‘During a concert, certain things are not nonexistent,’ Jarrett shares
August 4, 20225:00 AM ET
Almost two years ago, pianist Keith Jarrett shared publicly that he had suffered two strokes in 2018 and would likely never perform again. That revelation, which I reported in a piece for the New York Times, shook Jarrett’s worldwide audience, eliciting sympathy and concern along with sorrow over the end of an illustrious concert career.
Jarrett’s longtime label, ECM Records, cushioned the devastating news with some extraordinary music: Budapest Concert, recorded at the beginning of his final European tour. The conclusion of that tour had already been chronicled the previous year, on an album titled Munich 2016. Now, in addition to those bookends, ECM is preparing to release Bordeaux Concert. Recorded on July 6, 2016, a few days after Budapest, it’s another balancing act of consonance and dissonance from a pianist whose blank-slate solo improvisations have always been valorized.
That legend has continued to grow in Jarrett’s absence; there’s even a film now in pre-production titled Köln 75, about the circumstances around his best-selling album The Köln Concert. As for the man himself, he’s been quietly rehabilitating at home in rural northwest New Jersey. He’s an avid reader — among his recent recommendations is Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane by Paul Auster — and a conscientious objector to internet culture. “Everybody’s looking for the next technological leap,” he said this week. “But all I need is two chairs and another person.”
I reached Jarrett by telephone to talk about Bordeaux Concert, and in particular the deeply lyrical track “Part III,” which ECM has made available prior to the album’s release on Sept. 30. We were indeed both in chairs, if not in person, and Jarrett spoke not only about the recording but also his changed (and still-changing) relationship to the piano. Here is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
Nate Chinen: It was September of 2020 when we last spoke. How are you feeling now?
Keith Jarrett: I’m doing fine. I’m presently sitting on my front porch, which I now have called my office. And we’ve got a stream. We’ve got flowers, plants, butterflies, birds, everything. Oh, that’s right — you were here.
It’s a beautiful place in the summertime. That sounds really nice. And how has recovery been? Have you been doing a lot of physical therapy?
Well, I don’t know if I’d call it therapy, but I’ve been using my legs more. And walking with and without a cane in different circumstances. So today I went walking down our private road to the beach across from the road, where there’s a lake. As for recovering, I mean, I’m not sure. My right hand is not like my right hand was, and my left hand is not at all.
Well, I know that with these things, progress comes slowly.
The only thing I can relate this to is the chronic fatigue syndrome problem that I had [in the late 1990s]. And I usually was fairly Christian Scientistic about it. My mother having, and father having been that — and my grandmother.
When you say that you relate this to chronic fatigue syndrome, how would you differentiate the two experiences?
Well, that was the pure feeling of: if I look at my piano, I shouldn’t play it. I should just look at it. Compared to what I have now, which is a right hand I try to assume is capable of something. The fatigue is not the same. I had a good doctor for that.
Good. I’ve thought about calling you a few times to check in, and then I had an excellent excuse, because ECM is about to release Bordeaux Concert. How much have you listened to the recording in preparation for the release?
The something I succeed at is to not prepare.
I didn’t focus much on it before now. But I did listen to it several times along with the other concerts I did not release [from that tour], which are Vienna and Rome.
This was the concert right after Budapest. Last time we spoke, we talked about the Budapest concert quite a bit. Do you feel that the two are in dialogue with each other in some way, musically?
Well, I’d have to listen to both of them again. I think I’m always in dialogue with something other than what I’ve just played. That’s the essence of improvisation.