07/15/13

Keith Jarrett’s Dark Night in Perugia

Bad behavior and arrogance mar what could have been a sweet return

Ordinarily it would not make sense to talk about an atmosphere of tension in the context of a crowd of 4,000 people, in an open-air arena at a jazz festival. But I was there, on Sunday, July 7, 2013, in Arena Santa Giuliana at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy. There was an unmistakable feeling of nervous anticipation in the air. As people found their seats shortly before nine o’clock, the quietude was eerie. The Keith Jarrett Trio was about to take the stage.

Jarrett_umbria_span9
Tim Dickeson

The Keith Jarrett Trio performs in near total darkness at the Umbria Jazz Festival, July 2013

Exactly six years earlier, at the 2007 edition of the Umbria Festival, Jarrett had perpetrated, if not the ugliest, then certainly the most famous public meltdown in jazz history. When he came on stage and saw some people down front taking photographs, he went to the microphone and began to curse “all these assholes with cameras.” His rant and his threats went viral on YouTube: “Turn them fucking off right now. If we see any more [camera] lights I reserve the right—and I think the privilege is yours to hear us—but I reserve the right ... to stop playing and leave the goddamn city.”

Carlo Pagnotta, who founded the Umbria Festival and has been its Artistic Director for 40 years, said at the time, “As an artist Jarrett is sublime, but as a person he leaves much to be desired. People came from far away and spent a lot of money to see him and did not deserve to be treated like that ...We have decided that his music will no longer be heard at Umbria Jazz, but Jarrett remains part of the festival’s history.”

It came as a great surprise when, as part of the initial publicity for the Umbria Festival’s 40th Anniversary in 2013, it was announced that the program would include the Keith Jarrett Trio in Arena Santa Giuliana.

On Sunday night, the arena, which holds over 5,000 for music, appeared about 75 percent full. Chairs had not been set up on the outer sides of the front section, leaving open spaces. Seats there were 120 Euros. But the two sections farther back, where seats were 75 and 35 Euros, appeared close to full capacity. Pagnotta, who almost never serves as the announcer at Umbria Jazz concerts, came out on stage. Speaking of course in Italian, he pleaded with the crowd to put their cameras away and take no photos during the concert. He also asked them to greet Jarrett’s trio with a standing ovation of welcome. Pagnotta stood aside, the trio appeared, and 4,000 people dutifully stood and applauded. It was one of many odd moments in a very odd evening. The applause sounded cautious, even a little uncertain. I heard no whistles or whoops. Jarrett immediately went to the microphone and said, “See you later,” and, along with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, walked off the stage.

I was unclear what had just happened. Sitting in the second section, I thought perhaps Jarrett simply meant, “I’ll be back in a moment.” But apparently, when he first walked on stage, he saw someone down front taking a photo. I saw no flashes. But Jarrett’s phobia includes all photography, not just flash photography. Stephen Cloud, Jarrett’s longtime manager, then came on stage and issued a brief, clear, polite entreaty “to those of you who speak English.” He reiterated Pagnotta’s plea for no photography because it is “distracting to the artists.” He asked for the crowd to be respectful of the artists’ wishes.

The trio reappeared on stage and assumed their places. Either right before or right after he sat down at the piano, Jarrett called out, “Zero lights!” The stage went dark. The only light that remained was a small one on the music stand of Gary Peacock, who was positioned between Jarrett and DeJohnette. A light on a music stand was the only stage illumination for an audience of 4,000 as night descended.

They began to play “On Green Dolphin Street.” The audience seemed primarily puzzled, myself included. What was going on? Was there a technical problem? Clearly there was no power failure, because the two huge video screens on either side of the stage were brightly lit with the Umbria Jazz logo. (In the arena, for those in the second and third sections, concerts are watched mostly on the video screens. Obviously there could be no video with the stage in darkness. There would have been no video in any case. Jarrett would not have allowed professional festival videographers, who shot every other artist who performed in the arena during the festival, anywhere near him.) Keith Jarrett had found a way to keep people from taking pictures.

After the first tune the audience applauded, quietly. Darkness had now fallen and Jarrett and DeJohnette were invisible. Peacock’s bass was perceptible; Peacock less so. The second tune was a slow ballad version of “Yesterdays.” “This is sort of like radio,” someone nearby offered. I began to fear that some people in the crowd might revolt and demand stage lights, or even begin shouting insults at Jarrett, as in 2007. It didn’t happen. Enzo Capua, the U.S. representative for the Umbria organization, was seated near me. I heard him say, “This is the quietest large Italian crowd I have ever seen. I think maybe I am in Denmark.”

When the trio came out for the second set, stage lights came on, but dimly. The stage illumination was much fainter than normal, but at least now the performers could be seen, as if through a glass darkly.

The trio’s music on this night was impeccably played but mechanical. There was a blues in the first set that was as perfunctory and devoid of committed ideas as anything I have ever heard Jarrett play. He sounded like he was on autopilot. Of course Jarrett, even on autopilot, can sometimes make you sit very still in your chair. He is such a masterful pianist that, on a bad night, he can offer up sophisticated, multi-layered interpretations of songs like “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.” Personally, I cannot hear him play “Bye Bye Blackbird” too many times. There was a brief magical moment when he played a distilled version of “Answer Me,” just the melody, softly and slowly and achingly.

At the end of the second set the band stood up and took a quick bow to subdued applause. Before he walked off the stage Jarrett took up what appeared to be a black stage towel and waved it at the audience like a bullfighter with a black muleta. Of course, there was no encore. The lights came on over the arena, the huge stage curtain came down, and the crowd filed out, in near silence.

A word about the person or persons in the crowd who took photos: The problem would seem to be associated with those in the very front rows, or anyone who used a flash. I never saw a flash go off all night. Even Jarrett, with all his mania about photographs, would not see people with cameras far back in the crowd if they did not use a flash. But some person or persons up front had apparently tried to take pictures when Jarrett first came out. Their behavior was unconscionable. After the sincere, classy appeals by Carlo Pagnotta and Stephen Cloud, after what had happened in 2007, anyone who took photographs from a spot Jarrett could see is guilty of sociopathic selfishness. It would have been wonderful to have the surreptitious photographers pilloried for a couple of hours in the Piazza IV Novembre, where the music lovers of Perugia could throw rotten vegetables at them.

But that is fantasy, of course. It would never be possible to capture them. The nature of 4,000-person outdoor crowds is that misbehavior is protected. Assholes, as Jarrett characterized them in 2007, after ruining an evening for everyone, can always simply melt back into the crowd.

But if the behavior of the camera operator or operators was reprehensible, what do you say about a performer who, because of the misdeeds of one or a few people, chooses to punish the other 4,000 people present—people who paid good money to see you, and welcomed you with a standing ovation (despite your own violations of decency in 2007), and who behaved flawlessly all evening? How, because one or a few persons disrespected you, do you choose to disrespect 4,000 innocent others? How do you justify playing half a concert in darkness? How is it possible to describe arrogance and vanity so out of control?

In retrospect, it was naive of Carlo Pagnotta to think he could persuade 4,000 people to behave themselves with 100 percent compliance. Pagnotta achieved 99.99 percent compliance, but that wasn’t good enough for Keith Jarrett. In 2007, Jarrett had said from the Umbria stage, “The privilege is yours to hear us.” Apparently he believes it. His tragedy is that he does not understand why privilege runs both ways. Jazz concerts live on the two-way connection between artists and audience. A jazz artist who turns out the lights breaks the bond.

Jarrett could have had a triumph in Perugia. Pagnotta took the high road and offered a fresh beginning. Jarrett could have made people forget 2007 by making a brief conciliatory remark to Pagnotta and the crowd, playing his ass off for two brightly lit sets, doing three encores, and walking off to a genuine standing ovation, one motivated not by request but by the intensity and authenticity of the bond. Instead he chose to play one whole set in the dark, phoned in his performance, refused to do an encore, and, with a black muleta, flipped the bird at the crowd before leaving.

It was a sad night in Perugia.

***

A note from photographer Tim Dickeson: “The accompanying photo of the Keith Jarrett Trio was taken (without flash) from the top of the hill that overlooks Arena Santa Giuliana, which I would estimate to be one-quarter mile from the stage. The hill was packed with people standing and sitting, watching the show. As it got progressively darker the absurdity of watching virtually nothing but the light from Gary Peacock’s music stand prompted me to take the picture. At this point it was getting difficult to see the people 20 feet in front of me, so I guessed the chances of a performer being disturbed by my one photo was nil. I waited for the applause between numbers and took the picture. The noise from the people around me tripping over each other was far louder than the sound of my camera’s near-silent shutter.”

12 Comments

  • Jul 13, 2013 at 09:44PM mrhotpocket

    Are we supposed to be surprised that Keith Jarrett behaved like an asshole? He's a despicable man, and always has been.

  • Jul 18, 2013 at 08:42AM Theadore Eschuk

    Once bitten, twice shy. Perhaps this does not translate well into Italian.

  • Jul 19, 2013 at 09:57AM anto12

    Sorry,but I don't agree.I was there,in the 3th row.As soon as keith jarred appeard,there where SEVERAL flashing cameras,that,s why he said see you later And at the end when the public was applauding,he came back,and again cameras started to flash.That's why he left.I was really angry.AND BY THE WAY i was surrounded by people playing with mobiles ,messaging ecc ecc. trying to record what i don't know. People seems obsessed with technology,totally uncapeble to focus ,relax IT IS SAD if I compare it to the atmosphere of Jazz festivals in the '80 when we would just loose ourselves into the music.AND TO THOSE WITH THE FLASHES,FUCK YOU

  • Jul 26, 2013 at 12:08AM Marc Nebozenko

    In 2007 and 2013 Keith was not out of line. It is apparent that some Italians do not understand Italian.
    Both years they were warned no photography and they morons with cameras ruined things for everyone else. I agree 100% with anto 12.
    They should escort out the offenders and if others want to punch them or kick them in the ass then go ahead.
    I have seen Keith Jarrett solo and with the trio several times in Chicago the last few years. He loves playing here because the audience obeys the photography rules.
    One time he singled out an individual with a camera and was polite about admonishing him. The show went on.
    Why can't people just put their cameras away and enjoy the show? Because they are dumb assholes or stupido assholes.

  • Jul 26, 2013 at 08:05PM ClaesSweden

    7 july 2013 Perugia- I visited this strange concert with my family and all of us were very dissappointed. I been to many jazzconcerts the last 43 years and this was a disaster of many aspects. If you are as sensitive as Mr Jarrett I don’t think you should perform in an open air arena. If you think you can control about 4000 spectators and nearly everyone has a cellphone with camera I think you are naive. You can solve some parts of this problems by clearily announcing in english, italian and in french that it’s ok to take photos without flash during the first tune. Play for example a tune in 2 minutes and the musicians can close their eyes if they are “allergic” to flashes, because it’s always in a crowd with 4000 thousand someone who will break the rules. It’s not fair to play the first set in darkness. Our family had paid 210Euro and the flight tickets from Copenhagen. For me Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette concert were the top artist in 2013 Umbria Jazz Festival. They definitely not now. I talked to the american sound engineer in the pause because I never been to a concert with such a low pitch of volume. He was totally frustrated and had argued with Mr Jarrett but was forbidden to put up the volume a bit.The Italian coengineers said it was a great mistake to have such low volume in an open air arena. The sound from this equipment was awesome! Other nights in same arena when we listened to Wynton Marsalis and the duo Chic Corea and Herbie Hancock it was outstanding sound, a perfect volume and a great concerts. These musicians didn’t get upset or act rude to the people that feed them and take some photos. It was a really nice atmosphere in these two concerts. The duo (Corea and Hancock) also play music that is subtile and demands very high concentration. They managed that and behaved in a good way. As my daughter said- “Fantastic ,they talk to the audience in a nice and a friendly mood.” And two extra tunes! I think Mr Jarrett should avoid Umbria Jazz Festival in the future because he for sure got a hang up with the audience in Perugia. This was the third time I visited to hear this great Trio live. It was great the two first times but not this time!

    /Claes in Lund, Sweden

  • Jul 27, 2013 at 06:49AM bassboy

    It's not Keith's fault. Like with children throwing temper tantrums, as long as you keep rewarding his behavior with high fees and paying absurd ticket prices it will keep happening.

  • Jul 29, 2013 at 09:24AM Claire Brantley

    I was there, too, but arrived late and sat in the VERY back on the floor. We were puzzled about the lack of lighting, but the second set was better, and we enjoyed hearing this trio.
    A few years ago, we were in New Orleans at Preservation Hall - and they announced from the stage "No flash photography" in English. People in the audience continued to take photos with flashes, and I was like what on earth? How rude! Then I realized - it was entirely Japanese and German tourists doing the photography - they probably (like me) understand just enough of the language to find a bathroom or something to eat - but probably not enough to understand a long speech with a lot of complexities.
    I think the best thing would be to have a "No Flash Photography" sign (or projected on a screen) in English, German, Japanese, Italian, French . . . or any other language you think you might reach a number of your tourists.
    All of these festivals - wherever they are - attract an international audience - yet festival organizers assume that everybody will understand the local language and - of course - they don't. I think that might go a long way toward improving the situation not just for the persnickety Mr. Jarrett but for every performer.

  • Sep 01, 2013 at 08:16AM Monique Avakian

    One wonders: are we trying to somehow "own" or "consume" the musicians we love by capturing them inside these little boxes? This is part of a larger and frutiful conversation about Subject-Object Relationships, addiction to technology, distraction and rudeness, and the role of the audience in performance. I wasn't there, so I can't comment on the music, but I think Jarrett's solution was brilliant because it solved the power struggle and put the focus on the audio and the music. Also, turning lights off is very calming and soothing which is a good thing when a large crowd is involved.

  • Sep 25, 2013 at 01:25PM Dellenbogen

    The author states that anyone who took photographs from a spot Jarrett could see is guilty of sociopathic selfishness. He might as well be describing Jarrett himself -- the only musician (classical or otherwise) who I have ever heard admonish a crowd when someone involuntarily coughs. How about interviewing musicians and others who have worked with Jarrett to find out just what kind of psychiatric problems he has?

  • Oct 13, 2013 at 03:10PM Altisekiz

    A musician is not a jukebox , you can not expect to put a coin in and expect him to satisfy your expectations . Mr jarrett is much more than 10 fingers on the piano ,don't expect him to act like you and me and behave to fit your norms . I am pretty sure he doesnt give a shit about making a good impression or needs a "fresh beginnig" in Umbria he just needs you to shut up , try to enjoy the art being performed instead of trying to record it in your shitty smart phone ,and let the man become himself . The man is trying to feel comfortable so he can express himself, we are not the ones who should decide what he feels when he looks at the audience who holds a camera whether he sees a jazz enthusiast or a douchebag ...

  • Feb 09, 2014 at 03:20PM Dwisely

    I find myself in this odd position: There's really no artist whose work has meant more to me than Keith Jarrett. But, I would never volunteer to have a conversation with the man and I try hard not to pay attention to anything he says. As much as I love his work, I'm not sure I'd go see him live, unless the tickets were low priced and it was across the street. Otherwise, I think I'd be nervous during the whole thing, fearing he would be about to tantrum because one poor guy in the audience has a bad cold. I was slightly encouraged to watch the video of the ceremony of the award he received recently at the NEA. He seemed almost nice during his speech (these things are relative) and, to my shock, he stood, smiled, and applauded warmly when Bill Laswell and Jason Moran performed his "Memories of Tomorrow," with Laswell on ELECTRIC GUITAR. Anyway, I'd like to think he's become a nicer person in recent years.

  • May 06, 2014 at 02:07PM Nakedlunch

    The man is a genius but clearly troubled. There is no way you can stop people coughing - its a natural reflex and in a crowd of 4,000 people you are surely due at least 5 a minute! Regarding photographs, I agree that flashes should not be used during any performance but what on earth is wrong with photos being taken which don't use a flash or any sort of red light etc.? Further, what on earth is wrong with someone taking a photo, flash or no flash, between songs and during applause, or at the beginning or end of a concert? None of this would effect the concentration and performance of any artist. Those above who are defending his actions seem to be defending Keith purely because he is a great artist. Does that mean he can act a Moran at the same time?

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