Over the past five decades, KEITH JARRETT has come to be recognized as one of the most creative musicians of our times – universally acclaimed as an improviser of unsurpassed genius; a master of jazz piano; a classical keyboardist of great depth; and a composer who has written hundreds of pieces for his various jazz groups, plus extended works for orchestra, soloist, and chamber ensemble.
In celebration of his 70th birthday in May 2015, ECM Records released two new recordings: Creation, a solo piano release which includes nine improvisations personally selected and sequenced from live concerts he performed in April-July 2014; and Barber/Bartók/Jarrett, featuring archival live recordings from 1984/85 of performances of the Barber Piano Concerto with the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken with Dennis Russell Davies conducting and the Bartók Piano Concerto No. 3 with the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra with Kazuyoshi Akiyama conducting, plus a short improvised solo piano encore he performed in Tokyo following the Bartók performance.
Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Keith Jarrett began playing the piano at age 3 and undertook classical music studies throughout his youth. He took formal composition studies at age 15, before moving to Boston to briefly study at the Berklee College of Music.
After a tentative period sitting in at various New York jazz spots, Jarrett toured first in 1965/66 with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, then from 1966 – 1968 with the Charles Lloyd Quartet. He soon led his own trio with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, which in 1972 expanded to a quartet with the addition of tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman. From 1970 – 1971 Jarrett also became a featured member in Miles Davis’ electric fusion group, playing electric piano and organ, his last stint as a sideman. Thereafter, Jarrett dedicated himself exclusively to performing acoustic music as a solo artist and as a leader.
In 1971 Jarrett began his recording collaboration with German producer Manfred Eicher and ECM Records (Edition of Contemporary Music). This fruitful collaboration has produced 70 recordings to date, unparalleled in their scope, diversity, and quality.
The foundation of the Jarrett/ECM discography is made up of the landmark solo piano recordings that have helped redefine the role of the piano in contemporary music. The piano improvisations on Facing You, Solo Concerts, The Köln Concert, Staircase, Sun Bear Concerts, Moth and The Flame, Concerts, Paris Concert, Dark Intervals, Vienna Concert, La Scala, Radiance, The Carnegie Hall Concert, Testament: Paris/London, RIO, and Creation incorporate a broad spectrum of musical idioms and languages – classical, jazz, ethnic, gospel, folk, blues, and pure sound – producing music both deeply personal, yet universal. The Köln Concert has now reached its 40th anniversary and is the best-selling solo piano recording in history.
Keith Jarrett’s main context for playing jazz over the past 30+ years has been in trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. In January 1983 Jarrett invited Peacock and DeJohnette to New York’s Power Station studio to record “standards” – the rich body of American Broadway show and jazz tunes from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s. At the time it was considered passé for top players to concentrate on “standards” instead of original material, but Jarrett thought it was important to show that “music wasn’t about the material, but what the player brings to the material.”
The original 1983 trio session in New York produced the trio’s first three ECM releases: Standards Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, and Changes, which features free playing. (These seminal trio recordings were re-released by ECM in January 2008 as a special 3-CD box set entitled Setting Standards in celebration of the trio’s 25th anniversary). Fifteen “live” concert recordings on ECM followed that 1983 session, each recorded in a different international city.
Classical music releases by Keith Jarrett on ECM include works by Bach, Handel, Mozart, and Shostakovich. In 2013, ECM released a recording of the Bach Sonatas for Violin and Piano with violinist Michelle Makarski, which was Keith Jarrett’s first recording of classical repertoire in 17 years.
Keith Jarrett’s many honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, both Prix du President de la Republique and Grand Prix du Disque awards from the Academie Charles Cros (France), seven Deutscher Schallplattenpries (Germany), and eight Grammy (United States) nominations in both jazz and classical categories. He has received dozens of “Artist” or “Album of the Year” awards and dozens of “Critics” and “Best of the Year” awards from the international music press.
In 1989 Keith Jarrett was named Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and then in 2007 Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, two of the highest honors the French Ministry of Culture can bestow on an artist. In 1996 he was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, joining Duke Ellington as the only foreign jazz artists to ever be so honored. In 2002 he was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2003 he was awarded the Polar Music Prize, presented by the King of Sweden in a special televised ceremony in Stockholm. In July 2004, he was presented the Leonie Sonning Prize in Copenhagen, another of the world’s major music awards.
In December 2008, Keith Jarrett was inducted into the Downbeat Magazine Hall of Fame, following his many other annual Downbeat Magazine Poll Awards over the past 40 years. On January 2014, he was honored as a recipient of a 2014 NEA Jazz Master Award for his lifetime achievement in a ceremony at the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex in New York.