I remember clearly the the first time I heard Keith Jarrett play piano more than 20 years ago. My life changed during those moments. To call them moments does not describe how time itself changed form – under his spell.
It was about four in the morning and I was driving home from the city. Flipping through the dial on the radio. The lines on the road stretched out into infinity. The steady gentle thump thump as the tires met the freeze-out sections of the interstate.
My mental state was totally different back then. I was confused about many things. Life had dealt some harsh blows, I was becoming more of a soldier. I had been demanding answers to questions that couldn’t be answered with words. My world was pure emotion but I had no format to express what I was feeling.
“There was something,” I said to myself as I dialed back to an unfamiliar NY station. It was just a few notes, of a piano, “yes, there it is, …wait, that tone.” The sustain hung in my mind like sunlight. The percussive sensation swirled into itself. The notes merged into one another and then came apart into a million little pieces.
I was being lulled into a trance and simultaneously made aware. It wasn’t a song really, it was more like a mood, or moods. I was aware of thinking that this was the kind of music I wanted to create. There was a freedom I had never experienced from any other stimuli. Part sex, part love, part fear, part exploration of feelings that I had had for years and here it was coming from someone else. Someone’s mind other than mine. There was triumph and unbridled release, and a deep sadness most of all.
Whom ever it was was playing the song of my mind, my heart and my soul. How could another be in that place? With every turned phrase my subconscious was coming closer to the surface. There was no discernible pattern but I could feel intuitively where it was going, like a foreshadowing of my own thoughts.
And the music went on, I don’t know for how long, but it wasn’t like popular music where you get only a moment of inspiration. This was a continuous flow, unending like the road. As time expired the reception grew a little fainter with each passing trill. I can remember feeling a fear that I would never know who the artist was. Would the station completely fade away before the music ended leaving me to wonder for the rest of my life who it was that spoke to me in such a personal way. I was mad at myself for not having studying musicology more, so that I might be able to describe what I had heard to an expert, surely someone would be able to tell me who it was from my archaic descriptions.
At the same time it was indescribable, and yet I knew every vibration intimately. Also, there was a virtuosity that I was unaccustomed to. A complete mastery of the forces of nature, but very human. This was salt of the earth yet so subtle as to make me question whether I myself had ever played music at all in any meaningful way. There were thrills contrasted with the lowest of pulses. Seemingly unending variation and at the same time a consistency of expression. It was well beyond what is considered taking a risk, the artist was ‘going for it’ like I knew I wanted to do but never knew I could, or that it was even possible.
I will never forget driving home that night. As I approached exit 17 the sound had almost completely faded away. I was desperate to know who it was. My car wound it’s way down to the bottom of the ramp and the announcer came on in a faint whisper, “Keith Jarrett.”
That was all I needed to know. The next day I was at Sally’s and she gave me the tape – Still Live!