Keith Jarrett was a great pianist of some renown before ‘The Koln Concert‘. But with that 70 minute solo recording he created one of the great works of modem music … and he did it all on the spot, fully improvised as he sat at the piano.
It is a thing of beauty, and while Jarrett still performs improvised solo concerts, he has gained fame for the demands he exacts on his audience. In fact, just last weekend he walked off stage during a performance at Carnegie Hall … and it certainly wasn’t the first time. The culprits? Coughing and the click-beeping of digital cameras.
From an impromptu discussion at a concert he nearly abandoned a few years ago comes this:
KJ: “When I play, what do you expect from me?”
Audience member: “Your emotion”
KJ: “Good… I heard someone say ‘your emotion’… And what would you
expect from someone if you were giving them your emotions?”
Audience member: “Silence”
[KJ nods with approval of the response]
KJ: “This music is for YOU (looks all round at the audience). I only get
one take. ONE take…”
Then… as he approached the piano…
KJ: “I’m not going to explain how difficult this is… but do you see
anyone else in the world do it?”
And while that last statement might sound arrogant, it is true: there are plenty of solo piano recordings, but no one has ever approached Jarrett in terms to spontaneously compose and create large form works live.
At a more recent concert he walked off, then came back, and again and again … until someone explained that the constant photo-clicking was the cause, and since people kept flashing every time he tried to return, unless they stopped the show would be over before it really got started:
“It’s not that I don’t like my picture taken. It has absolutely nothing to do with that. It’s a process here. It’s not something photographable. When people take whatever they take home with them, it’s meaningless. BUT IT SCREWS WITH US.”
“The toys are out there, but PLEASE.” Then Keith finishes his plea: “Like, imagine back to some amount of time when photography demanded that you actually learn how to take pictures.”
The author goes on to suggest that we should look inside to think about the “hidden opportunity costs that come with our digital addiction”.
When you are so lucky as to witness something beautiful — whether it’s Keith Jarrett at the piano or a homeless subway performer who finds happiness in singing just as passionately when the platform is empty as when it’s full–resist the temptation to whip out your gadget. Enjoy this rare sliver of time called now. It will be gone before you know it.
When I went to the Pay Metheny Orchestrion concert a few months back, I thought about grabbing a few pictures of the mechanical setup, but they were very clear about ‘no pictures’ in signs and in the pre-concert announcement. In a way that took the pressure off of me – all I needed to worry about was absorbing the phenomenal music being made on stage.
Last night at the ‘District String Concert’ where there were segments from every string group from the fourth grade ‘beginners’ all the way up through high school, there were gadgets EVERYWHERE! The cameras and video recorders were one thing – this is a kids’ concert so all of that is encouraged. But I looked around during the 5th grade segment and in my row alone there were 5 cell phones out doing any number of things from texting to email to web to games. Then there were at least a dozen DS & PSP systems I could easily see – particularly the huge and bright DSi XL – and countless iPod Touches and a few iPads. As I looked around there wasn’t a section I could find that WASN’T lit up.
Oh wait, there was – the musicians! My son was in the second-to-last group to perform (they go from youngest to oldest), so I watched everyone, wistfully recalling when he was in the ‘new kids’ section. I sat respectfully and enjoyed every performance in silence without gadgets. Is it really so hard to shut down and show some respect for the hard work these kids have done for just a short time?
Here is a video of Jarrett from a few years ago. And while the video is nice, having seen this master create music live back in the 80’s I can confirm – there is no way to capture what is happening in this ‘rare sliver of time called now’.