When pianist Keith Jarrett announced his retirement from live performance in 2015, it was due to what he called a “severe reaction” to his body — or, to use medical shorthand, “a weird reaction.” In the 50 years since he created a new genre of music with New York’s Blue Note Records, Jarrett has undergone a complete makeover.
“Everybody was seeing Keith Jarrett’s head as this big machine of sound that was spinning around this huge perforated piano, and that’s not right,” Jarrett says in PBS’s “Great Performances” documentary, which airs on Tuesday night. “In the Zen way of things, I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m going to do something that I do very well: The small gestures.”
Jarrett, 67, is credited with rejuvenating the jazz standard repertoire, with compositions such as “Roxie,” “Blue Train” and “After the Gold Rush,” all of which were ranked among the top 100 jazz compositions of all time by the Recording Industry Association of America. He was also a leader in post-bop, putting a fresh spin on the classical sonata form, and produced an album that included an erotically charged song, “Talk to Me of Diamonds.” In all, he released 42 albums with the Blue Note label.
“If Keith Jarrett had any drive, it’s to play and to record jazz, and I think that’s what keeps him vital,” says fellow pianist Harry Connick Jr.
The documentary, produced by Bravo Media and PBS, revisits some of Jarrett’s most famous performances over the years. It also features an interview with the pianist for which he discusses his rise to the top of the music world, his place in the pantheon of greats and his retirement.
But one of the most powerful moments of the documentary is the raw news broadcast that begins it.