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#3212635 04/29/22 05:24 PM
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Hi

I was reading another thread a while ago where one of his versions of Over the Rainbow was posted, and it got me to thinking.

Is Keith Jarrett the greatest improviser, on any instrument, in the history of recorded music?

From what I've read online the first recordings of any sort of music were made in about 1860, but it wasn't until decades later that any 'serious' music was recorded.

Jarrett's ability to improvise with no pre-conceived form, which to my knowledge is unique, not to mention his huge output of Jazz recordings must give him a strong claim. Especially if we restrict the question to Piano only.

That said my knowledge of any modern 'classical' musicians who might have improvising skills is minimal.

I'd be interested to hear other recommendations and suggestions.

Cheers


Simon

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Simon_b #3212654 04/29/22 07:20 PM
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I think other jazz pianists and some classical pianists can improvise with no preconceived form. And many jazz pianists have numerous recordings. Where Jarrett ranks as a jazz pianist depends on whom you ask.

Simon_b #3212672 04/29/22 08:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Simon_b
Is Keith Jarrett the greatest improviser, on any instrument, in the history of recorded music?

It's hard to say, because there is always uncertainty. It will be safe to say that he is among the most skillful improvisers.

Originally Posted by Simon_b
That said my knowledge of any modern 'classical' musicians who might have improvising skills is minimal.

And that is what adds to the uncertainty.

Simon_b #3212679 04/29/22 09:23 PM
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Jarrett was strongly influenced by pianist Paul Bley, and also by the Ornette Coleman school (Coleman, Charlie Haden, Don Cherry). All of these musicians were doing free improvisation years before Jarrett started to do so in public. Jarrett's exquisite technique and more gentle, meditative approach to free playing meant that he could sell 10-LP boxed sets of the stuff and live like a squire on a New Jersey estate (at least, after he sold a gazillion copies of his Koln double LP and made it possible for ECM fund itself for eternity), whereas his mentors stayed less well known and decidedly more middle class.

When it comes to jazz, you have to distinguish between free playing and more standard soloing over predefined chord changes. I'd say there's far from any sort of critical consensus that Jarrett is the greatest improvisor when it comes to playing changes. I've never actually seen a jazz writer or musician come close to suggesting that. And given that jazz has over a century of recorded performances, with dozens of sub-genres, there really is no way to say any given musician is the greatest in any dimension. To compare James P. Johnson to Bud Powell to Herbie Hancock to Brad Mehldau just doesn't make sense, any more than comparing Bach to Mozart to Mahler to Steve Reich.

If you want to get a handle on Jarrett's relationship to Bley and Ornette, and thus on much of his improvised and original music, I'd recommend Ethan Iverson's survey of his work from 1967-1977 here:

https://ethaniverson.com/shades-of-jazz-keith-jarrett-charlie-haden-paul-motian-dewey-redman/

Last edited by JP Thomas; 04/29/22 09:27 PM.
Simon_b #3212743 04/30/22 05:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Simon_b
Jarrett's ability to improvise with no pre-conceived form, which to my knowledge is unique,

This is an illusion. In fact, an experienced improviser - be it a musician or a poet - has a certain number of developed structures in his pocket, which he pulls out along the way. This also applies to the duration of the improvisation. My former colleague, the most famous improviser in Russia in the 1960s and 1970s, who was also influenced by Paul Bley, arranged solo improvisation at concerts quite accurately within 40 minutes; which also requires well-established development techniques.

Nahum #3212768 04/30/22 09:23 AM
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Yeah, all relevant points made...yep there's always some structure to improv, because improvisers do *practice*. But think of it in terms of math. There's a big range there between 100% improvised and 0% improvised. 0% being rote classical/memorized recitation, 50% maybe being something like more traditional jazz. 100% improvised doesn't exist. That's a child sitting down at the piano for the first time (which was me as a kid, btw) just coming up with random stuff. Yet sometimes that's how I feel as an adult, too. The difference is that I've mapped out pathways for almost thirty years. Just having access to the keys is the same as mapping pathways. That's the technical pathway. That then gives you leverage to improvise as well, but you've already mapped a bunch of stuff.

We all have a radar for where are hands can go and what they can do. In improvisation, the mind directs them. I have different modes of improv. Practice mode and performance mode. They're quite similar, but practice mode is the explore stage where I push and develop. I don't worry about staying on track because I'm experimenting and building.

Yeah Jarrett is very good but there are others. And it's just a matter of personal opinion what one's tastes are. Personally I can't stay away from some runs, passages, etc., that show up by rote in my "improvisation". Or maybe they're mostly the same and there's part that's an improv layer, etc. It's fairly relative, though. Take any composer and their works are all distinct in terms of the footprint of their exact notes, but there are so many similarities. That's why some people with a good ear can tell exactly who the composer is within a few seconds of hearing the piece (without identifying the piece itself, just by hearing the composer's style). It can be hard to crack improv, because it's straight from the musician's head and fingers into to the air, maybe we can more in the future with computers.

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I think all composers and musicians have tendencies that the subconscious filters no matter how averse we try.
A good study would be a musician with multiple personalities perhaps.

Simon_b #3212778 04/30/22 10:29 AM
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Anyway, to improvise freely - as strange as it sounds - is much more difficult than on the charts with harmony; it requires comparatively advanced composing skills.

Simon_b #3212790 04/30/22 11:01 AM
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Simon b
[Jarrett's ability to improvise with no per-conceived form, which to my knowledge is unique]

https://ethaniverson.com/shades-of-jazz-keith-jarrett-charlie-haden-paul-motian-dewey-redman/

Some see Jarrett as nonpareil, a unique being without influences. In interviews, Jarrett can occasionally sound like he drinks that kool-aid himself.

It’s just not true. The notion of “innovation” usually means, “a fresh way of combining older elements.” Jarrett was one of a generation trying to make a new sound by mixing and matching styles. The whole compass of European classical music, rock music with an unabashed backbeat, avant-garde music, atonality, and mixed meter were on the table. Earlier jazz musicians had flirted with many of those elements, but now serious relationships were being consummated.

Here is another great pianist that I feel is underrated


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Originally Posted by chromaticvortex
Personally I can't stay away from some runs, passages, etc., that show up by rote in my "improvisation".

I know what you mean. The well-established runs and patterns -- or variations of them (as there is sometimes some freedom to use bits any various appropriate stages or times) are heard a lot, as that information is stuck in the system. But every now and again, due to some freedom with choices that can be made while applying the 'rules' of composition/music - as in deciding what scale run to play or arpeggio run, or which arpeggio pattern, or which note set of notes/keys to push for a chord sound ------ some interesting music can possibly come out, maybe even surprising the piano player themselves.

Nahum #3212859 04/30/22 03:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Nahum
This is an illusion. In fact, an experienced improviser - be it a musician or a poet - has a certain number of developed structures in his pocket, which he pulls out along the way. This also applies to the duration of the improvisation. My former colleague, the most famous improviser in Russia in the 1960s and 1970s, who was also influenced by Paul Bley, arranged solo improvisation at concerts quite accurately within 40 minutes; which also requires well-established development techniques.

I agree. There are structures - sort of like learned building blocks and/or patterns that often exist within improvised pieces, which are embedded or planted within the piano player (learned from their experiences with other music they absorbed before). There will be at least some level of pre-conceived form for some sections. A mix of some pre-conceived and some new or unforeseen within an improvisation performance.

Simon_b #3212887 04/30/22 06:34 PM
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Hi

Thanks for all the interesting responses.

From interviews I've read with Jarrett he certainly doesn't seem to agree with the general opinion here that improvisation is, at least to some extent, based on previously developed structures and forms. However, I basically agree with the majority here. I think he is a bit deluded if he believes that everything he improvises is new and created on the spur of the moment.

I'm familiar with, and own Paul Bley recordings. I don't think being influenced by him in any way diminishes Jarrett's status. All pianists in the era of recorded music have been influenced by others.

But I agree you cannot definitively say any one player is the best improviser.

My question was deliberately a bit provocative to create a response. Non-classical had gone a bit quiet recently! The stupid GOAT <sport> debates that fill social media are banal.

Comparing players from different eras, let alone different instruments, is almost impossible. I've no doubt there are dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of musicians in the recording era who could make a case to be considered.

My own view is that Keith Jarrett has a strong case; at least to be considered among the best, not only because of his solo improv concerts and Jazz playing, but also because of his study of the 'classical' repertoire (including Shostakovich, Mozart, Handel and Bach), which if you listen to many of his solo concerts he incorporates into his improvisations.

Thanks for the Danny Zeitlin recommendation dpvjazz; if I can find something at a sensible price I'll certainly get some recordings by him.

Cheers


Simon

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Originally Posted by SouthPark
Originally Posted by chromaticvortex
Personally I can't stay away from some runs, passages, etc., that show up by rote in my "improvisation".

I know what you mean. The well-established runs and patterns -- or variations of them (as there is sometimes some freedom to use bits any various appropriate stages or times) are heard a lot, as that information is stuck in the system. But every now and again, due to some freedom with choices that can be made while applying the 'rules' of composition/music - as in deciding what scale run to play or arpeggio run, or which arpeggio pattern, or which note set of notes/keys to push for a chord sound ------ some interesting music can possibly come out, maybe even surprising the piano player themselves.

Maybe so. I don’t apply others’ rules myself. Not really. This can result in strange and unusual music. Moreover I come up with my own “rules” which are more like experimental discoveries and creations. I only consider the fundamentals of music theory (of which I know relatively little anyway) very crudely when I improvise, and rely more on my eyes and hands to explore, and my ears to assess.

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Originally Posted by chromaticvortex
Originally Posted by SouthPark
Originally Posted by chromaticvortex
Personally I can't stay away from some runs, passages, etc., that show up by rote in my "improvisation".

I know what you mean. The well-established runs and patterns -- or variations of them (as there is sometimes some freedom to use bits any various appropriate stages or times) are heard a lot, as that information is stuck in the system. But every now and again, due to some freedom with choices that can be made while applying the 'rules' of composition/music - as in deciding what scale run to play or arpeggio run, or which arpeggio pattern, or which note set of notes/keys to push for a chord sound ------ some interesting music can possibly come out, maybe even surprising the piano player themselves.

Maybe so. I don’t apply others’ rules myself. Not really. This can result in strange and unusual music. Moreover I come up with my own “rules” which are more like experimental discoveries and creations. I only consider the fundamentals of music theory (of which I know relatively little anyway) very crudely when I improvise, and rely more on my eyes and hands to explore, and my ears to assess.

But I forgot to mention the part about the well-established runs and patterns are there for me too…little mini/compositions I’ve come up with. It’s just that I don’t implement them and repeat them very consciously. It’s more like muscle memory and comfort zone grounding. I try to consciously vary them to push the envelope through modulations based mostly on coordination and a sense of thinking of the next transition in space and time rather than in terms of harmony…I think very chromatically and play more “by ear” than intellectually. Whenever people ask me questions about my playing it’s hard for me to answer.

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Originally Posted by chromaticvortex
Maybe so. I don’t apply others’ rules myself. Not really. This can result in strange and unusual music. Moreover I come up with my own “rules” which are more like experimental discoveries and creations. I only consider the fundamentals of music theory (of which I know relatively little anyway) very crudely when I improvise, and rely more on my eyes and hands to explore, and my ears to assess.

It's 'structures' that are well ingrained from learning ------ learning from other people's music. Also - sure - it can be complemented by own 'rules' too ----- which are those particular runs or passages/structures that you developed yourself - which can be ingrained too.

The application of particular structures doesn't necessarily (or even generally) mean without some thought or fore-thought or pre-conditioning. It is done with some thought, and understanding of how to apply it ----- so as to cut down or even eliminate chances of strange and unusual music. Although - for sure, if one doesn't or hasn't yet developed understanding or skill to do that --- then for sure, there can be strange and unusual music come out ----- so basically, needs work in terms of understanding and/or development.

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But I like strange and unusual music. For me, that’s the whole point. If it weren’t that, why would I do it? It’d just be derivative.

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Originally Posted by chromaticvortex
But I like strange and unusual music. For me, that’s the whole point. If it weren’t that, why would I do it? It’d just be derivative.

What I mean by strange and unusual is more along the lines of seemingly no context, or random, or ..... eg. a mess. But I'm sure that your music is not that at all. Yours most likely has some order - structure etc - some appeal factor to some people or some group or groups. Although - even if there is not - then that's ok too!

I like hearing some abstract sorts of music too sometimes.

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Originally Posted by SouthPark
Originally Posted by chromaticvortex
But I like strange and unusual music. For me, that’s the whole point. If it weren’t that, why would I do it? It’d just be derivative.

What I mean by strange and unusual is more along the lines of seemingly no context, or random, or ..... eg. a mess. But I'm sure that your music is not that at all. Yours most likely has some order - structure etc.

It does always have some. But sometimes it’s just very basic, with a heavy layer of experimentation.

I think I know what you mean. I’ve heard some improv that is just almost like…banging on the keys. I don’t really do that. Mine is usually grounded in precision, because I like to be conscious of what I’m playing.

But harmonically it often doesn’t have structure I’m thinking about much. I come up with my own little experiments and try to bring them around.

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Originally Posted by chromaticvortex
It does always have some. But sometimes it’s just very basic, with a heavy layer of experimentation.

That's excellent CV. Experimentation is great.

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Originally Posted by chromaticvortex
Mine is usually grounded in precision, because I like to be conscious of what I’m playing.

This is what really amazes me - and what I appreciate. Having those particular skills or abilities that you have to create what you create - in that particular way. Still maybe one of the processes or mechanisms that hasn't been properly understood by people yet. It is very interesting and intriguing.

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