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'Keith Jarrett: A Biography' by Wolfgang Sandner / LondonJazz News

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With the great American pianist announcing that his performing career is almost certainly over, this account is sadly timely.

Why has Keith Jarrett been so intolerant of the slightest distraction at his solo shows – a lone cough, the swish of a camera shutter? The obvious answer is that he is a perfectionist whose feats of spontaneous composition at the piano require utter focus. This biography suggests a couple more answers – might it be a neurotic response that dates back to his childhood when a noisy household with four younger brothers could easily distract his keyboard practice? Later, Wolfgang Sandner also raises "a sinister suspicion" that when Jarrett has stopped playing to berate a cougher he might be covering up a lack of inspiration – and conveniently giving himself a chance to restart. Once, early in his career at a show in Switzerland, Jarrett announced that the muse had gone AWOL, and asked if anyone in the audience would like to take over.

This new biography of one of the world's great musicians turns out to be sadly timely. Jarrett announced in October that damage from two strokes has almost certainly ended his performing career. Ian Carr's Keith Jarrett: The Man and His Music came out as long ago as 1992. Wolfgang Sandner came to know Jarrett through Manfred Eicher, the founder of ECM, and has visited Jarrett's home in New Jersey. Sandner says their relationship cooled when Jarrett took umbrage at the writer calling The Köln Concert one of the pianist's greatest successes. Jarrett has an ambivalent view of his breakout commercial hit, which he now thinks has far too many notes. Sandner calls it "a curious dispute" but it seems entirely believable to me. I once had an hour-long, apparently entirely amiable chat with Jarrett but after my piece appeared in print was told he would not speak to me again.

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