The last time I saw Keith Jarrett perform was one of the most bizarre concerts I ever witnessed. He played exquisite solo piano, but got more and more agitated by people coughing in the audience, to the point where he stopped playing and scolded them. And then people started shouting back at him. “Maybe they have a cold!” “Hey, we paid our money!” This was at Davies Symphony Hall!! “Just play!!” shouted another and he retorted, “What do you want me to play?” “Summertime.” And he sat down and knocked out a fabulous groovin’ version. By the end, both he and the audience calmed down and in fact, he took seven encores. But still it was pretty strange.
I had met Keith Jarrett backstage once and watching him talk to folks close up, got an image of him as a social misfit who spent his childhood practicing piano and missed a few basic skills. And then came the many stories that circle around the backstages of the jazz world, none of which were flattering to his personality.
But fresh from attending his concert with the trio tonight at Zellerbach, he seemed positively cheery! And even bantered with the audience about his cranky reputation and how at 66, he was going to start smiling and cracking jokes. And the music was divine. He remains one of my favorite musicians because of the depth of his connection with each note he plays—whether a virtuosic run or a single note, it rings out with such clarity of tone and depth of feeling that you have to forgive any personality defects. Indeed, we run into this often, geniuses who are hell to live with and no fun at a party either, pitched at a level of artistic intensity so high that it makes it hard for them to walk amongst us mere mortals. But one note on the piano and all the devils in Mr. Jarrett become angels.
As I was sitting there enjoying my new view of his cheery self, I remembered reading the liner notes to his most recent solo album, London-Paris. He makes a public confession about his wife leaving him and how devastated he was by it. And I think this must have been happening right around that solo concert I went to.
So I was wondering whether he had met someone new and sure enough, he comes up to the mike on the last encore and says, “I’d like to dedicate this last piece to someone I’ve recently fallen in love with.” And off he goes to play yet another heart-stirring rendition of “When I Fall in Love,” bringing a pin-drop hush (without a single cough) to the 3,000 people in the audience.
And so, Mr. Jarrett, I publicly apologize for criticizing your personality. In turns out that you, like my daughter Talia’s 1st grade student Cata (see Shoo Fly entry), simply need to be loved. And I am happy to hear that you have found love in your life. You’ve always made love audible in every concert you’ve given and we listeners are so grateful. But while you made love publicly to the piano and embraced us with your music, you, like little Cata, needed affection. Needed to be loved. By a human being.
As do we all. As do we all.