The Köln Concert
Over 35 years ago, on January 24, 1975, Keith Jarrett gave his famous, freely improvised solo concert at the Cologne Opera - on a Bösendorfer. The Köln Concert has become the bestselling solo piano and jazz solo record of all time.
In his solo concerts, the artist attempts to create music without any musical aforethought or plan, “out of thin air.”
The world-famous American pianist, composer, soprano saxophonist and bandleader Keith Jarrett remarks, “Again and again it’s like stepping onstage naked. The most important thing in a solo concert is the first note I play, or the first four notes. If they have enough tension, the rest of the concert follows almost as a matter of course. Solo concerts are about the most revealing psychological self-analysis imaginable.”
The cover of the white double LP (ECM 1064/1065 ST) with a deeply immersed Keith Jarrett over the keyboard
Against all odds
On this Friday evening in January 1975, Keith Jarrett played on a Bösendorfer baby grand. The concert did not have any positive omens.
In the night before the performance, Jarrett had slept poorly and arrived in Cologne after an exhausting, hours-long drive in a Renault R4 with his record producer Manfred Eicher dead tired.
He finished his dinner only 15 minutes before the concert began!
The Bösendorfer 290 Imperial concert grand originally selected for the performance by Vera Brandes is not available.
The stagehands had mixed up the Bösendorfer Imperial grand intended for the concert, which was in the cellar of the Cologne Opera, with a black Bösendorfer baby grand used for choir rehearsals and for soloists to warm up. They found the baby grand backstage and brought it onto the concert stage.
“Bösendorfer” was visible on the baby grand and therefore nobody bothered to check whether it was the right concert grand. In the bustle before a Friday evening concert, the day on which the Köln Concert was played, nobody was aware of the Bösendorfer Imperial grand in the cellar.
Jarrett had to play on a black baby grand piano in poor condition. The instrument was only clearly voiced in the middle and bass registers, and Jarrett therefore concentrated on the ostinatos and rhythmic figures.
Concert presenter Vera Brandes, who had only just turned 18, had to convince the then-29-year-old to perform nonetheless, which she thankfully succeeded in doing.
Onstage at the Cologne Opera shortly before midnight
Keith Jarrett begins his historical concert with the melody of the Cologne Opera’s intermission gong and the audience’s laughter can be heard throughout the sold-out hall.
The myth’s hour of birth began in the Cologne Opera.
Keith Jarrett thrilled his audience with his four-part solo set for 67 minutes. His playing captivated the audience by its closeness, simplicity and catchiness. This is atypical for the exceptional artist.
“What Jarrett lines up in terms of motives, of calm as well as libidinous moments, of tension, ecstatic melodiousness and relaxation is simply stupendous. He doesn’t seem to consider it necessary to pursue an idea any longer,” is how his biographer Uwe Andersen summarizes part 1.
Part IIa is marked by “a rhythmically accented, hammered ostinato in the left hand, over which Jarrett plays dancelike with the right hand” (Ralf Dombrowski/"Basis Diskothek Jazz," Stuttgart 2005). Part IIb culminates “in a three-voiced choir with nearly cathedral-like sound force” (Hannah Dübgen/"Blue Notes on Black and White Keys," Berlin 2003). The concert ends pianissimo with Part IIc.
The Köln Concert is the artist’s bestselling and best-known release; beyond that, at roughly 3.5 million CDs and records sold it is the bestselling jazz solo record as well as solo piano record of all time.
Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Keith Jarrett began taking piano lessons at age three, and was celebrated as a child prodigy at seven. He studied at Berklee College for one year. Afterwards he played in a trio in Boston. Jarrett became known internationally as a pianist and founding member of the Miles Davis Group, to which he belonged from 1969 to the end of 1971. As a star musician of the German label ECM, he developed his fame further.
35 years ago, the artist in the 1970s, at the time he recorded the Köln Concert
Up to 1975, the pianist gave around 50 solo concerts throughout the world, the recordings of which have received international awards. In addition to the Köln Concert, Solo Concerts: Bremen & Lausanne of 1974 is a special highlight.
More information on the artist’s life and career is available at www.ecm-records.com
Sheet music editions of the Köln Concert
Schott Music has published an original transcription of Keith Jarrett’s famous concert, authorized by Jarrett personally:
(Photo credits: ECM, Masotti)