• At 70, Keith Jarrett Is Learning How To Bottle Inspiration

    May 10, 2015

    Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett is celebrating his 70th birthday with two new releases: the classical exploration Barber/Bartók and the live compilation Creation. (Image Credit: Henry Leutwyler/Courtesy of the artist)

    Keith Jarrett hit a milestone this past week: The famed jazz pianist turned 70 years old, and he's decided to mark the occasion with two new releases. One offers his take on two important classical works; the other, Creation, documents how his creative process plays out in front of a host of live audiences.

    For Jarrett, inspiration and execution occur almost simultaneously. He doesn't know what he's going to play when; he sits down to play a concert and simply allows the music to come to him. Creation is a collection of live recordings from throughout 2014, reshuffled into what could pass as one long improvised performance.

    Jarrett spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about the challenge of arranging those disparate moments into something cohesive, and how the experience compares to one of his most famous performances ever. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read an edited version of their conversation below.

    Rachel Martin: The first track on this album, "Part I," is from June 2014 at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. What was it about this piece that felt like a beginning?

    Keith Jarrett: I felt that while I was playing it. And that helped me so much, because if you take nine tracks and you figure out what the permutations would be from one to nine, every possible order, that's really hard. But if you know what should come first, what it did is it set me up with how I felt after I played the last note. Did it end in a major key? What key was it? What was the feeling? What part of the keyboard was I playing on?

    My principle up to now has been to not edit out anything, so almost everything that's come out has been a single concert with a single audience — and that started to freak me out, really. [This time] I had to become a producer. I had to sequence this thing, and I thought that was gonna take months. But the very first sequence I came up with is what you hear.

    Your voice comes in at a couple different points on these recordings, almost involuntarily.

    Oh, it's always involuntary.

    Well, I'll tell you this: I've long wondered what happens to you in those moments. I remember listening to The Köln Concert, and when your voice comes in — I'd never heard anything like that. The first time I heard that I was in my early 20s, and I thought, "What has moved him?"

    I'm trying to think of the right way to put this: It's potential limitlessness that I'm feeling at that moment. If you think about it, it's often in a space between phrases, [when I'm thinking,] "How did I get to this point where I feel so full?" And if you felt full of some sort of emotion you would have to make a sound. So that's actually what it is — with the trio, without the trio, solo. Luckily for me, I don't do it with classical music.

    Have you ever felt compelled to?

    I had to be taught by conductors, mostly.

    They told you to knock it off?

    No, I knew better already; I was trained classically. But one time, I missed my entrance in a very simple Mozart piece because I was listening to to the orchestra and they sounded so beautiful. And the conductor turned around and said, "Don't listen." That ruined me, man. That destroyed my interest in constantly staying in that world, because my main job is listening. If you're improvising and you're not listening, the next second that comes up, you have nothing to say.

    Not only are you 70 this year, but it's the anniversary of an important performance: The Köln Concert happened 40 years ago. How do you think back on that particular event?

    I think about the bad Italian food I had, and was served last, as I was supposed to start playing. I think of the fact that they rented the wrong piano, and then had gotten rid of the rented truck, so they couldn't get the right piano. Not only was it the wrong piano, it was the wrong brand of piano.

    Keith, you are fixating on negative details!

    No, I'm just saying, that's the first thing that comes up, because those were preparatory to the music.

    As I walked on stage, I remember putting my fist up, with the engineers watching and my producer Manfred [Eicher]. We almost sent the engineers home — it might never have been recorded, because of everything being wrong. The piano sounded terrible. Manfred had to work on the sound like a crazy person afterwards.

    So that music almost never existed, because of all those mishaps.

    Exactly. And then it did exist, and I was in the car driving with Manfred and we had a little cassette in there. And we looked at each other and said, "Oh, man. This has to come out."

    You knew it was good.


    Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • Vijay Iyer Trio At Metropolitan Museum Of Art

    May 6, 2015

    Vijay Iyer Trio plays the Temple of Dendur. (Image Credit: NPR)

    The pianist and composer Vijay Iyer frames his new trio recording, Break Stuff, around the idea of musical breaks: "a break in music is still music: a span of time in which to act," he writes. Formally, he's referring to breakbeats and other musical breakdowns, but more generally, Iyer's trio exploits opportunities to rupture convention. The configuration featuring Stephan Crump on bass and Marcus Gilmore on drums, together now for over 11 years, has made an art of collective rhythmic risk-taking, whether on Iyer's compositions or while nodding to disruptive musical heroes like Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Detroit techno DJ Robert Hood.

    Jazz Night In America visits the Temple of Dendur, the Egyptian temple which resides within a massive room in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art, to take in a set from the Vijay Iyer Trio.

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit .

  • A New Jazz Suite For Head, Shoulders, Knees And Toes

    May 3, 2015

    Steve Coleman's new album is called Synovial Joints. (Image Credit: Jeff Fusco/ John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

    Is there a modern-day equivalent to Duke Ellington? Or Ornette Coleman?

    Who are the people today who think differently about jazz — who have created new forms, and expanded the musical vocabulary?

    For 30 years, saxophonist Steve Coleman has been pushing the music forward, traveling the world to collect new sounds, rhythms and ideas. Along the way he's mentored many of the most exciting younger artists in jazz — musicians like Ambrose Akinmusire, Jason Moran and Vijay Iyer.

    Steve Coleman's new album features a compelling four-part suite for large ensemble. Each movement is named after parts of the body. The suite, and the album, are called Synovial Joints — after the flexible, often complex joints found in places like shoulders, elbows, knees, hips, fingers and wrists.

    "I found the most inspiration over my life in nature," Coleman says. "It just kind of hit me in an inspirational way because I saw a lot of musical motion in the way melodies connect and in the way rhythms connect. What I was imagining when I was doing improvisation was what kind of motion the different joints allow, in terms of they connect."

    In an interview with NPR's Arun Rath, heard at the above audio link, Coleman talks about the three different groups of musicians that came together for this project, his "camouflage orchestration" and a recent conversation with Sonny Rollins.

    "We were talking about being in this kind of meditative state, almost like yoga or something like this, where we play from," Coleman says. "You want to get to the point where you actually don't feel like you're thinking or doing anything — that energy is just working through you. That's the ideal point you want to get to — we don't always get there. What I did with this record was that I played, 20-25 improvisations, and I picked the ones that did the best job of getting to that place. And you can hear it afterward — you know when you've hit it."

    Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

  • Venezuela's National Jazz Orchestra Returns

    April 30, 2015

    Simón Bolívar Big Band Jazz. (Image Credit: Frank Stewart/Jazz at Lincoln Center)

    This year Venezuela celebrates the 40th anniversary of its national youth music education program, known as El Sistema. Part of the celebration is to send one of its newest bands, a national jazz ensemble, on its second tour of the U.S. — where jazz was born. In 2007, drummer Andrés Briceño helped to seed Simón Bolívar Big Band Jazz, and has directed its growth beyond the canonical American repertoire to incorporate the work of Venezuelan and other Latin American composers.

    Jazz Night In America visits Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola within Jazz at Lincoln Center to meet the accomplished student musicians of the big band, and the conductor who is central to jazz in Venezuela.

    Copyright 2015 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit .

  • How Bessie Smith Ushered In The Jazz Age

    April 28, 2015

    Jazz and blues are often treated as one and the same — but how did one end up taking over and surpassing the other, ushering in the jazz age?

    That's a subject of an upcoming HBO biopic, called Bessie, about singer and songwriter Bessie Smith and her mentor Ma Rainey. Jazz bassist and composer Christian McBride, host of NPR's Jazz Night In America and a regular guest on All Things Considered, spoke with host Audie Cornish about Bessie Smith's legacy.

    An edited transcript of their conversation follows.

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