Mortality— or rather, awareness of mortality— has been a constant companion for much of my life and responsible for me taking time seriously. It has steered me more toward Bach than Pop pablum, to poetry more than CNN, to hanging out with worthy human beings like children and elders and adults with functioning brain cells and beating hearts. It enticed me to say yes to some risk and adventure, from hiking Machu Picchu to giving an Orff workshop in South Africa to a fabulous choir to performing a family Jazz Concert at SF Jazz Center to teaching a demonstration class with 40 Taiwanese preschool kids in front of 150 teachers and parents for an hour— with a translator!
The awareness, that life is short, opportunity often just knocks once and disaster can be a single virus germ away has reared up again, this time from watched a video interview of Keith Jarrett. I have listened to this musician more than any other, attended more of his concerts (at least ten) than any other, bought more of his recordings than any other. While I haven’t been happy to hear stories of his dubious social skills, I’ve felt a depth and tenderness and ability to evoke emotion and feel beauty in the first three notes of a piece that resigns me to the fact that genius and niceness don’t always live side-by-side, to relax my judgement of character and be grateful for the artist as a conduit of divine grace.
In 1998, he was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and left the performing world for two years, but did recover and came back full strength. His extraordinary trio disbanded in 2014, after 30 years of extraordinary interpretations of jazz standards. In 2018, Keith suffered two strokes that paralyzed his left hand and rendered him incapable of performing. His remarkable career, including the best-selling jazz piano album and solo piano album of all time—the Kohn Concert— could not protect him from life’s random assaults. And indeed, for those who believe in a beneficent All-Mighty, what kind of cruelty is this to take away a piano players functioning hand? Yes, the right hand would have been worse, but still.
So when a friend sent me a video of a recent interview with Keith Jarrett, I was curious to see it but immediately taken aback by seeing his left hand in a sling, his face changed and his whole demeanor different. And yet. Still he demonstrated some things with his right hand and in a weird way, he was more sociable than his earlier self.
The most moving part was watching him watch and listen to an earlier recording of him performing a tour-de-force version of the jazz tune Solar.That performance alone is a lesson in how to play music with your whole body and soul and it was thrilling to see him react to some of his own high moments in the solo. (For those curious, fast forward to 31 minutes in on this video:)
And so, my friends, Carpe Diem. While we can still walk, walk! While we can still talk, say something needed and interesting. While we can still sing and play music, please do. Seize the day, say yes to opportunity, be kind, be humble, don’t let fear run your life. Play your song with the whole of your body (see video), voice, heart and soul. Carpe diem.