ReviewsThis new biography of one of the world’s great musicians turns out to be sadly timely. Jarrett announced in October that damage from two strokes has almost certainly ended his performing career. Ian Carr’s Keith Jarrett: The Man and His Music came out as long ago as 1992. Wolfgang Sandner came to know Jarrett through Manfred Eicher, the founder of ECM, and has visited Jarrett’s home in New Jersey.
Sandner is an erudite music critic and a long-time fan of a musician who, for all his talent, divides opinion. The enforced distance from his subject has probably made this a better book (Carr slipped into special pleading). A good deal of family information is supplied by the pianist’s youngest brother, Chris Jarrett, who also translated it from the original German (Rowohlt, 2015).
Sandner is a trustworthy guide who takes the story right up to this year’s belated release of The Budapest Concert from 2016 and the rumours of ill health. He is in no doubt that Jarrett is a genius – and even if you think ECM has released too many albums and detect bouts of hubris and note-spinning – he makes a strong case.
London Jazz News
Given his impact on jazz and solo improvisation this past half century, relatively few are the books on Keith Jarrett. This is surprising, considering all the critical acclaim, the phenomenal influence he has had on countless musicians, his colossal commercial success and the headline-grabbing outbursts. Perhaps so few biographers have attempted to tackle Jarrett out of fear of failure to do his artistry justice. Wolfgang Sandner, whose Jarrett biography was first published in German in 2015, shows no such timidity in grappling with the complex musical and personal traits that have made Jarrett, the musician, surprisingly difficult to pigeonhole, and Jarrett, the person, difficult to fathom. By curious happenstance, this updated English language version was translated by Chris Jarrett, the youngest of Keith Jarrett's four brothers, who has long resided in Germany. Translation is something of an art in itself, and Chris Jarrett's precision and deft feel for phraseology bear the hallmarks of one successful in his own right as a pianist and composer. His fine translation contributes hugely to the flow and lyricism in Sandner's pen.
All About Jazz
This is a musical biography to enjoy and think about, to read and then be returned to the records informed with new insight. As befits its reticent subject, it is not a personal biography of the pianist, although the necessary details are here, but what it does so well is to explain why Keith Jarrett is so important, and why his two strokes – the news of which came just after this book went to the press, although the post-2018 silence is noted with concern – have probably ended the career of a musical genius. If that proves to be the case, this is the biography that will help us make sense of his remarkable legacy.
Sandner's book is a very thoughtful piece of work, a very valuable successor to Ian Carr's biography -- perhaps more philosophical, and also less of a hagiography
I have to say I very much like Sandner’s writing style. As a biographer it’s refreshing that he doesn’t pull any punches, being unafraid to tell it like it is. As a result, this biography benefits from his objectivity. ... It’s not necessarily the obvious facts that make a great biography, it’s the little surprises, the anecdotes, the meat on the bone that adds to the storytelling. Sandner is especially adept at this, although it’s impossible to know just how much of the detail is from the pen of the author, and how much from the input of Jarrett’s younger brother Chris. Either way, it’s a good combination that actually makes this book a bit of a page-turner, unusual in itself for a biography.
For Jarrett fans, Sandner’s book is essential reading. It adds a different perspective and offers valuable insights in a thoughtful, often illuminating way.
In this major biography of pianist Keith Jarrett, Wolfgang Sandner not only classifies Jarrett's recordings within the history of jazz, music and culture, but he tempts us to listen in a new and deeper way, and he enables us to understand the music beyond the boundaries of emotional listening.
Wolfram Knauer, Director, Jazz Institute, Darmstadt
Reviews of the German edition:
Wolfgang Sandner has brilliantly disproved the notion that writing about music is as impossible as dancing architecture.
Sandner is exactly the right person for this meticulous and pioneering task. His perceptions are as wise and well-informed as they are enthusuastic and unerring.
One is inclined to describe Sandner as this pianist's verbal alter ego. Like Jarrett, the cosmopolitan Sandner digs deeply into the material, displays virtuosity in comparisons taken from the spheres of art and cultural history, and can get as much caught up into hymnic Gospel fury with his meticulous characterizations as the great man does at the piano.
Wolfgang Sandner's book, however, is quite different. Naturally, it touches upon the most important matters in life, but, above this, the writng is musical in the poetic sense. It seems as if the language of this book has been adapted to match the pianist's own style.