A few days ago I wrote about how Keith Jarrett’s improvised piano intros unfold in much the same way as Bach’s music does. (You can read that here.) Another, seldom-noticed influence on his intros comes from the world of jazz: Erroll Garner.
I’ve listened to both pianists a lot, but didn’t make the connection until recently.
We don’t hear much about Erroll Garner nowadays, but this great pianist was a household name from the late 1940s through the late 60s and into the 70s. He was in fact was one of the few jazz musicians who successfully made the transition to playing concert halls instead of nightclubs, along with Dave Brubeck. He was famous in much the same way that Harry Connick Jr. and Chris Botti are today.
To hear his influence on Jarrett, listen to the intro he plays on “I Hear A Rhapsody,” from 1944. Instead of merely setting up the tune as most jazz pianists would, he improvises what could be considered a 29-second fantasia. He freely moves in and out of key and develops whatever motifs he chooses. Many of his introductions could be developed into longer piano compositions, just like Jarrett’s could.
Jarrett has acknowledged the Garner influence, and in an interview has stated that at one time he enjoyed imitating Garner’s playing style. While he definitely has his own unique way of improvising introductions, it’s fun to see how Jarrett has been influenced by Garner’s penchant for playing extensive, fantasia-like intros. Here’s one of his best, recorded live at The Blue Note: The Days of Wine and Roses.
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