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As Keith Jarrett Closes a Chapter, Jazz United Reflects on His Monumental Solo Piano Career

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Henry Leutwyler
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The musical community absorbed some devastating news this week, when Keith Jarrett revealed that he may never return to public performance.

Speaking with Nate for a story in the New York Times, Jarrett detailed a series of recent strokes that left him partially paralyzed. “I don’t know what my future is supposed to be,” he said. “I don’t feel right now like I’m a pianist.” This word arrives just as ECM is preparing to release Budapest Concert, which Jarrett himself calls a “gold standard.” A double album recorded during his final tour of Europe in 2016, it extends Jarrett’s unconquerable legacy as a pioneer in the solo piano format. 

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Considering that legacy in the past tense, as a finished body of work, is emotional for both of us, as it obviously is for Jarrett. So on this episode of Jazz United, we talk about what his solo work has meant to us, and how it ascends to another peak in Budapest Concert. Greg, whose admiration for Jarrett runs deep, also asks Nate about his rapport with the pianist over the years, and in their recent conversations.

And it so happens that Budapest Concert isn’t the only extraordinary new solo piano album by a master improviser. October is Piano Month at WBGO, so we’re also devoting some time to a pair of other releases with a strong emotional undercurrent.

The first of these, Brad Mehldau’s Suite: April 2020, is a musical reflection — over 12 new compositions and three choice covers — of his experience living through a particular span of time early in our pandemic trajectory. A different perspective on the same idea can be found in Fred Hersch’s Songs From Home, which he recorded on his personal Steinway. “It’s kind of a comfort food album,” Hersch explains, “with a little badass stuff in there, too.”

Music in This Episode:

This episode of Jazz United was produced by Carolyn Bednarski.

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Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music. At the age of 3 in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, he was borrowing his father’s records and spinning them on his Fisher Price turntable. Taking in diverse sounds of artistry from Miles Davis, Les McCann, James Brown, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix gave shape to Greg's musical foundation and started him on a path of nonstop exploration.
A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.