The left hand’s final frontier

Far-out jazz chat is all well and good, Keith, but tell us about the divorce

Jazz on 3's extended interview with Keith Jarrett (20 July) began with the 64-year-old improvisational pianist describing a childhood helplessly wandering the malls of Pennsylvania looking for any jazz records that the store-owners might have got in by mistake.

It was a terrain of dust: for years Jarrett was forced to think of André Previn as hip. "And then," says Keith, "I took a bus to Chicago and my mum was, Bye . . ."

Which was all quite sweet and nostalgic and got you thinking pleasantly about Kerouac and the materialism in "square" society and Thelonious Monk walking past a clothing store on South Main in LA, and stoner college creeps with their Tindersticks records and how great it would have been if Elvis had joined the Doors and, well, you know, got you thinking about the past, man, and rock'n'roll and jazz or whatever you want to call it because it's the same shit anyway.

But then Keith keeps on talking, and the interviewer, Ethan Iverson, is totally in awe so doesn't interject too much, and things start to go weird. "It's kinda spatial," explains Keith. "Theoretically, a piece of music could go on for the rest of my life. If I didn't have to take breaks. If I wasn't human." Followed by a ten-minute period wherein your reviewer was admittedly mucho hazy on who was being discussed ("Reg was there, and he was, like, you wanna play and I was, yeah, who do you have on drums, and he was, like, Peter and I'm like, OK, meaning OK, knowing that Peter was one of the guys and his time concept was unusual") or why ("I never wanna say: 'Let's do it with sticks'").

At which point Keith removed the lid from a pot of yoghurt or the gluey strip from a large envelope, and sighed. "It's all post-many things. You get a divorce. Your house burns down. You get chronic fatigue syndrome . . ." Tell us more about the divorce, Keith! Kick my Hello!-reading ass round the rumpus room! “Tonality is a choice. It's like . . . cellular construction. A friend had to go out for a glass of water . . ."
OK, so who's this "friend" with the water?
“The left hand is the final frontier. It's step one - it's step four or five - it's step 1(a), let's just call it that . . ."

Yes, let's.

“You've gotta go through this whole thing. You don't expect to be confronted with a new reality which is basically 1(a) in the sense of it being a conscious thing. So what you do is you create a cell,
and you expand it and it becomes not a personality but a biofeedback mechanism, per microsecond . . ."

By the way - what the hell is going on in The Archers (Radio 4, 2pm and 7pm, Mondays-Fridays until death)? It appears to be currently directed by Francis Ford Coppola circa The Conversation, sometimes featuring up to five wiretapped-sounding exchanges per scene being had in different parts of the room, simultaneously, really fucking with my ears.

When Mike and Vicky got married the other day, for instance, we had Clarrie complaining about the bride in the foreground, while Vicky said her vows, Roy muttered his support, and Brenda read Sonnet 116 in time-lapse. I felt quite freaked.

Pick of the week

Womad Festival 2009
From 25 July, Radio 3
The annual world music festival takes over the long-running progs World Routes and Late Junction.

Caribbean Voices
29 July, 8pm, World Service
Looking at the iconic 1950s World Service show that fostered V S Naipaul, George Lamming, Sam Selvon and Andrew Salkey.

Reality Check
29 July, 8pm, Radio 4
Debating whether we now have too many universities.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 July 2009 issue of the New Statesman, On tour with the far right