On a whim today, I picked up the Keith Jarrett 1968 record Somewhere Before, one of the early trio sessions with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. Jeff Johnston had recommended this to me while I was studying with him (along with Life Between the Exit Signs) but both had been relatively hard for me to track down. This album is the one with the relatively incongruous cover of Dylan's "My Back Pages," a repertoire choice that fits in with the folky Jarrett that was to follow in the next decade, but the idea that Jarrett ever got anything out of Dylan baffles me somehow. For someone that disdains the Montreal Jazz Festival for all the extraneous noise and belligerently insists on perfection, the rough-hewn nasal delivery of Dylan seems at odds. Ah well.
I suppose this is a good entrée for me to comment on the recent Umbria hoopla that has circled the interweb. I had a similar discussion with guitarist Greg Amirault during the festival, when our beloved Mr. Jarrett unleashed a similar tirade (equally unfounded and unprovoked) in Place des Arts. Greg went to the show, and even with my press pass I bowed out of requesting the ticket. I saw the trio at their last appearance a couple of years ago, when Jarrett was the recipient of the Miles Davis prize. It was sublime, save for a buzz in the PA which occasioned an abrupt start to intermission, and served as the butt of a recurring joke through the second set. But given the standard behaviour of a festival audience and Jarrett's reviled temper, I have very little interest in going to see him live again. I'm not willing to shell out that kind of ticket price ($80-$100, depending on the seat) and risk an uninspired set, a walk-off, or an extemporaneous rant. Especially not when Jarrett records almost exclusively live these days (save The Melody At Night With You). I would much rather remain in the comfort of my own home, put on Whisper Not and bliss out, not worrying whether some schmuck is going to turn off his cell phone or not, cough, sneeze, or whip out his digital camera.
Some argue that we should separate the artist from the individual. And I have no problem doing that in some cases - Elton John's past addictions and recent tantrums don't detract from my enjoyment of his early records. Miles' carefully cultivated "fuck you" attitude and history of usurping credit and publishing from his collaborators doesn't diminish the masterpiece status of his work. However, Sir Reg keeps his temper in check onstage, and doesn't unleash on the audience. Jarrett's forums aren't punk rock, with mutual abuse between performer and concert-goer; he has long abhorred the give-and-take of performer and audience. He doesn't thrive on the audience's adrenaline or reaction for his creative consciousness, and it's really the audience member's privilege to watch Keith work. External reaction doesn't filter into his equation. So I think it's kind of disingenuous for him to dismiss the role of the crowd, and then go postal when one person in the crowd is doing something that could potentially, maybe, be distracting.
Again, it's not like I'm about to go torch all the Keith that I own - once I warmed to him, he has been a key influence on my playing and is quite rewarding to listen to. I just have no desire to be in the room when he detonates - I know that the magical moments will be captured by ECM.