Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Don't Mess with Genius, Be a Genius

Turn off the fucking iPhones!

It seems Keith Jarrett, my favorite musician, made quite a scene recently at Carnegie Hall. Apparently, Keith was performing one of the solo piano concerts for which he is famous. These are long-form improvisations. He walks on stage and simply begins playing. As you can imagine, it's a practice of great concentration and awareness.

Keith is notorious for scolding and lecturing audiences, but he especially cannot brook coughing or picture-taking during his performance.

On this night at Carnegie Hall, however, the coughing and picture-taking were too much for Keith. He walked out.

One audience member recalled:
So he comes out, and you really get the feeling he's TRYING to be sympathetic and trying to reflect in his personality that which you hear in his music. The first set was fine. The second set started with two tunes that made Cecil Taylor sound like Lawrence Welk, fantastic conception, execution, everything..then comes like the most beautiful ballad you ever heard. Maybe 5 or 6 people in the upper deck of CH were coughing normally. It's like the whole joint starts turning over to the dark side of the force, it's stunning. I was disturbed for a couple of days after being a part of this - so close to the perfect Divine experience, then so disappointed..I can't imagine that Keith wants people to leave with this impression..

Although I've seen it many times, it became increasingly clear as to what Keith is trying to do when playing these concerts. He's trying to create a pristine world where the absolutely only sound, surrounded by total concentration, is super beautiful music. This is a fantastic goal, and he reaches it much of the time, which in itself goes down as some of the great moments in human cultural history.
Another report, from Fast Company of all places:
It seems, for Keith, improvisation is as much a methodical process as a magical one. He sits thoughtfully in front of the piano, almost meditating. His hands on his lap. He gazes at his keys. He slowly raises his hands. And gently places his finger tips on the ivory, almost teasing them, before finally unleashing his full weight and seismic energy into them. At that moment, we are transported. As he reaches various peaks on this journey, Keith rises up from his seat into a horse stance, leaning over his keys, as if to look inside the belly of his howling piano.

But then something goes wrong. Something very ordinary happens. But just at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

Suddenly, at the height of the song, a few people decide to take out their iPhones--disengaging themselves from this mesmerizing and irreplaceable now-- and begin snapping pictures with obnoxious flashes.
At this point, so I hear, Keith walks off the stage, comes back, turns to the audience, and then walks off the stage again. This happens a few more times. Someone else comes out to ask the audience to refrain from photography. Then, Keith comes back and speaks to the audience:
"It's not that I don't like my picture taken. It has absolutely nothing to do with that. It's a process here. It's not something photographable. When people take whatever they take home with them, it's meaningless. BUT IT SCREWS WITH US."
People applaud.

"The toys are out there, but PLEASE." Then Keith finishes his plea: "Like, imagine back to some amount of time when photography demanded that you actually learn how to take pictures.
The writer of the Fast Company article took these statements as a welcome smack:
Think about what Keith is saying. It's not that we're just rude, inconsiderate, and self-absorbed with our little digital screens. There's something bigger that's at stake in our lives. Let me repeat what Keith said: "Imagine back to some amount of time when photography demanded that you actually learn how to take pictures."
The writer realizes that instead of spending time on blogs or on Facebook, a lot of us could instead be learning, growing, experiencing, accomplishing, doing. It's a great point.

Seek the presence of genius, and express genius. A pretty great lesson, almost regardless of how it was learned.


  1. Anonymous2:53 PM

    Keith sounds like an obnoxious blow-hard....but I could be wrong...cough, cough.

  2. Maybe it's my hero worship talking, but I don't think he is an obnoxious blow hard.

    He can be snippy, no doubt. I've seen him live, and some of his comments make you think someone pissed him off.

    My sense is that he's that guy who's so dedicated to his craft that he doesn't easily tolerate anything that he thinks might detract from his ability to work his craft as well as he thinks he should.

    So, while he's not a raging asshole, he certainly doesn't hold his tongue when things don't go according to plan--either by his own doing or, more likely, by someone else's.

    He's that guy who's really great at what he does and you really admire him, but you'd never want to work with/for him.

    Not quite an obnoxious blow-hard, because he's not going out of his way to put people off, and he's not yelling and screaming, and he's not talking about things he knows nothing about.

    My view from afar, however.


Feel free to comment if you have something substantial and substantiated to say.