keith jarrett -- 6/2/23

Today's selection -- from Quantum Criminals by Alex Pappademas & Joan LeMay. Keith Jarrett is a tour de force jazz pianist who became famous in the 1970s. His song "Long as You Know You're Living Yours” served as inspiration for the Steely Dan song "Gaucho":

 "[The Steely Dan song 'Gaucho'] closely resembles the head of a Jarrett piece called 'Long as You Know You're Living Yours.' Donald will later admit that the resemblance made him ner­vous; as he puts it to Leo Sidran years later, 'I don't want to be a repeater pencil, as Lester Young used to say.' When the song proves difficult to cap­ture in the studio, he's a little relieved to give up on it.

"But one night after everyone else has clocked out, Steely Dan's engineer Roger Nichols finishes the track, and 'Gaucho' ends up being the title song on the album they're making. 'Gaucho' and 'Long as You Know You're Living Yours' end very differently, but for about forty seconds, Steely Dan's song is enough like Jarrett's that Donald and Walter have to acknowledge the similarities when cornered on the subject by Musician magazine. Walter says he loves the Jarrett song, and when interviewer David Breskin suggests there's some 'borrowing' going on, Donald replies, 'Hell, we steal. We're the robber barons of rock-'n'-roll.'     

Jarrett in 1975

"They are joking around about ripping off the work of someone who takes his work extremely seriously. A child piano prodigy of Scots-Irish and Hungarian descent, Jarrett wore a carefully manicured Afro and was often mistaken for Black as he rose to prominence in jazz, first as a sideman to Art Blakey and Charles Lloyd, then as part of the double-keyboard band that backed Miles Davis on Miles Davis at Fillmore and Live/Evil. He began playing fully improvised solo piano concerts in 1973. He performed deeply cerebral music in a way that physicalized the agonies of its creation, grimac­ing and headbanging his way through each concert, writhing as if beset at the bench by fire ants. The New York Times once said he looked like a man 'giving birth to a square baby,' Jarrett might be Steely Dan's true nemesis, a mirror in which they'd hate to see themselves reflected. He played at a level of total extemporaneity that Donald and Walter could not abide, but like them he was a perfectionist, and like them he struggled with man's inherent inability to control the environment in a live-concert setting.

"Donald and Walter solved their problems with touring by quitting the road; Jarrett passed out cough drops to his audiences, so as not to be affronted by their expulsions while performing. Fighting a never-ending battle against chronic fatigue and poor concert-hall acoustics, able to be yanked out of his trance and into seething rage by a single errant noise from the cheap seats, he was the John McEnroe of jazz, leaving it all on the court without a trace of self-awareness. He did his best work in terrible condi­tions: his masterpiece is probably The Koln Concert, which he recorded live in 1975 at the Cologne Opera while sick and sleep-deprived and in a back brace, working around the limitations of a busted-ass piano that had been placed onstage by mistake. The music Jarrett made that day is by turns surging and emotional and cheesy and solitary and hermetic; listening to it is like watching time-lapse footage of a crystal cathedral being erected inside Kandor, the miniaturized Kryptonian city Superman kept in a bottle in his arctic Fortress of Solitude. Not unlike Gaucho it's a paradoxical testament to the way an exhausting and debilitating attention to detail -- by people who are themselves exhausted -- can sometimes produce art that is literally transcendent.

"Jarrett responded to the Musician interview by suing Donald and Wal­ter, successfully, for cowriting credit; 'Gaucho' is officially now a Becker/ Fagen/Jarrett composition, a shotgun love triangle made official in the eyes of ASCAP."



Alex Pappademas & Joan LeMay


Quantum Criminals


University of Texas Press




212 -213
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