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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.