Friday, April 01, 2016

Keith Jarrett Flips Out

Back in the days before flash mobs, it was a prank that high school students would play on teachers, especially oblivious substitute teachers: At a pre-determined time, everyone would drop their book on the floor or cough. If the teacher was cool, they might see the humor in it. If not, well.... maybe another bit of their psyche was chipped away in the process.

A few nights ago, pianist Keith Jarrett - he who reacts harshly to distractions even if they occur before the performance has even started, as the Umbria Jazz Festival found out the hard way - was on the receiving end of a trick by a dozen or so audience members. The results were not pretty.

The solo performance at New York City's Frick Fine Arts Building began ideally. In fact patrons said they could hear a pin drop, though no one, thankfully dropped any pins for fear of disrupting the pianist's flow of ideas. Jarrett began with a re-imagining of "Stranger on the Shore" which segued into swirling improvisation that didn't touch down for nearly 20 minutes. As the music continues, Jarrett seemed to be in an inspired mood. Then it started.

According to people in attendance, a patron in the back center section of the first level, blew his nose loudly. Worse, he apologized, presumably to the people around him. In the middle of a right hand glissando, Jarrett shot a cold glare into the darkened crowd. Then a serious of coughs, that almost seemed synchronized, came from each section, first center then stage left then stage right. By the time a handful of people accidentally-on-purpose dropped their concert programs booklets, Jarrett had more than enough.

"It was like something out of some old comedy movie," said concertgoer A.P. Rilfool. "He yelled something like, 'Ahhhhhhh' and ran offstage. It was like an Abbott and Costello moment." Confusion ensued, with audience members not sure if the show was over or if it simply hit a speed bump. Most people remained in their seats, though several went to the lobby to smoke.

A group of men, most of them wearing t-shirts bearing images of jazz icons like Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Richard Twardzik, stood in the corner of the lobby looking sanctimonious. They wouldn't admit they were responsible for the synchronized distractions. But in a voice that resembled the gentleman on The Simpsons who runs a comic book store (with the pony-tailed look to match), one of the patrons stoically said he hoped Mr. Jarrett might have learned a lesson in audience appreciation. (He displayed a vast knowledge of Jarrett's discography, as he spoke, equally only by his naivete on their ability to change Jarrett's mind in the matter of audience noise.)

The crew at Frick kept audience members hopeful by playing a rather scratched copy of Jarrett's Koln Concert on a turntable hooked up to the p.a. After a stern warning from the m.c., who sounded like he would pummel anyone who make an unwanted noise, Jarrett did return to play one more song: "You Go To My Head."

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