The Polar Music Prize for 2003 is being awarded to the American musician Keith Jarrett, pianist, composer and master of the field of improvisational music. Keith Jarrett’s musical artistry is characterised by his ability to effortlessly cross boundaries in the world of music. He has expressed himself over the years in the context of both jazz and compositions for various chamber music ensembles and orchestra. Through a series of brilliant solo performances and recordings that demonstrate his utterly spontaneous creativity, Keith Jarrett has simultaneously lifted piano improvisation as an art form to new, unimaginable heights.

Chapter: Early years

Early Years

Keith Jarrett was born on May 8, 1945 and grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He had significant early exposure to music, starting with piano at age three and undertaking classical music studies throughout his youth. As a child, he performed at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia where he had his first full-length recital for paying customers at age six – a recital he closed with two of his own compositions. While still in his teens he was offered an opportunity to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, but turned it down to pursue a career playing jazz, an interest that had grown during his high school years.

Academy of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Keith Jarrett performed as a child and had his first piano recital for paying customers at age six.

Following graduation from high school, Jarrett moved to Boston where he attended the Berklee College of Music and played cocktail piano in local clubs. He left the school after one year and moved to New York in 1964, where he participated in Monday jam sessions at the Village Vanguard. It was at one of these jam sessions that he met jazz drummer Art Blakey, who hired him to join his group Jazz Messengers.

Berklee College of Music in Boston where Keith Jarrett studied 1963-64.
The Village Vanguard at 178, 7th Avenue South in New York, where Keith Jarrett participated in Monday jam sessions in 1964 and met Art Blakey. (Photo: Photo by Tom Marcello, via Wikimedia Commons)
Chapter: NY jazz scene

The new york jazz scene

The engagement with Art Blakey didn’t last long, but it got Jarrett his first major exposure in the jazz scene. Another drummer, Jack DeJohnette, saw Jarrett’s talent and flow of ideas, and recommended him to his bandleader, Charles Lloyd. The Charles Lloyd Quartet had formed not long before and were exploring open, improvised forms and grooves not totally unlike some of the psychedelic rock bands of the day – although from another stylistic background. Their 1966 album Forest Flower was one of the most successful jazz recordings of the mid-1960s.

Art Blakey in 1964. (Photo: Pixhost)
Charles Lloyd Quartet 1967. Keith Jarrett sitting, right. (Photo: Publicity Photo Atlantic)
Forest Flower, 1966 (Photo: Atlantic Records)
Keith Jarrett: 1966-1968
Chapter: Live in Europe

Live in Europe

From 1966 to 1969, Keith Jarrett was pianist for the Charles Lloyd Quartet. They became one of the most popular groups of the late-Sixties jazz scene, with best-selling records and worldwide tours, which even included shows in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Keith Jarrett piano solo with the Charles Lloyd Quartet in Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1967.
Chick Corea, publicity photo 1976 (Photo: Public domain)
Chapter: Electrified with Miles

Electrified with Miles

After leaving The Charles Lloyd Quartet in 1969, legendary trumpeter Miles Davis recruited Jarrett to join his band where he played electric organ and electric piano, alternating with Chick Corea. But after Corea left the group in 1970, Jarrett often played the two simultaneously.

Before joining Davis, Jarrett had released records as a band leader – the 1967 album Life Between the Exit Signs leading a trio with bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian, and the 1968 solo album Restoration Ruin, on which he plays a number of instruments and sings. After leaving Miles Davis’ group in 1971, he expanded the trio, adding saxophonist Dewey Redman, and dubbing the new group his “American Quartet.”

Keith Jarrett: 1968-1974
Miles Davis performs "Call It Anything" live at the Isle of Wight Festival on August 29, 1970, with an introduction by Keith Jarrett. From Miles Electric - A Different Kind of Blue directed by Murray Lerner.
Chapter: ECM records

ECM Records

Jarrett’s first album for ECM, Facing You, featured eight solo piano pieces recorded in the studio in 1971. In 1973 he began playing totally improvised solo concerts, and it is the popularity of these recordings that has made him one of the best-selling jazz artists in history. Albums released from these concerts include: the 1973 album Solo Concerts: Bremen-Lausanne which was awarded with Time Magazine’s Jazz Album of the Year; The Köln Concert from 1975 which went on to become the best selling piano recording in history; and Sun Bear Concerts which was recorded in Japan in 1976 and released as a ten LP set in 1978.


Facing you (Photo: © ECM records)
Solo concerts (Photo: © ECM records)
The Köln Concert (Photo: © ECM Records)
Promotional photo for Keith Jarrett's European Quartet, 1979. (Photo: Photo by Terje Mosnes, ECM Records)
Chapter: Quartets


In the mid- to late 1970s Jarrett also led a European quartet, which made recordings for ECM. The group consisted of saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen.

The album My Song with Keith Jarrett’s European Quartet, 1977. ECM records

They played in a style similar to that of the American Quartet, but with many of the American, avant-garde elements replaced by the European folk influences that characterized many of ECM’s recordings at the time.

Keith Jarrett - "Last Solo" live in Tokyo, 1984.
Keith Jarrett: 1974-76 - American Quartet
Chapter: Classical music

Classical music

In parallel to his career as a Jazz pianist, Jarrett has recorded many classical music albums. In the early 1980s, he returned to performing the solo piano parts of concerti with orchestras. His repertory included modern works by Samuel Barber, Bela Bartok and Igor Stravinsky, and commissioned works by Lou Harrison.

He also gave piano recitals of works from the classical repertory, favoring Bach, Handel, Scarlatti and Shostakovich. In 1985, however, Jarrett resolved not to perform any more live concerts of classical music, although he has continued to record the music of Mozart and others.

Keith Jarrett: Classical Music
(Photo: © ECM Records)
(Photo: © ECM Records)
(Photo: © RCA Victor/EMI)
Chapter: The Standards Trio

The Standards Trio

In 1983 Keith Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette recorded an album of jazz standards, entitled Standards, Volume 1. It enjoyed critical and commercial success, as did the group’s following tour. The Standards Trio, as they called themselves, has continued to record and perform live together for more than twenty-five years.

Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette, Manfred Eicher and Keith Jarrett. Photo by Deborah Feingold, ECM Records

In 1996 Keith Jarrett was struck with a severe case of chronic fatigue syndrome and was consequently forced to cancel all engagements and even consider whether or not he would ever play again.

Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock, 2011. UCLA Live and ECM Records

For over two years he was unable to play the piano and was confined to his house. In 1999 he returned to the music world, and has since continued recording and touring, primarily with The Standards Trio.

The Standards Trio, Keith Jarrett with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette at Bunkamura Orchard Hall in Shibuya, Tokyo, 2003 (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
The Standards Trio performing Oscar Levant's and Edward Heyman's "Blame It On My Youth" live in Tokyo, Japan, 1986.
"Autumn Leaves" performed by the Keith Jarrett Trio, featuring Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette.

“I like to turn off the thought process. I’d like to forget that I even have hands. I’d like to sit down as if I’d never played the piano before.”

Keith Jarret on jazz improvising
Chapter: The polar music prize

Stockholm May 2003

Jarrett at Polar Music Prize press conference in Stockholm, May 2003. (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Keith Jarret with the Polar Music Prize diploma and HM The King of Sweden (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Keith Jarret on stage at the Polar Music Prize ceremony (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
At the press conference (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
1997 Polar Music Prize Laureate Eric Ericson and Keith Jarrett at the Polar Music Prize reception. (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)
Keith Jarrett receiving the Polar Music Prize from H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf.
Anders Widmark & Sara Isaksson with trio performing at the Polar Music Prize Banquet, Grand Hôtel, Stockholm.
Keith Jarrett performing at the Stockholm Concert Hall in conjunction with the Polar Music Prize, May 7, 2003.
Keith Jarrett and wife Rose Anne Colavito together with H.M. Queen Silvia, H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf and H.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria at the Polar Music Prize reception. (Photo: © Polar Music Prize)