Keith Jarrett

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Keith Jarrett

Composer • Piano

• Born 1945

Editor's Choice

Multi-talented American artist Keith Jarrett is known for his prowess in both the jazz and classical music worlds as a composer and performer. The recipient of Denmark’s Léonie Sonning Music Prize in 2004, Jarrett is one of only two jazz musicians ever to have won the award, the other being the legendary Miles Davis with whom Jarrett had collaborated in the early 1970s. As a classical recording artist, Keith Jarrett has recorded both his own compositions for piano and those of his contemporaries for the timelessly trendy ECM label. As a live performer, he enjoys a reputation as a somewhat quirky character; His distaste for being photographed or filmed by audiences has lead to performances conducted in pitch-black venues, and he has been known to hand out cough suppressants at gigs to keep audience noise to a minimum. Jarrett’s 1987 live recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 was released in 2019 to great acclaim, showcasing a restrained and unfussy performance of one of the most well-recorded of baroque masterworks.


One of the most significant pianists to emerge since the 1960s, Keith Jarrett's career has gone through several phases. He gained international fame for his solo concerts, which found him spontaneously improvising all of the music without any prior planning; but he has also led a couple of dynamic quartets/quintets, performed classical music, and later played explorative versions of standards with his longtime trio. Although his tendency to sing along with his piano now and then is distracting, Jarrett continued to grow as a powerful improviser after decades of important accomplishments.

Jarrett started on the piano when he was three, and by the time he was seven he had already played a recital. Jarrett was a professional while still in grade school. In 1962, he studied at the Berklee College of Music and then started working in the Boston area with his trio. He moved to New York in 1965, and spent four months with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. As a member of the very popular Charles Lloyd Quartet (1966-1969), Jarrett traveled the world and became well known; he also began doubling occasionally on soprano saxophone (which he would utilize through the 1970s). Between 1969 and 1971, he was with Miles Davis' fusion group, playing organ and electric keyboards.

Upon leaving Davis, Jarrett permanently swore off electric keyboards. He had cut sessions as a leader for Vortex (1967-1969) and Atlantic (1971), but starting in November 1971, he recorded extensively for ECM, an association that continued into the 2000s. In the 1970s, Jarrett led two groups: an exciting unit with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, and occasional percussionists (often Guilherme Franco); and a European band with Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielsson, and Jon Christensen that recorded the popular "My Song." In addition, starting in 1972, Jarrett began his famous series of improvised concerts, which resulted in such popular recordings as Solo Concerts, Köln Concert, and the mammoth Sun Bear Concerts. By the 1980s, Jarrett was performing and composing classical music as much as jazz, playing a variety of keyboard instruments and a variety of music ranging from Bach to Pärt. He has worked with recorder player Michala Petri, violinist Gidon Kremer, and conductor Dennis Russell Davies. Jarrett's own compositions include several works for soloist and orchestra and works for piano, clavichord, and organ. Of his classical recordings, his Handel Keyboard Suites have been hailed as the best on record.