgium. I remember this vividly because a big change occurred. I was working on finding my voice and selecting what I liked, (and) not liked having in my playing, as everyone tries to do. No one ever told me that that was a nursery step. Most people think that's what you do -- you spend your time trying to find your voice and then you have it, and then you hope to keep it. That night we took a break, it was trio stuff and it was a lot of free improvising. I remember coming back on stage realizing that suddenly for the first time, I could just play the piano and it was because I had found my voice. But trying to keep the voice was like working in the exact opposite direction. You try to find this place that blooms for you. If you find it, it's there. You don't have to say "let's see, if I don't play this, if I play this, oh I shouldn't have played that, because that doesn't sound like me." If that's how you think, then that's how it's going to sound. Then you will never sound like you. But if you just go and play the instrument from the deepest emotion you can feel about what's going on, it's going to be you. I think that's a lesson very few players ever learn but the new generation hasn't even started. They don't even know it's about a voice. They're 200 percent behind.

© Ted Rosenthal 1996