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Keith Jarrett: The Jazz Piano Prodigy

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By : Duane Shinn    99 or more times read
Submitted 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Keith Jarrett was born in Allentown in Pennsylvania on the 8th of May, 1945. A prodigy at a very young age, he had his first public appearance when he was six years old. He had lots of support to the extent that he was offered a chance to study and learn composition with Nadia Boulanger, the revered French piano teacher, in Paris.

He admitted once that what ticked on his interest in the jazz was a Dave Brubeck performance that he attended. He took to jazz when he was a teenager and soon started becoming good at it. As he played more of jazz, he had the strong urge to join the local jazz scene.

After he graduated from school, he shifted base to Boston, Massachusetts. It was here that he did a stint at the Berklee College of Music. He also had a gig playing cocktail piano while studying at Berklee. Upon finishing his tour, he went to New York and where he had a regular gig in a club - Village Vanguard. What followed was his association with many groups. One of the first groups on that list is The Jazz Messengers. He met his future long time collaborator Jack DeJohnette while playing for another group Charles Lloyd Quartet.

The group recorded one of the most important jazz recordings of the 60's - their 1966 album Forest Flower. He was leader in a trio with Paul Motian and Charlie Haden and He made his debut recording as leader the following year Life Between The Exit Signs which was followed by another in 1968 - Restoration Ruin. It was one of the most impressive in the list of works that he is known for. Restoration Ruin was unique mainly because he did everything except play the piano including playing every single other instrument and the vocals in the album which was anything but jazz. It was by any definition folk rock hence different from most of the work that he has recorded so far. The trio had one last release - a live album titles Somewhere Before.

The next stint that Keith had was with Miles Davis playing with the legend in the Davis group. After Miles saw Keith play, he was so impressed that he invited him to play along with the group. When he joined the group, the playing of the Contempo electric organ and Rhodes electric piano was shared by him and band mate Chick Corea. After Chick Corea left the band, he handled both the instruments at times playing both at the same time.

Playing an electric instrument was not an option that he preferred to exercise. Despite this, he stuck with the band out of a stronger wish to play with Miles Davis and also with Jack DeJohnette who was a part of the group at the time. His long time association with Miles Davis resulted in him playing with the genius on five of his releases including The Cellar Door sessions recorded live at the Washington DC nightclub, Miles Davis at Fillmore: Live at the Fillmore East, The Cellar Door and Live-Evil which consisted of edited recording of live performances at The Cellar Door.

More extensive recording from live performances there were put together as The Complete Cellar Door Sessions. Another similar series of compositions had Miles and Keith sharing company - The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions - which was recorded for a documentary on boxing champ Jack Johnson.

The Haden - Motain - Jarrett continued to play for six years from 1971 to 1976. They had Dewey Redman on the saxophone after which they became the American Quartet. They had sidemen play with them at times on guitar and percussion. One common feature of the original trio members was that they were multi instrumentalists. You'd hear each one playing different instruments on their recordings and live shows.

Jarrett's versatility went as far as the saxophone and percussion in addition to the piano, Redman as far as a Chinese double reed instrument musette and the remaining two members on various forms of percussion. They group experimented with their sound a lot. Hayden devised a way to play the acoustic bass producing from it new percussive and plucked sounds. He played it through a wah-wah pedal on the track Mortgage On My Soul.

Jarrett achieved a lot more with groups like the European Quartet and his solo piano outings. His solo piano concerts had him leaving the audience at suspense. The extreme point of this habit was when he didn't play for minutes while the audience got restless. Then someone shouted "D Flat" after which he immediately created an improvisation in D Flat.
Author Resource:- A free email newsletter on exciting piano chords and chord progressions from Duane Shinn is available free at "Piano Tips"
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