Keith Jarrett’s Trio, 1967-1972

The seeds to the topic of this article were sown back in 1959. Keith Jarrett was just entering high school that year and not yet part of the story. 1959 was a watershed year for jazz, with some of the genre’s classic albums including Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come all released that year. That last album plays a role in the story, which unfolds with a recollection by drummer Paul Motian: “I met Charlie when I was playing with Bill Evans at the Vanguard, and Scott LaFaro said to me, ‘You know, there’s a really great bass player playing over at the Five Spot with Ornette Coleman. I want to introduce you. I want you to meet him. Come on over.’ So I went over and Scott introduced me to Charlie. That had to be ’59.” Enter Charlie Haden the story.

Paul Motian

Paul Motian and Charlie Haden were playing at the time with two of the best jazz combos in town: Paul Motian played drums with The Bill Evans Trio and Charlie Haden was bass player with Ornette Coleman’s quartet. That quartet was all the rage that year when it visited New York City for the first time, with an engagement at The Five Spot Café. Their story is told in another article on this blog.

Charlie Haden

Fast forward to the mid-1960s, and a young Keith Jarrett, fresh from a one-year stint at Berklee College of Music, is paying his dues at free jam sessions in New York clubs. The competition is fierce, but one night at the Dom Club he gets 5 minutes at the piano and catches the ears of clarinetist Tony Scott, who invites Jarrett to play with him. Scott also knew Paul Motian back from when the drummer and Bill Evans backed him up on various gigs in the late 1950s. Motian continues the story: “Tony Scott calls and says, ‘I’ve got this gig for you, man,’ and I said, ‘No, it’s my night off,’ and he said, ‘No, come on, you’ve got to do this gig.’ So I went and did the gig, and when I walked in the club Keith Jarrett was playing piano. I said, ‘Man, who’s that? Cat sounds great!’ He said, ‘Oh, that’s Keith Jarrett; I discovered him.’”

Keith Jarrett

In 1966 Keith Jarrett joined the Charles Lloyd quartet, a fantastic band that also included bass player Cecil McBee and drummer Jack DeJohnette. The band toured the European continent extensively for the next three years and released a number of albums. They were managed by famed jazz producer George Avakian, the man who brought Miles Davis into Columbia Records a decade earlier. Avakian was impressed by the talent of the band’s young pianist and became his personal manager. In 1967 Jarrett had the opportunity to record his first album as a leader for Vortex, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records. He decided on a trio format and considered who should fill the bass and drums roles. For the bass position his first thought was Steve Swallow, who played upright bass at the time and was a sideman on excellent records by Jimmy Guiffre, George Russell, Paul Bley, Pete La Roca and Art Farmer. But it was not to be, as Keith Jarrett remembers: “Steve was busy with Gary Burton, and he had a lot of gigs, and he couldn’t be available.”

Charles Lloyd Quartet, 1966

Looking elsewhere, Jarrett went no farther than one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 1960s, Ornette Coleman. His music left an impression on Keith Jarrett, who cited piano-less jazz combos as a major influence on him in his early career. Steve Swallow unavailable, he turned to Coleman’s bass player: “So the next guy that I tried out was Charlie, and I thought ‘Whoa. Okay. This is what I need. Why didn’t I think of this before?’” Charlie Haden played with Coleman on the albums that brought his quartet to the attention of the jazz community in 1959 and 1960: The Shape of Jazz to Come, Change of the Century and This Is Our Music. He was a perfect choice, and later said of the first time he played with Jarrett: “It was an instant intuitive feeling, like we had done it before. He was the first pianist I had played with who left the chord structure on certain songs and played free.”

Charlie Haden with Ornette Coleman’s Quartet

Another influence on Jarrett was the lyrical playing of Bill Evans and the recordings of his classic trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. However, for the drummer’s seat Jarrett was looking for someone who plays in a less restrictive rhythmic environment, less tamed. At one point he listened to a recording of pianist Lowell Davidson and liked the freedom in which the drummer was expressing himself. He was surprised to find that this was none other than Paul Motian. He wasted no time asking the gifted drummer to play on his album. Years later he added: “I knew he had been the drummer for Bill Evans and all I’d heard of him was very tasty and very musical but rather stiff playing, I thought. Later, I found out it was because he was asked to play that way.” And thus Keith Jarrett’s trio was born.

The first album by Keith Jarrett’s trio with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian was Life Between the Exit Signs, recorded on May 4, 1967, just before Jarrett was to fly to the Soviet Union for a series of unique concerts with the Charles Lloyd Quartet. In the liner notes for the album Jarrett wrote: “I have been asked to say something about the music in this album. I would like very much to do so. However, if there were words to express it, there would be no need for the music.”

A fine example for this very early artifact of his solo career is Everything I Love, a piece that amazingly sounds so much in the style of his much later trio with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette and could easily be mistaken for a recording done 20 or 30 years later. Keith Jarrett was 20 years old when he recorded that album.

In an interview by Chuck Braman in 1996 Paul Motian was asked about the album after listening to that track. He said: “I haven’t heard this in a long time, man. It sounds very, very good. Boy, Charlie’s not playin’ no 4/4 either, is he? It’s almost like I’m hearing something for the first time, it’s not me! You know what I mean?”

Following the recording of the album, Jarrett was busy touring constantly with Charles Lloyd. The band was a very successful jazz unit for its time, crossing over to rock fans after performing at venues such as the Fillmore West. When Jack DeJohnnette left the group at the beginning of 1968, Paul Motian replaced him in live gigs until the band broke up a year later. This gave him and Keith Jarrett another avenue for playing together.

Keith Jarrett had one more opportunity to record with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian in August of 1968. During a break in a west coast tour with Charles Lloyd, the trio had a 2-night engagement at Shelly’s Manne-Hole in Hollywood, California. By this time jazz musicians were picking up on the popularity of rock music and integrating it with their music. The experience that Jarrett had performing at venues such as the Fillmore East and West with Charles Lloyd was profound, and found its way to the music he played with the trio. At Shelly’s Manne-Hole they played a loose cover of Bob Dylan’s fantastic song My Back Pages. Paul Motian on being influenced by popular music: “In those days I think I owned about ten albums by Bob Dylan, and the Beatles and all that. I listened to all that shit, man, that shit was strong. That influenced Keith, it influenced all of us, especially Keith, and the music he was writing too. So we were getting into other areas. We’d never play semi-rock and roll kinds of things with Bill Evans, never. But with Keith that was the times, you know? We’re talking about the very late sixties and the early seventies.”

The trio got some visibility when it performed in April of 1969 at the famed Village Vanguard club in New York, alternating sets with the Herbie Hancock Sextet. These were the last days of the Charles Lloyd group, and by the summer of that year that group was no more. Keith Jarrett embarked on a European tour in the autumn if 1969, but the tour was ran on such a tight budget that Charlie Haden and Paul Motian declined the invitation and Jarrett travelled with a different trio, including August “Gus” Nemeth on bass and Bob Ventrello on drums. Footage from Lugano, Switzerland in October 1968 survives and demonstrates great playing with that lineup.

On November 3rd 1969 the trio performed in Paris, and who should be in attendance but members of the Miles Davis lost quintet? Jarrett had the opportunity to jam with Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland, and impressed Miles enough to trigger an invitation the following year to join his electric band. Jack DeJohnette had this to say about Jarrett and his piano playing: “The one thing that struck me about Keith, was that he really had a love affair with the piano, it’s a relationship with that instrument. Keith’s hands are actually quite small but because of that he can do things that other pianists cannot do. It enables him to overlap certain chord sequences and do rhythmic things and contrapuntal lines and get these effects of four people playing the piano.”

Paul Motian replaced Bob Ventrello for the rest of the trio European concerts, and another Bob Dylan tune, Lay Lady Lay, was added to the repertoire.

Keith Jarrett

The trio took a long break due to Keith Jarrett’s joining Miles Davis in May of 1970. Jarrett stayed with Miles Davis for about a year and a half, contributing his talents to sessions that later appeared on the complete Jack Johnson recordings, and the albums Miles at the Fillmore and Live-Evil. The hectic schedule of live performances kept him busy to the end of 1971, at which point he left that legendary band.

Still, in July of 1971, immediately after performing with Miles Davis at the Newport Jazz Festival, Jarrett was able to squeeze in 4 sessions with the trio plus sax player Dewey Redman. These recordings have a historical significance, as they represent the first time that the future Keith Jarrett American Quartet recorded together. The sessions yielded three albums, the last that Jarrett would release on Atlantic Records.

The first of these albums featured the trio with tracks recorded across three of these dates, July 8, 9, 16 of 1971 and an additional trio-only date a month later. It included a cover of Joni Mitchell’s song All I Want from her album Blue, released only a few weeks before these recordings were made. We also start to see new instruments popping up at recording sessions, including steel drums, congas, recorder and soprano sax. These great enhancements to the sound palette of the group will only increase in future recordings. The highlight of the album is its title track, The Mourning of a Star, an excellent showcase for all three musicians, with Jarrett vocalizing as he gets inspired by his own playing. Haden provides an insistent groove and Motian plays tribal rhythms.

Two more albums were released with tracks from these sessions, this time as a quartet featuring tenor sax player Dewey Redman, a regular in Ornette Coleman’s group between 1968 and 1972. Jarrett remembers well the first time he met Redman: “I heard Ornette with Dewey, in the mud, in a festival in Belgium, I think. It was just like walking in quicksand, and then I had to go to the dressing room and play after them. And I came offstage after I played and I had heard Dewey play for the first time, and he had heard me play for the first time. We walked past each other in the dressing room and we both said, ‘Hey man, I wanna work with you sometime.’”

Keith Jarrett’s American Quartet

On the album Birth we can hear Jarrett and Redman playing multiple instruments. The pianist adds soprano saxophone, recorder, banjo and steel drums to his arsenal, and the sax player is not far behind with Chinese musette, bells and percussion. The album includes the track Piece for Ornette, very much styled after the piano-less Ornette Coleman quartet of which Charlie Haden was part of. Jarrett is playing the soprano sax, an instrument he favored in the early 1970s and sadly stopped playing later in his career.

Another track, Mortgage on My Soul (Wah-Wah), features the same instrumentation. The key ingredient here is Charlie Haden, who is playing his upright bass through a wah-wah pedal. The opening of the piece sounds like a Jimi Hendrix tune. This is the work of an eclectic band that is soaking up all sonic influences around it.

The third and last album featuring tracks from the July 1971 sessions is El Juicio (The Judgement), released four years later in 1975. By then the band was releasing albums with the Impulse label, and Atlantic decided to get their money worth from those sessions in July 1971.

The album opener, Gypsy Moth, is a classic Keith Jarrett composition, with a catchy vamp that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Ramsey Lewis recording. But the quartet stretches it beyond comfortable boundaries and gives it a unique spin. Excellent solos here by all band members.

The quartet’s first live performance had to wait a while due to Keith Jarrett’s busy schedule with Miles Davis to the end of 1971. In February 1972 they were booked for several nights at Slug’s Saloon in East Village, New York. Attendance was low, maybe due to the fact that three nights earlier Lee Morgan was shot and killed in the club by his wife.

The early 1970s were difficult for jazz artists. Your chances of success were either in the emerging jazz/rock scene or the lighter side with labels such as CTI. George Avakian remembers: “The first recording at Atlantic sold quite well but it was hard to get US bookings for really good money because the market just wasn’t there. So Atlantic dropped the contract.”

Keith Jarrett did not stay without a recording contract for long, as an opportunity opened up with Columbia Records, the label of his then-employer, Miles Davis. And to boot they settled on a double album, with an expanded lineup that included the trio members with Dewey Redman, plus Airto Moreira (then also with Miles Davis) on percussion and Sam Brown on guitar. Recording sessions took place in April of 1972, yielding the fantastic album Expectations with a wide range of compositions and performances. A fine example is the energetic track Sundance, of which the liner notes say: “It’s on Sundance the infectious joy of Jarrett’s music is really focused. It is a fantastic showpiece for Jarrett’s ferocious rhythmic instincts, as he guides the band through a bumptious Afro-Cuban groove into a shamanistic dance right out of Ornette’s book.”

The album was well received by critics and won the French Grand Prix du Disque in 1972. An article in the Norwegian paper Arbeiderbladet wrote this about Jarrett: “Try to visualize a young man who has the technique of a great concert pianist, the modern composer’s knowledge of possible and impossible effects, and the great jazzman’s richness of ideas and his mastery of everything he does. All this – and much more – is Keith Jarrett.”

Yet good reviews were not enough for the suits at Columbia. Sensing that money can be made with electrified jazz, they opted to drop Keith Jarrett in favor of Herbie Hancock. Good move for the suits, for Hancock will deliver them the album Headhunters a year later, one of the most successful albums in the history of jazz. But this was also a blessing for Keith Jarrett, as late in 1971 he made is first contact with Manfred Eicher of the then-fledgling ECM label, resulting with the piano solo album Facing You. That started a well-documented and very productive relationship between Jarrett and the label through many decades.

Keith Jarrett’s Trio, 1972

After the recording of Expectations, Keith Jarrett’s trio went on a short European tour in June of 1972. Their performance in Hamburg on June 14 was captured on film and released many years later by ECM Records on the album Hamburg ‘72. This is a great opportunity to watch and hear the trio from that period, a crossroad in Keith Jarrett’s career. He was just beginning his piano solo performance career in parallel to his work with bands. This was one of the last performances of the trio, although certainly not the last time that Jarrett will share the stage and recording studio with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian.


For farther reading, visit Ethan Iverson’s excellent blog DO THE M@TH, where he posted a great interview with Keith Jarrett: https://ethaniverson.com/interviews/interview-with-keith-jarrett/

Continue reading the history of Keith Jarrett’s ensembles here:


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