2:03pm

Mon May 27, 2013
Music

Keith Jarrett: 'I Want The Imperfections To Remain'

Originally published on Mon May 27, 2013 4:57 pm

Sometimes records have to steep. Four years after it was recorded live in Lucerne, Switzerland, an album of six standards called Somewhere is finally getting a proper release. Keith Jarrett and his trio, including bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, just weren't happy with the sound of the room or the circumstances at the time. Listen to Somewhere, however, and none of that comes across.

"I tried not to manipulate anything," Jarrett tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "I like the raw tapes. I like it just as it's handed to me the night that it happens. I want the imperfections to remain because, to tell the truth, the way I play in a given space is because of the space. So if we start to change that and I listen to it, then I don't even like it at all."

Mostly, Jarrett says the hardest part was convincing Peacock that the recording was good. You wouldn't know it listening to Somewhere, but "he was in hell that night, as far as the sound was concerned.

"Players are very protective of their turf," Jarrett says. "Over and over in the past, I've had the experience of knowing we just played the best version; we will not need to do another take. If it's a band, it's a band. If what we do when we're playing together is good enough, even the solos don't matter that much. What matters is the spirit kept."

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: And this is jazz pianist Keith Jarrett performing "Somewhere" by Leonard Bernstein. It's the title track of a new album of six standard tunes revisited by Jarrett and his trio, which includes bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. The release of this music has been a couple of years in coming from the time it was performed in Switzerland.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Keith Jarrett, welcome to the program.

KEITH JARRETT: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Standard tunes, first of all, what do they mean to you and why have you recorded so many of them on this disc?

JARRETT: First of all, they are anything but standard by today's standards. They're exceptional. There was a period of time in American history where so many things came rushing in, especially in popular music. The people that were doing that were people who were actually good at writing melodies, for example.

(LAUGHTER)

JARRETT: And I worked with a lot of vocalists when I was young and listened to them because my father liked Keely Smith and I probably heard Peggy Lee in those days and was impressed by phrasing. Once Miles was asked how did he learn his phrasing or who do you listen to for that and he said Frank Sinatra.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: Yeah, isn't that something? Do we not have more songs like this for lack of people trying to write them? Is it unfashionable?

JARRETT: Yes, is the short answer to that. But I was in Tokyo once and I thought, I think I want to try to write a song as though it existed before and has words. I sat down and wrote this standard tune, but it wasn't that easy to do. It's called "No Lonely Night."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "NO LONELY NIGHT")

JARRETT: It could have words easily. It could be sung by a good singer. But, again, let's say that there are also no important singers, so maybe it's all part of the same pancake mix. If there's no singers and there's no good songs, which came first?

SIEGEL: I guess, in fairness, we should say that for every - just to pick a couple of random favorites of mine, for every "September in the Rain," or "The Nearness of You," there are dozens of utterly unmemorable tunes in the world as well.

JARRETT: This is true. Yeah, this is definitely true.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: This disc was recorded in Switzerland in Lucerne in 2009.

JARRETT: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Why does such a good recording take almost four years to get released?

JARRETT: There's a lot of answers to that, Robert. But sometimes they have to steep. And our experience with this hall was bad. In other words, we didn't like the sound when we were playing. Gary had an awful time with his bass sound in the room. I didn't like the piano at all. Jack agreed that the hall was really not very good.

And I had played there before, had the same experience. So it almost was as though - sometimes it's like you have to slowly get rid of what you remember from the backstage or the, you know, the Germans not letting my wife sit in there in her seat because they didn't see her the first set and she has a ticket and they end up putting her behind the spotlights where she had to stand and sweat.

SIEGEL: So for you, for a year or more, this performance brings up all these memories, these very unpleasant memories of something not working well.

JARRETT: It's very hard to get rid of that right away.

SIEGEL: But I listened to it for the first time. I hear none of that.

JARRETT: No, no, no. It's not there.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JARRETT: We've worked on it, too. I tried not to manipulate anything. I like the raw tapes. I like it just as it's handed to me the night that it happens. I want the imperfections to remain because, to tell the truth, the way I play in a given space is because of the space. So if we start to change that and I listen to it, then I don't even like it at all.

Because it's like, why did I - I didn't play the left hand that loud or that isn't how the piano sounded. But in this particular case, it was just convincing Gary that it was good.

SIEGEL: Gary Peacock.

JARRETT: Yeah. It was a really tough thing because he was in hell that night, as far as the sound was concerned.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: This didn't sound like a guy unable to play his bass that night.

JARRETT: Now, we're getting to the part where we're actually perfectionists. We're pretty fussy and Gary's memory was the only thing he had. So then, first, I had to send him a copy of the recording. Then, I had to ask him what happened, you know, what did he think. And he said, oh, there's no bass on here.

And so I said, OK, Gary, can you come down to my house and listen to it on my system? So he came to the house and after a few minutes, he looked at me and with a kind of look like, OK, what was the big fuss about?

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: So there ultimately was, at some point, an acceptance of this performance that maybe the recorded sound of it was not as bad as the experience in them.

JARRETT: Yeah, plus players are very protective of their turf. Over and over in the past, I've had the experience of knowing we just played the best version of something; we will not need to do another take.

SIEGEL: And is that borne out when you then listen to the tape of it?

JARRETT: Yes. Yeah, because if it's a band, it's a band. And, you know, if what we do when we're playing together is good enough, even the solos don't matter that much. What matters is the spirit kept. And I know that's why Gary had to say, oh, OK. Because no matter what, he might not like whatever notes he might not like of his. I've often told him, Gary, I can point to notes, too.

Somebody once wrote me a letter saying, oh, thank God, you're human. You're not God. You made mistakes on "Rio" or something like that.

SIEGEL: Well, Keith Jarrett, first of all, I'm really glad that you guys got over your negative memories of this night in Lucerne back in July of 2009 and released this disc because it's terrific.

JARRETT: Thank you.

SIEGEL: And it's been great fun talking with you.

JARRETT: Thanks, Robert. Nice to talk to you, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: The album is called "Somewhere" by Keith Jarrett. Also, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.