Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Melody At Night, And Me

Last night, at the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank, I had the great pleasure and privilege of hearing Keith Jarrett improvise for two hours on a very well-tempered piano, in front of an enthusiastic but suitably attentive audience.  In fact, Keith commented on how attentive we were, and how much that aided his improvisational flair, which made everyone purr and got a round of applause.  But, hey, I bet he says that to all his audiences... [simper... as the Beano used to put it in the days before emoticons].  Although I think what he really meant was that we didn't cough too much -- he is known to walk out of concerts over such distractions, as he did last year in Paris -- and he did get a bit testy about "cameras" at several points, by which he probably meant mobile phones, which is more than a little unwordly, not to say precious.  But then if I could play like that I'd be so freakin' precious you wouldn't believe it.

If you don't know who Keith Jarrett is, he is the man Geoff Dyer recently dubbed, a touch hyperbolically, "our greatest living musician" in the Guardian.  What do you mean, who is Geoff Dyer?  How did you get in here?  Anyway...  Jarrett may not quite fit that description, but he is so far beyond good at what he does, an improvisational high-wire act of breathtaking facility and inventiveness, that for the right audience on the right night it can approach a level of communion for which the only, inadequate word is "spiritual". Which, in a way, is his music's weak spot, as a constant pursuit of the sublime and the lost chord can, frankly, become a bit tedious.  Are we there yet?  What really lit up this audience was when he relaxed into a bit of bluesy boogie-woogie.  As one of my companions said, Jarrett has a driving left hand that could power the lights of London.

Actually, Jarrett could have played "Chopsticks" and got an ovation, once he'd really warmed up, and started to weave his pianistic magic.  And actually, thinking about it, he may have done, just for fun, in the middle there for a spell.  I'm pretty sure I also heard snatches of Gershwin, and Abba, and Bill Evans (lots of Bill Evans, actually), and Satie, and there was an extraordinary piece that used a Middle-Eastern modal scale that left even Jarrett drop-jawed with amazement...  "Where did that come from?" he wondered out loud.  Paris, perhaps, would be my suggestion.

Before the concert, I wandered up and down the gaily-lit South Bank for an hour or so doing my thing.  Despite the surprisingly chilly temperature and biting wind, the embankment walkways were crowded with people checking out the Christmas lights and the fairground rides and the fast-food stalls, and somehow this made the quieter, darker corners richer and more resonant.  As always, I am impressed by what you can get away with, hand-holding a Fuji X-M1 in such ludicrous lighting conditions.  It's one of those cameras that just wants to help -- set everything on auto, lean on a lampost, and pop away.  It was bloody cold, though, and I was glad in the end to meet up with some very old friends for a pre-concert meal and a drink -- party of ten -- where I could warm up, and then shuffle into the RFH auditorium for a truly memorable experience in what turned out to be some of the best seats in the house.*

* Thanks, Andy B.!


Huw said...


I've just returned from the Woking Symphony Orchestra playing Shostakovich's 5th, which was marvellous in its own way.

I particularly like the diptych of the red chair (with camera shy duck!) and merry-go-round. I thought I recognised the latter and found a picture I took at the opposite end of the day back in September.

One of the pleasant things about the South Bank is that picture taking is utterly accepted: there's no feeling of transgressive behaviour.


Mike C. said...


Ah, the duckness at the edge of town... (Bruce Springsteen).

Yes, that's the same merry-go-round -- must be a permanent pitch. What I love is the girls' selfie expressions (the thing was stationary at the time).


Huw said...


Yes, they are great expressions, and the red of the hoodie ties in with the red of the chair (presumably intentional). I did wonder if they were moving. No standing!