Kick a Hole in a Stained Glass Window

What fun to read Matthew Shipp's takedown of Keith Jarrett in The Talkhouse today! (It also makes my own critique of Joss Whedon's music in the same venue look mild indeed.)

Jarrett owns too much real estate and is too abrasive a personality not to be taken down a peg once in a while. I'm glad Shipp is out there, pulling no punches. (He did the same with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock a while ago.)

Keith is, of course, one of my guys, one of my inspirations, so I feel compelled to rebut a few things Shipp says. Also, full disclosure: In the September issue of DownBeat, I interview Jarrett about Somewhere and the new album of Bach Violin Sonatas.

Shipp says, "He never seemed to me to have sculpted a specific language system, but instead seemed like someone who had a lot of piano chops and knew a lot of devices from classical music and had some jazz chops and could get a line going when needed." 

Keith has a language. You can put on any Keith record anywhere (where he is improvising) and instantly know it is Keith. Sure, that language isn't as uncompromising as Cecil Taylor's! But surely it is only Keith's.

I also query Shipp's comment, "Guess my main beef is the tremendous status that is accorded to Jarrett's trio….by middle-aged white jazz critics."  

Historically, I believe that Keith has not had that much favor with jazz critics, at least in America. (I don't doubt that in Europe he is accorded more status.)  Certainly many of the New York critics have been suspicious.

I can't think of a Jarrett rave by Gary Giddins, Whitney Balliett, Howard Mandel, Kevin Whitehead, or Francis Davis.  In Ben Ratliff's The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz Records, the Jarrett – Peacock – DeJohnette trio gets some of the book's coldest pronouncements:  "The standards trio, at its worst, can bog down in a tepid lyricism…" At  Marc Myers's vast Jazz Wax site there are no mentions of a Jarrett record or performance

Indeed, my casual perception is that jazz history books have been loath to give Jarrett his due! (Especially for his group with Dewey, Charlie, and Paul, a major influence on most musicians I'm associated with. If Shipp had at least name-checked that quartet as important I probably wouldn't have written this post.)

The critics have had to fall in line with a public that responds to the undeniable charisma of Keith Jarrett. My mother-in-law loves The Köln Concert. She's always playing that album when I go over. Hey, it's not my favorite Keith, either, but it has something that reaches out and touches the people.

If all the critics never wrote another thing about Keith, his concerts would still be sold out. 

Shipp is most compelling when comparing Keith to Bud, Monk, Hawes, and Newborn. I agree that when Keith appropriates bebop something can be missing, especially in recent years. Probably Keith should stay away from composers like Benny Golson entirely. On a related topic, Keith sometimes plays a straight boogie-woogie blues these days, and that doesn't sit right with me, either. What I want to hear from Keith are the outer-space atonal rhapsodies. (There's an astonishing one on Somewhere right at the beginning of the disc.)

I'm intrigued by Shipp's praise of Joe Sample, someone I've never really listened to. Since I know NextBop editor Anthony Dean-Harris is a fan, I hit him up on Twitter for some Sample recommends:

(1/3) 2004's solo album 'Soul Shadows' is poignantly beautiful. 1995's 'Old Places Old Faces' feat. Charles Lloyd is my fav… (2/3) The Jazz Crusaders' 'Lighthouse '68' has the best version of "Eleanor Rigby" I've ever heard. (3/3) Also for some reason, The Grammys often uses 2004's "The Pecan Tree" as walk-up music in the non-televised awards.

I don't mean to discourage Shipp from writing more pieces like this! Again, they are really fun. Keith Jarrett, of all people, can certainly take it!