This Summer I've been enjoying playing in Australia, Japan, and am looking forward to playing with friends in France in July. But perhaps the biggest events for me this year will be my rendition of Keith Jarrett's Köln concert on 15th August in Edinburgh, and the warm up gig on July 14th in Gospel Oak, London.
Those of you who know me, will know the importance I place on Keith's incredible contribution to music, and I've spent many hours dedicated to knowing his work from the inside and the outside.
The Köln Concert is a live recording of solo piano improvisations performed by Keith Jarrett at the Opera House in Cologne on 24th January 1975. The double-vinyl album was released in the autumn of 1975 by ECM Records and went on to become the best-selling solo album in jazz history, and the all-time best-selling piano album with sales of more than 3.5 million.
These concerts will be a recital of the Kishinami/Yamashita transcription, creating an unusual chance to hear a vivid interpretation from an improvisor’s perspective.
Here is a piano concert unlike any other. It’s like a jazz piano concert but it’s not improvised. It’s solo piano music but it has grooves, riffs, and song-form chord changes, like jazz or rock. It is steeped in the German classical piano tradition like a big sonata by Schubert or an emotionally programmatic journey through the soul like a Mahler symphony. But it could only come from the USA. Fearlessly eclectic, one might think of it like an Ives piano sonata and yet it obviously inhabits the jazz, folk, rock, blues landscape of American music, which is essentially improvised.
So can this spontaneity be achieved without improvising? Can an interpreter bring a transcription of improvised music to life? If so, what can they bring to the music that isn’t already there in the original recording?
You can buy tickets directly from the Edinburgh Fringe Box Office https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/the-koln-concert-concert or by phoning +44 (0)131 226 0000.
Below are some notes I wrote to accompany a performance I gave of the work in 2018. Happy reading!
New Hausmusik – The Köln Concert at 44.
Here is a piano concert unlike any other. It’s like a jazz piano concert but it’s not improvised. It’s solo piano music but it has grooves, riffs, and song-form chord changes, like jazz or rock. But there are no vocals, and no swing-time. It is steeped in the German classical piano tradition like a big sonata by Schubert or an emotionally programmatic journey through the soul like a Mahler symphony. But it could only come from the USA. Fearlessly eclectic, one might think of it like an Ives piano sonata and yet it obviously inhabits the jazz, folk, rock, blues landscape of American music, which is essentially improvised. So can this spontaneity be achieved without improvising? Can an interpreter bring a transcription of improvised music to life? If so, what can they bring to the music that isn’t already there in the original recording (well I can tell you: mistakes!).
People continue to perform Schubert sonatas, for example, and people continue to go to hear them. Because improvised or not, music is temporal and only exists once, at that moment. So I guess my justification for insisting on presenting Kishinami and Yamashita’s transcription of Keith Jarrett’s Köln concert as another piece of the concert piano repertoire is this, that it will be different every time, and that there is enough substance, even in the notes on the page for an interpreter and an audience to glean more new meanings about the music.
What is exceptional about Keith’s music?
The eclecticism and the purity. The freedom and the discipline. So, I am drawn, like a moth to the flame. This leads to an attraction to the cult of Keith Jarrett, and subsequently, the cult of piano playing. And in all of this, I have some notion of doing it ‘properly’ and here’s a list of what properly might be: -
- Practicing it a lot
- Practicing it systematically
- Performing it regularly
- Learning other repertoire to ‘read around the subject’
- Asking Keith for permission and approval
- Programming in the right context - concert hall/church - i.e. not a jazz club perhaps or certainly not as background music.
It’s also the notion of what ‘is’ creative. What is being creative?
I question my method here because perhaps it’s very uncreative to play a transcription of improvisation. But, on the other hand, it might be creative to treat the performance like an actor preparing a monologue and that I have to inhabit the notes and make a connection from their initial meaning to my meaning: as an actor would do in order to try and deliver an authentic reading of an author’s text. And perhaps that is a perfectly reasonable creative endeavour.
I think of this as reconciling equals and opposites. Left brain, right brain. Or classical and jazz. Or composition and improvisation. And ultimately preparation and spontaneity. All of these come under the classical paradigm of Apollonian versus Dionysian. And I see music very much as being the process of managing those two sides of myself and of humanity. But by playing this music I might be closest to bringing these two opposites together.
I feel there is a common view of the Köln concert as having at its core very simple musical ideas i.e. one chord or two chords, a simple fragment of a melody repeated or a drone and that this is somehow emperor’s new clothes, or not a great work of art, therefore. When I think about Copeland and his use of the shaker hymn, ‘Tis a gift to be simple’ I think that actually the simplicity that is at the heart of American modernism is both profound and necessary. I remember Ian Carr saying to me that Keith is not afraid of simplicity. Not afraid to be exposed. Comfortable with simple harmony, melody and texture. There is plenty in this piece that supports this observation.
Somewhere in Donald Fagan’s book, Eminent Hipsters, he mentions the Polish ‘father of Dianetics’ Alfred Korzybski and his most famous saying ‘the map is not the territory’. This is precisely the case with this performance of the Köln concert, because whatever it is I’m playing, it’s not the Köln concert. And can never be the Köln concert. But, it does and should suggest my deep feelings and connection to Keith’s music and as I’ve already said, that it is somehow a ‘proper’ ‘tribute’ to his body of work. Because above all it is a celebration and a life-time’s acknowledgement of Keith Jarrett’s extraordinary contribution to the piano and to the world of music.