Cult Classic: Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette-After The Fall.

Imagine that one day, you’re struck down by a mystery illness, and go from being healthy to constantly exhausted, with your head, muscles and joints constantly aching. All you want to do is sleep, sleep and sleep some more. Even then, you don’t feel refreshed and getting through daily life is impossible. So much so,  that you’re a shadow of your former self. To make matters worse, the doctors have absolutely no idea what is wrong with you.  

They draw blood, send you for a brain scan and lumbar puncture, and check for every imaginable illness, including some that you’ve never heard of heard of. Still the so-called medical professionals have no idea what is wrong with you. Meanwhile, you’re living a nightmare and no longer able to make a living, and watch as your life falls apart. 

Eventually, after being passed from pillar to post, eventually, a doctor realises exactly what is wrong with you, and diagnoses that you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This was disease that very nearly destroyed the career of one of the greatest jazz pianists of his generation Keith Jarrett in the late-nineties.

It was around 1996 that fifty-one year old Keith Jarrett became ill, and was diagnosed by doctors as having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This was a huge blow for Keith Jarrett who was enjoying a successful career, and was one of the greatest and most versatile jazz musicians of his generation. 

Keith Jarrett’s career began in the mid-sixties when he was hired by Art Blakey to play in The Jazz Messengers, and made his recording debut on their 1966 hard bop album Buttercorn Lady. However, Keith Jarrett wasn’t a Messenger for long, and soon, joined Charles Lloyd’s band.

Joining forces with Charles Lloyd who was signed to Atlantic Records was good experience for Keith Jarrett who was a prodigious talent. He played on Charles Lloyd’s 1967 albumForest Flower, and Love-In, Journey Within and En Concierto which were all released by The Charles Lloyd Quartet the same years. All this was good experience for Keith Jarrett who had just been signed by Atlantic Records.

On May the ‘4th’ 1967 Keith Jarrett made his way to Atlantic Recording Studios, in New York, where just four days before he turned twenty-two, he recorded his debut album, Life Between The Exit Signs. It was a trio recording that featured Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. Life Between The Exit Signs an album of post bop was released to critical acclaim on the ‘1st’ of April 1968 and launched Keith Jarrett’s career.

Despite having released his debut album, Keith Jarrett continued to work with Charles Lloyd right up until 1970. Then he joined Miles Davis band, and featured on 1970s Miles Davis At Fillmore and 1971s Live Evil. These were two very different albums with Miles Davis At Fillmore being a much more experimental album where the band veered between and combined elements of free jazz, fusion and experimental music. By comparison, Live Evil was a fusion album, which featured an all-star band. Keith Jarrett who had already shown he was a prodigious talent, belonged in such illustrious company, and by the end of 1971, had already released nine albums as leader or co-leader.

Twenty-five years later, and Keith Jarrett had been a truly prolific recording artist and a highly respected bandleader who was known for recording albums of ambitious and innovative jazz. He had already released fifty-seven albums as leader or co-leader by 1996. Many of these albums were released to widespread critical acclaim and showcase a versatile pianist who was comfortable playing everything from free jazz and fusion to classical music and variety of other sub-genre of jazz. It was a similar case when Keith Jarrett worked as sideman, and had played over 125 albums. Sadly, when Keith Jarrett was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome he had no idea when he would back in a recording studio or on the tour bus that sometimes seemed like a second home.

Little did Keith Jarrett know that it would take the best part of two years before he was able to return to the concert hall. During that period, he suffered from what’s a truly debilitating illness that ravaged his body and left him weak and frustrated. He had no idea how long Chronic Fatigue Syndrome would last, and neither did the doctors. Some people had it for two, three five, ten or more years and watched as their life was destroyed never to be the same. 

Fortunately, after nearly two years Keith Jarrett’s body gradually started to heal and with each passing day, he became stronger and more like he had before Chronic Fatigue Syndrome turned his life upside down. Eventually, his thoughts started to making a comeback in 1998.

The Melody At Night, With You.

This was a really low-key comeback which began in December 1997, when Keith Jarrett wanted to test his Hamburg Steinway piano which had just been overhauled, and when he woke up and was having a: “half-decent day, I would turn on the tape recorder and play for a few minutes. I was too fatigued to do more.” The tape that Keith Jarrett made he gave to his then wife  Rose Anne as a Christmas present. Little did either of them realise at the time that this was the start of Keith Jarrett’s comeback and the followup to Multitude Of Angels which was recorded just before he became ill. 

When Keith Jarrett eventually entered his Cavelight Studio, which is next to his New Jersey home in 1998, he still hadn’t made a complete recovery, but was ready to make some tentative steps. By then,  Keith Jarrett decided that he wouldn’t work with a band, and instead, The Melody At Night, With You would be a solo recording. 

During the session, he played seven standards, including I Loves You Porgy, I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good, Don’t Ever Leave Me and Someone To Watch Over Me. These standards were joined by two traditional songs My Wild Irish Rose and Shenandoah, which were arranged by Keith Jarrett. He also composed Meditation which was part of the two-part suite Blame It On My Youth/Meditation. These tracks were produced by Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher, the founder of ECM Records which had been home to the pianist for much of his career. 

When The Melody At Night, With You was complete, Manfred Eicher scheduled the release for October the ’14th’ 1999. Critics welcomed back Keith Jarrett and The Melody At Night, With You was released to plaudits and praise. By then, Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette had already record the live album After The Fall.

After The Fall.

To record the live album that completed his comeback, Keith Jarrett decided that he would use his standards trio which featured double bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. They were like the three musical musketeers, who had worked together on many occasions during their long and illustrious careers. The three musicians had an almost telepathic understanding and formed an enviable partnership. Despite that, there was an added edge to recording his comeback concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre, on November the ‘14th’ 1998, as Keith Jarrett every note and chord he played would be pored over, as critics and the jazz cognoscenti wondered whether he still had what it took to play at the highest level?

Keith Jarrett was sure he had, but he like anyone who had suffered from the illness knew that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was a debilitating illness that saps not just energy, but can affect concentration. Fortunately, Keith Jarrett’s trio planned to play tracks that they knew intimately. This included Allie Wrubel and Herb Magidson’s The Masquerade Is Over, Charles Parker’s Scrapple From The Apple, Dedette Lee Hill and Willard Robison’s Old Folks, Jacques Prevert, John Mercer and Joseph Kosma’s Autumn Leaves. They would be joined by Bud Powell and Walter Fuller’s Bouncin’ With Bud, Sonny Rollins’ Doxy, Noel Coward’s I’ll See You Again, Paul Desmond’s Late Lament, Pete La Roca’s One For Majid, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, John Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice and Edward Heyman and Victor Young’s When I Fall In Love. However, despite having played the songs countless times, the trio honed them in readiness for Keith Jarrett’s long-awaited and much-anticipated comeback.

Fortunately, the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre was a well equipped venue and there was a DAT player that was used to record Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette’s performance. The trio had a setlist that featured twelve tracks, which would last 100 minutes. Many of Keith Jarrett’s friends, fellow musicians and doctors who were aware of his health problem weren’t sure that the comeback concert was such a good idea, and were scared that it would hamper his recovery. Especially when they heard that Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette were planning to play a bebop set.

Disc One.

Keith Jarrett opens the set with the post-bop of The Masquerade Is Over, where he plays slowly as his fingers caress the keys, before Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette enter and start to open the throttle. However, it’s a slightly restrained but almost flawless performance as the trio play within themselves during a sixteen minute epic before the audience welcome the return of Keith Jarrett. There’s no stopping him as he opens Scrapple From The Apple plays with freedom and fluidity, the rest of the trio matching him every step of the way. By the time he gets to Old Folks he’s riding the crest of a wave, feeding off the audience who will him on. Autumn Leaves is one of the tracks where Keith Jarrett gives a more restrained performance as he stretches this standard to thirteen minute mark and just beyond. Still his fingers dance across the keyboard, and like his rhythm section, gives an impressive and performance. However, in the case of Keith Jarrett, it’s hard to believe he’s been unable to play for the best part of two years after such a breathtaking performance as he reaches the halfway point on After The Fall.

Disc Two.

Keith Jarrett then plays a starring role as he gives a fleet-fingered performance on the lively Bouncin’ With Bud, which gives way to Doxy  where Gary Peacock’s walking bass is yin to the piano’s yang. The tempo drops on a beautiful wistful interpretations of I’ll See You Again and Late Lament. However, it’s all change on One For Majid as the tempo rises and Keith Jarrett’s fingers fly across the keyboard, while Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette add some flamboyant flourishes, before the trio get into the festive season early with a rendition of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. It’s followed by John Coltrane’s Moments Notice where Keith Jarrett fingers scamper across the keyboard as the trio become one on this bebop favourite. They then close the set with a melancholy version of When I Fall In Love where beauty is omnipresent, and Keith Jarrett gives one of his finest performance as he completes his comeback.

After Keith Jarrett’s comeback concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre, many of his fans and critics thought that ECM Records would released the performance in 1999. However, that wasn’t the case, and the DAT lay unreleased in Keith Jarrett’s vaults for nearly twenty years. Eventually, Keith Jarrett’s comeback concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre was released  on November the ‘14th’ 1998. 

The recording was entitled After The Fall is a captivating and compelling live album where comeback King Keith Jarrett and his fellow musical musketeers Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette revisit everything from songs from the Great American Songbook to bebop and tracks by ‘Trane and Bird. During what must have been exhausting performance for someone recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Keith Jarrett’s concentration never wavers as regardless of whether he’s playing bebop or wistful ballads during what was a cathartic concert. As a relieved Keith Jarrett left the stage on November the ‘14th’ 1998 and reflected on his performance, he knew that was capable of reaching the same heights that he previously had.

While Keith Jarrett may have lost two years of his career to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, he managed to rebuild his career starting with the concert that became After The Fall, and over the next twenty years, became one of the greatest and most versatile pianists not just of his generation, but in the history of jazz. Keith Jarrett belongs alongside the legendary jazz pianists including Thelonius Monk, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Bud Powell, Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson. That is despite losing two years of his career to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and having to rebuild his career. This began with After The Fall which is a captivating cult classic which where bebop rubs shoulders with wistful ballads and is part of an album that celebrates the comeback of Keith Jarrett, with a little help from his friends Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette. 

Cult Classic: Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette-After The Fall.


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