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The Madness of Keith Jarrett

Will he be remembered more for his arrogance than his art?

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

Pianist Keith Jarrett played the Umbria Jazz festival in 2007 and perpetrated if not the ugliest, then certainly the most famous public meltdown in jazz history. When he walked onstage and saw people in the crowd taking photos, he went to the microphone and cursed not only the “assholes with cameras” but also the “goddamn city” of Perugia. His rant was (of course) captured on video, and went viral on YouTube. Carlo Pagnotta, Umbria’s founder and artistic director, said Jarrett would never be welcome at the festival again.

Pagnotta changed his mind. For Umbria’s 40th anniversary in July, he booked Jarrett’s trio with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. On July 7, Pagnotta appeared on the stage of Arena Santa Giuliana and passionately pleaded with 4,000 people not to take photographs, and also asked them to greet the trio with a standing ovation of welcome. The musicians came out. The crowd stood and applauded. The trio left immediately. Apparently, Jarrett had spotted people using cameras. (In my original report for JazzTimes.com, I said that I saw no flashes. Others in the audience have since come forward to say they did see people using flashes.) Stephen Cloud, Jarrett’s manager, came to the microphone. In English, he repeated the plea for no photography because it is “distracting to the artists.”

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