Keith Jarrett’s “The Köln Concert” by Mike Monteiro

Keith Jarrett’s “The Köln Concert”

Here’s a brief recap of Keith Jarrett’s day on January 24, 1975: He drives six hours from Zurich, Switzerland, where he played a few days earlier, to Köln, Germany. He is suffering from jet lag and a bad back, for which he has to wear an uncomfortable back brace. He arrives in Köln during a pouring rainstorm.

Meanwhile, the Köln Opera House, where he is scheduled to not only perform, but have that performance recorded for this very album, has fucked up. They get the wrong grand piano. Not just the wrong grand piano, but a busted grand piano. It takes several hours of tuning and adjustments just to make the damn thing playable. Not performance-ready. Playable. It’s tinny and thin in the upper registers and weak in the bass register. Oh, and the pedals don’t work. They cannot get a new piano to the Opera House because of the storm.

This is the piano Keith Jarrett sits down to after an exhausting six hour drive. Through a storm. While wearing a back brace. He’s furious. His manager attempts to settle him down by taking him to dinner, but because of a fuck-up at the restaurant, they only get to eat a few mouthfuls before they have to run out for the concert.

Keith Jarrett, who is having a very bad day, runs back to the Opera House, sits down at the piano, exhausted, hungry, in pain, wearing a back brace, and improvises a performance on a very busted piano that ends up becoming the best-selling album in jazz history.

You go to work with the tools you have. There’s no new piano on the way. You make it work. The show doesn’t start because everything is perfect and you’re ready to go. The show starts because the start time is printed on the ticket. So take a look around at what you have, because that is what you have.

This is a perfect record.


Mike Monteiro

Keith Jarrett’s “The Köln Concert” from Instagram (August 24, 2020)
© 2020 Mike Monteiro

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives

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