Dance: “The Koln Concert”. @ BAM
Everybody who knows jazz knows pianist Keith Jarrett. And everybody who knows Jarrett knows “The Koln Concert,” a performance he gave in Germany nearly 50 years ago. But not everybody knows the story behind the music. And it’s a doozy.
Apparently Jarrett was told beforehand that the only time he could perform was after the Cologne opera ended for the night—at 1130 pm. Arrangements had been made to have a Bosendorfer 290 imperial grand piano waiting for him on stage. But somebody got their signals crossed, and only a much smaller out-of-tune Bosendorfer was available. Oops.
When Jarrett arrived in Cologne after a long car trip from Zurich, he flipped out and nearly refused to play. But since the recording equipment had already been set up, he reluctantly agreed to perform.
And thus on January 25, 1975, “The Koln Concert” was born. It went on to earn sales of around 4 million. According to music critic Tom Hull, the album "cemented Jarrett’s reputation as the top pianist of his generation.” Everyone subsequently bought the LP back in the day, including me.
To this day, “The Koln Concert” remains the standard against which all other modern day jazz piano albums are judged. So imagine my disappointment when I saw Trajal Harrell’s trite, lifeless, Post-Modern choreographic treatment of “Koln” at BAM this week.
Harrell’s troupe of eight “dancers,” attired in cocktail dresses, sit on piano benches, rise periodically and wave their arms lethargically as they walk about the stage. Is this a performance, or are they walking a runway?
Your eyes do not deceive you. Harrell confided in an interview that he is influenced by voguing, introduced by Madonna some years earlier. “I developed runway language as a dance procedure into the history of dance.” Please parse that sentence.
Harrell went on to say he feels Jarrett’s piece is “his” music. Judging by last night’s performance, it’s not. What it is, is downright disrespectful.
Great music can make or break a dance piece. Conversely, a bad dance piece can kill great music. Guess which applies here.
Sad update: Keith Jarrett suffered a stroke in 2018 and currently is only able to play with his right hand. He deserved a better fate than that. So does “The Koln Concert.” Sorry/not sorry.
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