Dancing on the Edge: Keith Jarrett on Music & Art Page 2

EWJ: How do you feel your music may be in terms of healing qualities? More and more musicians seem to be getting involved in that. They talk about it anyway.

Jarrett: Those are the people who will never heal anybody. If you look—and it would take a lot of looking—the music most capable of healing, the sounds that seem to be most enlightening and healthy and vital, are sounds that come from people who just make music and consider it a responsibility. There are no extra-curricular considerations such as "I can do this with this" or "I'm sure this will happen with this." These are all anchors again. If you were a musician and you were unconsciously dissatisfied with the music that you played, you would start wondering whether it could be used in a certain way. If it said everything you needed it to say, you wouldn't mention a word of it. Because it would heal if it needed to heal and it would not in other cases—it would do whatever needed to be done, automatically. The minute you think "I would like to be involved in musical therapy," you are giving yourself a raise and promoting yourself. You are not only a musician, you are also a musical therapist. That's the problem: what do you think of yourself instead of what do you do. It is the lack of attitude completely that allows the whole thing to be there, which is the only attitude an artist that I would put a capital A on should have.

EWJ: It seems that if you are that free and open—constantly redefining what you 're doing and seeing it again in a new way, you are a channel for the creative, as you said in your liner notes for the Bremen-Lausanne concerts. Can you mention any other artists whom you think are able to be a channel for that kind of energy?

Jarrett: Well, a lot of people in history have been channelling but I can't say that I know anybody now who knows and who feels that responsibility instead of just taking trips. It's still better to take trips than not to do anything, but all I see are trips. I see better ones and worse ones, but if it's a trip you never get to dance—you never get to see that the dance is all that is really meant to happen, and that you need an enormous amount of energy to do that. In history there were probably no more than a handful of people. But if I wanted to hear something today comparable, let's say, to The Art of the Fugue, it just doesn't exist.


EWJ: What were some of the "large-scale events" that were creative events for you?

Jarrett: As usual, they're the hardest things to explain; most things have more to do with timing than they have to do with subject matter.

I remember when I was about twenty, picking up a book that was on the seat next to me on the airplane. It was All and Everything by Gurdjieff. I didn't know who he was. I didn't know anything about him which was all to my benefit. I was already playing music for a long time and had a very, very strong relationship with sound, not the piano so much, just music. So I picked up the book and it opened to a chapter on the relationship of octaves outside of musical spheres. And what was said about octaves was so simply exactly what was true about an octave and so basic. Yet I had been alive for twenty years and no one had mentioned this thing. Every time I played I experienced that there was a certain objective effect from one note to another. You can't imagine how simple the whole thing really felt but how gigantic an effect it had on me. I thought that finally I wasn't alone. I hadn't been able to talk to anybody about it before because I couldn't put it into words. And here was just the precise definition of an octave. Before that day I don't know what I was thinking about music. That was momentous, but it was just a few words about seven notes on a piano.

EWJ: So you went on and recently put out this album of Gurdjieff's music. [The album is G.I. Gurdjieff: Sacred Hymns, ECM 1174.—RL, 2019.]

Jarrett: Yes, that's like a giant circle. It's fifteen, sixteen years later. I knew the music, but I didn't want to know it too well. Some things are so strong, you don't want to overplay their importance. And especially when you're a musician you don't want to overplay music's importance. Otherwise the music that comes through you is going to be colored by that prismatic overamplification of music's value. So you have to be so humble in going out to play that the music tells you everything. It's like you say to it, "I'm not going to put my value judgments on you. If you're there all the time, that's good."

EWJ: Did Gurdjieff write that music? It says "transcribed by Thomas De Hartmann."

Jarrett: There are lots of stories, but the melodies are some that Gurdjieff remembered from parts of Asia, and Thomas De Hartmann was a musician. Gurdjieff was not really, but he fooled around with his little harmonium, playing melodies on it. Not quite out of the blue, I got a phone call from someone whom I had initially interested in Gurdjieff when I was twenty, right around the time when the thing about octaves had first struck me. She had stayed in a Gurdjieff group for all this time and suddenly was given the responsibility of finding out if I would record some of his music. Circles, you know.

EWJ: Speaking about art and who is an artist, the Chieftains were recently in town. Do you think their music—the music of people who've just gathered together and created music for whatever reason—for instance, is closer to what you're talking about than something that's more conscious and intellectual?

Jarrett: They certainly are less self-conscious but not necessarily closer to being artists, although they have a much more natural relationship to sound. They already have a language, though, and to me that's the difference. If you are a folk musician of any kind, you already have a language. You don't have to hope the language lands in your lap at the time you've got to play it. And then you don't have to erase your habits all the time. I can't begin to explain what it's like. I must make a billion decisions every ten minutes in, let's say, an intricate part of a concert. And I can't say, "Don't do this," unless it's coming from the right place. So I have to keep a tracer on what part of me is wishing this would stop. Am I worried that someone's bored? That was one thing I finally got over. Am I bored? Does that mean I should stop? Not necessarily, because maybe someone else isn't. If I finish a concert, even if I felt like it was terrible, I never am convinced that I'm right anymore.

EWJ: No matter what you feel?

Jarrett: No matter what I feel. In the old days someone would come back and say, "That was incredible. I loved it. It was great," and I would say, "That was terrible. Don't tell me it's good. I know how bad it was." That person would go, "Oh my God—" and I developed my reputation quickly, but a couple of times I would hear a recording later that evening of the same concert, some cassette that I would make for my files, and they'd be right and I'd be wrong.

EWJ: What did you base that first judgment on?

Jarrett: Whether I succeeded at what I wanted to do, that night.

EWJ: What if you had no preconceived notion?

Jarrett: If I was that clean through the whole concert, you wouldn't even see me. That's the ideal, to have no preconceived notion. I'm not saying that I'm God and can go out there and create from absolutely no idea to something great, but the best nights and the best parts I succeed in it. Working with a tool, though, is even harder because you have to create tension, and tension is the one enemy of that clear condition. The music is coming through this left shoulder and for me to translate zero into sound, the music doesn't come into me as sound. It comes just as energy. So I'm not only the translator of that, but I'm the player of it and the listener. So you can imagine how I could leave the stage thinking I'd played a terrible concert when perhaps the struggle of getting that concert out made me unaware of how good the sound of the concert is.

EWJ: Do you just let that thought about boring someone go through without trying to make a decision?

Jarrett: Right, the energy comes in and it's untampered with at that point, at least I hope so. Then depending on my metabolism at the time, it comes out a certain rate of speed of intensity, but sometimes it's right to let it go through, sometimes it's right to criticize it. But because of the fact that it gets so much more subtle than even what you're mentioning, there are times when the wrong thought can be used correctly.

EWJ: Can you give me an example?

Jarrett: OK, besides motion and energy coming in and having to be translated, you have to move your hands around the keyboard. There may be a time when you've just finished playing a section that was so exhausting that you have to do something in order not to faint, let's say. And a thought may occur to you to play a certain thing, and it would be almost like a pause, but it wouldn't have any organic relationship to what you just played, and you've got to do it. It is an unnatural situation for your head, but the correct thing to do for your body at the time, in terms of playing the piano. These things have to happen at such speed that I am surprised by my own decision and its results, which I am already aware of. I can't be aware of them too much ahead of the time they happen. Also, if your hands are at a certain chord or part of the keyboard, you can accidentally play something very important that didn't have anything to do with what you knew should happen. Then you have to go with that or treat it as what it was.

EWJ: As an error?

Jarrett: Yes, or just let it go. I'm talking now about the very simplest, most basic things that happen, but it's much more complex than that: where your hands are at a certain time, what sound you hear next, if it's possible to play it at all, and if you don't have any time to decide if it's possible, are you going to play it or not? Very often people don't know how I did something. It sounds like three or four hands. And neither do I know how it happens. But when it's there, I know it's there because I heard it and I went for it, as they say, without considering whether I could do it or not.

EWJ: You didn't decide that it was impossible.

Jarrett: Right. And it was impossible. That's the funny thing. It is impossible. If you put this on a music paper and ask someone to figure out how to do it, some of it would not be possible—at will. Only without will. Only with the flow of it. Fortunately, those things do not happen every second.

EWJ: Or you wouldn't be here. How do you keep up your vitality?

Jarrett: When I'm not playing concerts, I'm always actively doing something, exercising, running, playing tennis. In January, I fell and sprained my thumb, and had to cancel some concerts.

EWJ: Do you like to be outdoors? Do you get recharged from being in the country?

Jarrett: I live in the country.

EWJ: And you prefer to be there?

Jarrett: Yes, that's where I want to be. It's in the middle of the woods. But no place is the right place, externally. That's what's so funny about electronic and electric instruments. People were dissatisfied with the way they played what they played, and they wanted to get something else, like a new toy. And through doing that they relegated their original instrument to the position of a toy. That's why they can never get back. And anything outside yourself isn't ideal, including you. People are always deciding what's best now. "I've finally figured it out. If I move to the country, I'll be cool." "Oh, now I need to go back to the city, I think." "But now I should go to Woodstock, and I need to be with some other artists because that'll help my work, and I should do some heavy work now because . . . " And it's all probably true and fun, but you get back to the same old reality, which is that it isn't out there. The answer isn't. No one's going to tell you, and if they do tell you, they're not very good teachers.

EWJ: You can never really arrive.

Jarrett: You can never arrive, and if you do arrive, then why the hell do you have the rest of your life? But I think that if there's any importance to art, which I'm beginning to think there is and which I used to think there wasn't, it's not that artists are important or that what they do is important, it's that they have a chance to have this attitude that needs to be had. They don't have more of a chance, but they have a possibility of projecting it. Not even communicating it. Just putting it out there.

But so often people want to pin you down and they say, "I couldn't recognize so-and-so, so I don't like this album." "Whatever happened to the way Miles used to play?" I used to hear that all the time. When I was with him, I used to say to those people, "Nothing happened but you stopped." I was in the band at the time and I was certainly not interested in playing electric piano, but I was playing it with him because his music at that time was still as vital as ever, and his playing was even more vital than most—oh, just unbelievable for a while. But people would come that just couldn't deal with it because they couldn't recognize the old Miles. And he once said to me one of the most important statements that anybody with whom I've worked has ever made. He wasn't feeling well, he was very sick, and he said, "Do you know why I don't play ballads anymore?" And I said, "I have some ideas . . . " He said, "Because I like to play ballads so much."

EWJ: He was keeping himself on the edge.

Jarrett: That's right. That's what it was. I've said that to a few people, and they said, "Huh? That's weird." I bet he doesn't even remember he said that. But you know how sometimes when you're weakened, you don't have as many defenses and you can become yourself much more.


er1c's picture

Keith Jarrett's words are a gift. A kind of food for me. i really appreciate it.