Pianist Keith Jarrett, one of the most important figures in jazz of the last 50 years, has been curiously invisible since his last performance in February 2017 at New York’s Carnegie Hall. He has now revealed the reason for his silence in a New York Times interview with Nate Chinen: Jarrett suffered two strokes in 2018 that have likely permanently derailed his ability to perform in public.
Jarrett, 75, told Chinen that since being afflicted by the strokes in February and May of 2018, he is partially paralyzed on his left side. The second stroke resulted in a 10-month stay in a nursing facility. Jarrett has since relearned to walk with a cane but has only occasionally attempted to play the piano; in a recent attempt, he discovered that he had forgotten some staple tunes of the bebop repertoire.
“I can only play with my right hand, and it’s not convincing me anymore,” Jarrett told Chinen. “I don’t know what my future is supposed to be, [but] I don’t feel right now like I’m a pianist.”
Chinen also conducted the most recent JazzTimes interview with Jarrett, in 2017. At that time, the pianist discussed a late-1990s struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome that had nearly destroyed his career. “I just found myself too tired to do anything I normally do. I thought I was dying,” he said. “I didn’t know if I’d play again.” In that case, Jarrett recovered sufficiently to launch a renaissance in 1999.
Jarrett’s newest release, the forthcoming Budapest Concert, documents a solo performance from his 2016 European tour. It will be released October 30 on ECM Records.