When the announcer at Zellerbach proclaims that the evening's concert is being recorded, so "please try to refrain from laughter," the audience explodes with mirth.
For we are at a solo performance by the legendary Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, who is well known for his pricklyness onstage, especially when he is confronted with flash cameras. Introduced to the piano at age three, Jarrett swiftly emerged as a virtuoso, first playing with veteran jazz drummer Art Blakey in 1975, then coming to increasing acclaim and then fame following a lengthy gig with Miles Davis, where he compromised by playing electric piano.
He made a landmark career decision when he teamed up with the German art-jazz label ECM. The year 1972 saw the release of The Koln Concert. Initially pooh poohed by some critics, it went on to sell some four million copies.
Another astute move was to team up with bassist Gary Peacock and legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette to release a series of albums and CDs which put them on the charts and launched them on a series of tours. And Jarrett has also recorded a fleet of classical CDs, which has brought him to the attention of another type of audience.
To date, Jarrett has released more than 75 albums and CDs. He did have to slow down the pace for some years while afflicted with chronic fatigue syndrome between 1996 and 1998, but he has come back with a roar since then.
Never known for his modesty, this evening, in addition to coming out for innumerable stage bows, he seems comparatively chatty. Unfortunately, except for one occasion when he comes over to the mike, his comments, which largely appear to relate to humorous asides about his aversion to photography, are inaudible unless you are sitting in the first few rows.
Jarrett brings a theatricality to his piano playing, partially stomping as though he were a necromancer, conjuring out sounds from the 88 keys. From time to time he exhales, as though he is a conjurer or riding a huge worm on the planet Dune. Hunkering over the keys meditatively, he taps out crescendos of notes. Shaking his head with acute attention, he also periodically enunciates groans.
Although some of the improvised compositions are longer, many are around four or five minutes; he bows after each, in the tradition of the true diva appearing before his acolytes.
For number after number, he builds a sonic wall of sound — steaming volcanoes, twisting staircases, thundering clouds, all rising above a multicolored and multihued plain.
At last, he is done. Tumultuous applause brings the encore, a version of "Summertime," and, then considering what to play, comes up with another short improvisation before leaving us with the reassurance that he loves us.
Another memorable evening; we can't wait to hear that CD and, happily and fortuitously, nobody coughed — which should expedite things for the recording engineer.