Today in 1975, one of the best selling jazz albums of all time was recorded, a live concert in Cologne, Germany by pianist Keith Jarrett.
It was a hit with critics, it was a hit with jazz lovers, it was even a hit with people who normally didn’t like jazz.
And it almost didn’t happen at all.
Keith Jarrett started playing piano at age three, and performed in some big halls as a kid.
He’d had classical training, he’d studied at Berklee College of Music, he’d played with big names like Miles Davis and Art Blakey.
Then, he started releasing his own music, much of it improvised.
That was the game plan for his concert in Cologne: he’d go onstage without a game plan and trust in his ability and his imagination.
But nothing happening around that stage seemed to be going right.
The concert’s promoter was a 17 year old, Vera Brandes, who somehow convinced the Cologne Opera House to put on the show and provide for a specific grand piano for Jarrett to play.
But that wasn’t the piano that was delivered, and one that was on hand had a tinny sound on the high keys, a very weak sound on the low notes.
It needed to be tuned and some of the keys didn’t hardly work at all.
Also, Jarrett said he hadn’t slept in 24 hours by the time of the show, because he’d been traveling.
And he was hungry: Brandes had arranged to take Jarrett out to dinner, but somehow the restaurant served him so late that he could only eat a few bites before he had to get to the show.
A few times Jarrett thought about calling the whole thing off, but since sound engineers had already set up the recording equipment, he decided why not just do it.
And he did.
The music Jarrett created that night was extraordinary.
He said later, “somehow I felt I had to bring out whatever qualities this instrument had.”
To do that, he avoided those weak parts of the piano on the ends, and instead played the middle keys.
He created sometimes ambient textures, sometimes virtuoso techniques, sometimes hypnotic rhythmic sections almost like drone loops.
The audience was riveted, and so were record buyers.
The double album of the concert, called simply The Köln Concert, sold millions of copies and won Keith Jarrett plenty of attention.
But a big hit like that can sometimes be a burden for a restless performer.
He didn’t want his music or his audience to, as he put it, “become addicted to the past.”
So if you haven’t heard the album, check it out, appreciate it, even marvel at it – but don’t stop there.
We all know that if you can build something, you can build a version of that something in LEGO.
Craig Ward has been using LEGO to build fonts.
His Instagram account Brik Font showcases some of the biggest and best typefaces in LEGO form.
I don’t see LEGO Comic Sans or Wingdings – yet.
Keith Jarrett: The Cologne Concert (BBC For One Night Only)