Ooh, Keith’s Done It This Time!

Pictures at eleven: Keith Jarrett made a pre-show “attack” on the audience (a request for all cameras to be put away) at the July 2007 Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy. Reading about the occurence, it seemed to me that Jarrett had long had enough of people thinking they’re Liebowitz or Pennebaker, disrupting the group’s focus, and I essentially support what he said. A few days later, I saw a YouTube video of the opening speech, ironically enough, and it appeared a lot less apocalyptic to me than had been portrayed on the web’s wailing wall. Nonetheless, online congregations pounced on the event with indignant discontent and revealed some personal feelings about Jarrett in the process. Here are a few random samples pulled from different forums:

If I’d been there with a camera I would have shot away, gleefully taking picture after picture, just to see if he would leave the “goddamn” city. Wanker.

I think people should start attending his concerts with flash cameras on mass and cell phones set to loud ring. Flash away endlessly and have people call your cell phone constantly and show him what real disruption is about.

The music is great but he doesn’t deserve the money that people pay him. He should be grateful.

I would pay good money to someone to yell “Freebird!” at one of his shows (er, “concerts”) just to see Jarrett’s reaction

It’s so funny that now he looks like a white yuppie businessman on vacation and acts like an asshole.

Is this the same sap that wants us to feel sorry for whatever the fuck he had that kept him from performing? Fuck off, cockwipe.

Good will abounds. I find these comments more telling than anything that came out of Jarrett’s mouth in Perugia. Rather than translate what these people are really betraying, let’s just note the lack of concern about the musical performance issue, which is what prompted Jarrett to make his “cut the cameras” speech in the first place.

One reason I find this episode interesting is the communication angle – the endless gossip demanded by the Internet. I wonder, had the web existed throughout jazz history, would all mini-scandals have received such obsessive attention? Would people have communally bitched about artists who, er, showed up to a gig too stoned to work, if they arrived at all? Or harangued the audience (as Jarrett was certainly not the first by a long shot)? Or, more trivially, “Charlie Mingus didn’t sign my soup ladle, who does he think he is? Why didn’t Bill Evans announce his last song, that pretentious snot. Why the hell did Miles go on late, doesn’t he have any respect for his audience?” And on and on.

In this vein, some folks lament that Jarrett doesn’t have a website with a discussion board. Why should he – so people can poop out these same lines? What possible difference would it make to the music, and what responsibility does the artist have to participate in or take note of such things? Don’t they have enough real work to concentrate on? Music has flourished for centuries without websites and discussion boards and guestbooks and “I reserve the right to scrawl graffiti on your house.”

(Another interesting angle is why some artists take extreme measures to combat being photographed or recorded in performance, but that’s a separate topic, and the artists who do so have explained their reasons plenty of times. King Crimson’s Robert Fripp has been vilified for leaving the stage whenever cameras start flashing, or for not being as personally available as some fans would wish, etc. The KC online discussions of a few years ago would have people saying, “Why is Fripp such a jerk, without us he’d be nothing, he should be grateful I want his picture”...same story.)

I am a Jarrett fan, but not a full-time apologist. I don’t like everything he plays, I don’t agree with every opinion he pronounces, I think it’s ridiculous to expect people not to cough, and speaking of stage behavior, I don’t think his occasional political statements during concerts are appropriate at all. But unwanted cameras and recording devices are directly related to performance, and Jarrett can tear into the audience at will on that topic, as far as I care. If you’re not clutching a camera, don’t get offended, he’s not speaking to you. Why do people grow such sensitive antennae?

For me, this whole thing is overblown, as are so many things nowadays. If I were in Jarrett’s shoes at that jazz fest, I wouldn’t have been as profane, nor would I have mentioned leaving the city (not “this goddamn city,” as had been wrongly reported). But I’m not in his shoes, and neither is anyone else.

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