Keith Jarrett: La Scala

COMPOSERS: Keith Jarrett
PERFORMER: Keith Jarrett (p)
CATALOGUE NO: 537 268-2


With this totally improvised solo piano concert, on 13 February 1995, Keith Jarrett yet again made musical history. It happened at Italy’s famous opera house, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, which was presenting its first ever concert by a jazz musician.

Jarrett not only rose to the unique occasion, but perhaps even excelled his many other recordings in this extremely challenging genre which he initiated and defined in the early Seventies. His aim in these wholly improvised concerts is to empty his mind of everything in order to follow his musical ideas as they reveal themselves, spontaneously creating rhythms, harmonies, melodies, textures and colours.

The Milan concert is in two parts, ‘La Scala Part I’ and ‘La Scala Part II’. They could not be more different, yet each has its own imperative logic. ‘La Scala Part I’ is just over 44 minutes long and yet seems to grow organically all the way, deeply considered, poetic, without rhetoric or any florid technical displays.

It begins prayerfully with sonorous rubato chords and slowly evolves through a long Eastern-flavoured episode, to a jubilant gospel finale and a quiet, hymn-like conclusion. Jarrett’s courage to wait and let the music find its own length is remarkable, as is his dramatic use of silence and space at key moments, and this is echoed by the audience who are silent for several seconds before applauding and shouting out wildly.


‘La Scala Part II’ is, in contrast, a riotous tour de force. Jarrett is a superlative free jazz (abstract) improviser, and here plays with astonishing speed and brilliant clarity of thought and execution, his ebullience expressing itself in virtuoso lines played by either hand, big bass rhythmic punctuations, huge cascades of sound, superb light and shade, ebb and flow. As an encore he plays an exquisite version of the Harold Arlen song ‘Over the Rainbow’. Audience reaction and critical reviews were ecstatic. IC