An Open Letter to Keith Jarrett


Sign in to view read count
Dear Keith:

After being present at your concert in Perugia as part of the Umbria Jazz Festival 2007 I feel the need to express my views on what has become predictable but unacceptable behavior on your behalf. I know this is not the first or last attempt to discuss the matter, but what the hell...

First the facts. The concert took place in the Perugia's open air arena in front of almost three thousand people. Before the concert, the Italian presenter politely asked the audience to refrain from using flash photography or recording equipment. We got the message, switched things off, and that should have been that. But no. You then came on and, before even playing a note, gave us a couple of minutes of verbal abuse of a particularly vicious nature, let alone incredibly rude and offensive: "I don't speak Italian, you said, "but get someone who speaks English to tell you—turn those f***ing cameras off now... I reserve the right to walk off stage at any time if I see anyone taking pictures, and that goes for Jack and Gary too. If you see anyone with a camera, you have the right to take it off them... somebody tell those a**holes to put away their f***ing cameras... I see that red light there, and that means you, you, you... .

This could have been mildly amusing but it wasn't. Your contempt and anger were tangible. Your violent tirade ruined the atmosphere of the evening before it had even started. People around me gave each other those "here we go again" looks and, despite being insulted by you, the Perugia audience behaved impeccably during your set, loving every note. At the end of a relatively short second set (presumably allowing for encores) there was a standing ovation and we asked for a bit more. You came back on stage to take a bow and at that point (not while you were playing), someone took a photo. Your instant reaction was to announce, "OK. Because of this we're not playing an encore!" and walk off. That was it and we all left the arena feeling cheated and wondering what gave you the right to be such an "a**hole, as you put it. Following your "performance the festival organizers decided rightly not to invite you to the Umbria Jazz Festival again.

Of course, over the years, these incidents have become part and parcel of the "Keith Jarrett experience, and everybody expects you to behave this way (which, according to your twisted logic of not pandering to people's expectations, should be reason enough not to do it.). What exactly do you hope to achieve with this behavior? I completely agree that flash-photography and any other noisy distractions are unacceptable, and a serious impediment to the concentration of the artists. To ask for a reasonable level of sustained concentration from the audience is legitimate and needs to be pursued. The message is fine. It is the way you choose to deliver it that is fundamentally flawed.

First, if you accept to play in arenas with thousands of people, there will always be somebody who will not do what you want. An audience is not a unified mass that can be treated as a single entity or, in your case, like a naughty child. It is a gathering of individuals who are put together by chance for the sake of a couple of hours' music. Each person retains their free-will and will make independent choices. That night in Perugia, ninety-nine percent of individuals did things your way. But, like a sadistic schoolmaster, you decided to castigate everyone for the sake of the few who didn't. This was unfair and childish.

Second, if you feel big audiences are an invasion of privacy in your musical activities, don't do these kinds of concerts. If you are so concerned with the integrity of your music, don't do these kinds of concerts. Choose small venues where there is a more intimate relationship between musicians and audience. Big audiences = less control over what people are going to do. It's a fact. If don't like it, don't do these kinds of concerts. If you want to be a recluse and can't deal with celebrity, stay at home! But that would mean making less money... Could it be that you are trying to have your cake and eat it too?

Third, by verbally abusing your audience you instantly create a climate of antagonism, making them your enemy rather then your friend. You forget that people pay lots of money to buy your CDs and to see you play because they love you! They're there to commune with you and celebrate the beauty of your music. You repay that love by insulting them and denying them the celebratory aspect of a concert (which, yes, can also include the occasional photo, it's not that huge a crime, Keith!!). In Perugia, after your initial abuse, we should have all got up and gone home (see how you like it), leaving you to play to an empty arena. But you know that that wouldn't have happened, which brings me to the subject of your dictator-like abuse of power:

  • You think you are right and everyone else is wrong. This shows a basic lack of humility and respect for other people.

  • You think you are doing this for the good of the people. Is it really the role of the artist to educate the audience? Maybe up to a certain point but definitely without hurting their feelings. We can be told nicely and we will understand and learn. Anything more is arrogance and abuse.

  • You think the best method to use is force. You are a bully! You use bullying techniques to get what you want. Childish blackmailing methods are a sign of immaturity. If you have an anger problem, deal with it! Why should I go to your concerts in fear that you might be in a bad mood and walk off?

  • You don't allow the right to reply. At the concert I had to put up with your insults without being able to protest or get my money back (hence this letter). Again this an abuse of your power as an artist.

  • You ultimately fail. Antagonism breeds antagonism. The only thing you achieve is creating stressed-out and angered people. You are losing touch with the real world.

By deciding not to invite you again the Umbria Jazz Festival people have set a precedent. Hopefully others will follow. This is a sorely needed reminder that an artist, no matter how important, is nothing without an audience. Music doesn't exist in a vacuum. You can only give because we are here to receive. The general sentiment of people leaving the arena that night in Perugia was, "Great music, shame about the man..."

For discussion on this subject, visit the AAJ Bulletin Board topics: "Jarrett opens a concert dissing the audience" and "Keith Jarrett at Carnegie Hall".

Related Video

Opening remarks at the Umbria Jazz Festival 2007

Post a comment


Shop Amazon



Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.