Keith Jarrett, Go Home

I am hereby boycotting Keith Jarrett. It’s a shame. He’s one of the great jazz pianists, but he’s just become too big a jerk—and, at a time when America has an ugly image in the world, a dreadful ambassador. Here’s footage of him cursing Italian jazz fans for taking his picture as he approached the stage, before he even started playing, at the Umbria Jazz Festival. These are people who paid over $100 for what he called the “privilege” of hearing him play. There are polite ways to ask people not to take pictures. You don’t have to treat them like scum.

The YouTube footage comes thanks to the website of my friend and fellow jazz critic, Howard Mandel, who further reports that Carlo Pagnotta, the festival’s artistic director, issued a statement afterward that the city of Perugia, host of the festival “won’t have anything more to do with” Jarrett. “We will do without his music.”

There was a time when jazz musicians were America’s coolest ambassadors. The State Department sent Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie and dozens more on worldwide tours, and it was the best thing they could have done. When I was a Moscow correspondent, I met many Russians whose first exposure to America was Willis Conover’s jazz program on Voice of America. Jazz represented America the free and boisterous. Keith Jarrett represents America the arrogant and uncouth.

Howard reports that Jarrett’s manager responded in a letter, printed in Italian newspapers, that the Perugians shouldn’t take KJ’s remarks so personally. “He could just as easily have said this in New York or Paris,” the manager said (presumably straight-faced). Indeed, he has said things very much like this in many of the world’s great concert halls. He’s a world- class asshole. When he acts this way at Carnegie Hall, he’s merely a buffoon. When he acts this way across the waters, he’s a disgrace to the traditions of jazz and another black mark on the United States.

SNWOLF's picture

Keith Jarrett is hardly the first artist in the jazz world to make childish, self-aggrandising and poisonous remarks. Should jazz fans have boycotted Charles Mingus because of his abusive tantrums?Should we have destroyed our recordings of Miles Davis once we discovered what a wife-bashing mind-fucking arsehole he could be?While I have little patience with the sort of adolescent, dark romanticism in the arts and entertainment worlds that not only tolerates toxic or self-destructive behaviour but actually seems advocate it, I think we should still separate the work (in terms of appreciation and consumption) from the personality that created it.The jazz world and jazz fans have very rarely shown an informed, mature and critical understanding of the psychiatric illnesses, addiction disorders and neurological issues experienced by a significant minority of jazz artists. Jarrett may simply be a self-involved narcissist - an overgrown brat, a jerk. Or there may be other factors at work. We don&

Steven Mendelsohn's picture

I am glad to hear that you are boycotting Keith Jarrett. After a number of lenghty discussions on the All About Jazz web site I suggested such a boycott. There are no excuses for the the language and behavior that he has exhibited all over the world. It is no excuse to mention the behavior of other musicians. Up until now I have been a big Keith Jarrett fan. I have gone to all his concerts in New York over the last 10 years and bought every CD he has put out. I will never again go to one of his concerts or buy his music. I hope that your point of view Mr. Kaplan reaches the broader jazz audience causing Jarrett to change his ways. Unfortunately I don't think it will happen.

Tony's picture

I sometimes wonder just what Jack, Gary, and Manfred have had to put up with him after all these years! Keith Jarrett....The Axl Rose of Jazz?

Barak's picture

A friend of mine went to a concert in a Jazz festival in Poland. The musician told the audience that the cameras distract his band from playing, and then went on to do something very inventive: He told the audience that for the next 5 minutes his band will throw a mock-concert especially for taking pictures. During that time the musicians will do all their schticks and the photographers will have a great photo-op. After that 5 minutes concert, he continued, the real concert will begin and in that time - no pictures should be taken.My friend told me that indeed during the real concert no one took any pictures.

John Atkinson's picture

Yes taking photos is rude. But what about the rest of the audience who have not abused the privilege. In early 2001, I went to hear Jimmy Smith at the Bluenote. Yes, I guess JS was in poor health at the time, but after what must have been 15 minutes, a woman at the front took a flash photo. Jimmy got up from the organ and left the stage, leaving the audience high and dry. He came back, but the fire was gone.

ron ashkar's picture

No bigger fan of KJ & the trio than I. I can hardly listen to anyone else for standards. And I do sympathize with his annoyance at annoying fans.That said, I can't help but notice the irony of KJ's castigating an entire audience for behavior that interferes, in his mind, with the music, while at the same time howling like a cocker spaniel through every single song. It's not a perfect world.

Alan Tomlinson's picture

" . . . at a time when America has an ugly image in the world." A fact for which Jarrett is in no way shape or form responsible. As long as Americans, as a group, continue to support the oppression of the rest of the world, its reputation will suffer. So chuck that part of your diatribe.As for Jarrett, I was at the Frankfurt concert last week so I feel at least as qualified to comment about this as Mr. Kaplan. We too were subjected to a lecture about coughing. I would have considered the entire thing unspeakably rude of Mr. Jarrett except for one thing. After his discourse, people almost never coughed, which is to say his gambit works. In a large venue with unamplified acoustic piano, silence from the audience is a necessity, not an option. Mr. Jarrett made that clear to an audience that wasn't quite aware enough to see that.He's rude, pedantic and occassionally irritating. And at his best, which was alas, only true for two songs last week, he is simply sublime. Which is more than I

ALLAN's picture

First I also believe in separating the man from the music, that being said, I also think that Jarrett should have acted professionally. Don't forget that, thats what he is, a PROFESSIONAL musician. He is also a grown man (maybe). There are social standards in our society and no one, not even a so-called genius is above them. He could have just as easily asked the audience in a professional manner to abstain from photographs/coughs etc. Instead he acts like a child that shows perfectly that genius and emotional intelligence don't go hand in hand. KJ forgets that people are paying lots of money to see him. Sometimes coughs just happen, as much as you try to stop them. For that amount of money, and the ability to make a living playing music I think KJ is the one who should feel privileged. Humans are messy creatures, were not robots. If KJ wants a audience to behave like programmed robots he should stay at home and play for himself-there are other very beautiful things in this world besides his

Lindamarie's picture

I don't agree with any of these comments. I was at the concert in Chicago where this comment of "no picture taking" was said. No one should take photo's of a concert in process of a professional concert or otherwise. and Keith's comment in Chicago of 2008 was absoutely correct "the purity of the moment" was ruined. I I felt very saddend by the moment being disconnected by the flashing of others having the need in having to keep a memory instead of just be totally imersed and present to his gift of music. I believe his need and my need were to have the respect of the audience so the moment could be offered as a healing moment for Keith and whomever was present to receive. (I know this comment is very head trippy) but my intent is to make aware a different way and to support and perserve the feelings and understandings of Keith Jarrett.

Herman's picture

RelaxLet the guy play