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Keith Jarrett’s Dark Night in Perugia

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

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

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.

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.”

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