Pianist Keith Jarrett is now well-known over the world as a musician of supreme talent and creativity. Back in 1966 he was playing in drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (alongside trumpeter Chuck Mangione, incidentally) and was just being recognized as a force to be reckoned with in straight-ahead jazz, although he was playing “inside” the piano (on the strings), even at that time. This conservative position did not last for long. Within a few months Jarrett joined saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s quartet. Lloyd was a transitional musician who came from a jazz background but who was developing an audience among the “hippies.” Recording for Atlantic Records (a well-distributed label), Lloyd produced albums with titles such as Dream Weaver, Love-In, and Journey Within that had sleeves with psychedelic colors and designs. By 1967, he and his band traded their suits and ties for beads and the like – quite a contrast to the more straightlaced jazz contingent of the time. That band also included Jack DeJohnette on drums and Cecil McBee on bass (replaced by Ron McClure toward the end of 1966).
The Lloyd quartet played important gigs in Europe during the spring and summer of 1966 and then were booked into major jazz festivals in America like Newport and Monterey. In California, they were the first jazz group to play at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West and the rock audience responded positively. In the spring and summer of 1967, Lloyd again toured Europe, this time hitting the Soviet Union, England, Scandinavia, and other locations. It would seem that this would have been when Keith Emerson might have first become aware of Lloyd, and more importantly, Jarrett.
The July 13, 1968 Melody Maker issue included an article on The Nice, and Emerson is quoted as saying, “I am also tremendously interested in what Keith Jarrett is doing – he’s the pianist with Charles Lloyd. If Bach were alive today, he’d be playing like Keith Jarrett. His style uses a contrapuntal technique, playing different melodies with each hand, which is a facet of Bach. If you listen to early Dave Brubeck records he was on the same scene as well.”
In a “Life-Lines” feature on The Nice, Emerson listed Keith Jarrett as one of his two favorite instrumentalists (alongside early organ-tampering influence Don Shinn). Brian Davison and Davy O’List both mentioned Charles Lloyd, and Lee Jackson listed Charles Lloyd drummer Jack DeJohnette. Obviously, the music of Lloyd and Jarrett was of significance to The Nice.
Ron McClure recalled this about the London concerts, “We travelled the world, we were shopping with all these ridiculous clothes…and in the 1960s in London we went down Carnaby Street and bought all these yellow capes. We’d come out and play these concerts. It was really dramatic! It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in my life in terms of that!…The Beatles came to our concerts! – the Albert Hall in London.”
With that kind of media attention coming from the “pop” side of things, it seems logical that Emerson would have known about Lloyd’s quartet, maybe even attending the London shows. He certainly had heard the Charles Lloyd records – The Nice recorded Lloyd’s “Sombrero Sam” from the Dream Weaver album at a BBC session first transmitted on October 22, 1967 (released on CD in 1996 mistitled as “Sombrero King” with composer “unknown”). According to Emerson researcher Paolo Rigoli, The Nice also performed Jarrett’s “Sorcery” (originally on the Charles Lloyd album Forest Flower).
First recorded by Bob Dylan in 1964, “My Back Pages” was a popular enough composition. The Byrds’ version, released March 13, 1967 hit #30 in the U.S. It seemed natural that a band like The Nice who had recorded “She Belongs To Me” and “Country Pie” would give another Dylan title the Nice treatment. However, it is more than just coincidence that this track was recorded on October 31, 1968 by Keith Jarrett for his Atlantic/Vortex album Somewhere Before and an edited version of this track was released as a single (Vortex 45-303). Jarrett’s rendition is in the same key as the Nice version and many of the same stylistic elements are present. The slower section at approx. 5:50 of the Nice recording seems most closely related.
Although Henry Cowell specifically directed the pianist to play the strings of the piano with the fingers as early as “Aeolian Harp” in 1923, it may have been Keith Jarrett’s frequent and oft-noted show-stopping use of this technique which inspired Keith Emerson to include passages “inside” the piano in the live version of “Hang On To A Dream”. Examples of Jarrett’s playing “inside” the piano can be heard on Charles Lloyd’s “Forest Flower” recorded at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival. An edited version of this was released as a single (Atlantic 45-5078). Another example can be found in “Love No. 3” a solo performance by Jarrett recorded at a January 27, 1967 Lloyd show at the Fillmore West and released on Love In.
There are even elements in Charles Lloyd’s recordings that are reminiscent of the distortion and chaos produced by The Nice at live shows – the bass solo accompanied by percussion at the conclusion of “Lonesome Child: Dance” from the Fillmore and the collective improvisation halfway into “Sorcery” from the Forest Flower album can be heard in this context. It is most instructive to approach some of the more extended instrumental improvisations by The Nice as a sort of electric version of the Charles Lloyd Quartet. Certainly there are other antecedents (Hendrix, to name but one huge one) but this particular connection seems to have been overlooked. Jazz, most specifically Lloyd and Jarrett, contributes heavily to the unique sound of The Nice. A great deal of this was lost when Emerson moved on to Emerson Lake & Palmer, where the classical, rock, and acoustic ballad elements became more predominant.
Like Keith Emerson, Keith Jarrett is a musical eclectic. He has written for and recorded with symphony orchestras, he has recorded his own interpretations of Bach, Handel, and Shostakovich. He has improvised on baroque pipe organs, played ragtime piano, and has also produced albums that consist of only his overdubbed performances on multiple instruments. Although he played electric instruments with Miles Davis he has since “recanted” and he became an international celebrity with his completely improvised solo acoustic piano concerts in the 1970s. A bout with chronic fatigue syndrome has cut down on his performing but he does occasionally make appearances with his trio (which includes old Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis bandmate Jack DeJohnette and bassist Gary Peacock) and his latest solo piano CD was released in November 1999.
Carr, Ian, Keith Jarrett: The Man and His Music, New York, Da Capo Press, 1992.
Pareles, Jon & Patricia Romanowksi, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, New York, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.
Welch, Chris, “1968 – The Year of The Nice”, London, Melody Maker, July 13, 1968 (p. 9).
The above article and the “Life-Lines of The Nice” reproduced in the liner notes to The Immediate Years CD IMM BOX 2.
Byrds Discography at http://ebni.com/byrds/refdiscogbyrds.html
Keith Emerson Musical Quotes and Cover Versions at http://www.brain-salad.com/emerson/quote-list.txt
Keith Jarrett Discography at http://www.geocities.com/BourbonStreet/2903/jarrett.html
Piano Timeline at http://www.futurenet.co.uk/classicalnet/instruments/piano/dates.html
All of Charles Lloyd’s Atlantic albums have been issued on CD (in the U.S., at least) –
- Dream Weaver/Love In (twofer) on 32 Jazz 32117 [titled Just Before Sunrise]
- Forest Flower/Soundtrack (twofer) on Rhino/Atlantic R2 71746
- Journey Within/In Europe (twofer) on Collectibles 6236
- Soundtrack/In The Soviet Union (twofer) on Collectibles 6237
- The Flowering of the Original Quartet (twofer with a Warne Marsh album) on Collectibles 6285
Keith Jarrett’s Somewhere Before has been issued as Atlantic CD 8808-2