Up for Anything
Pianist Keith Jarrett, double-bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Jack DeJohnette have been performing together for 20 years. Jarrett is recognized as the leader of this trio, which during those two decades have focused much of their collective energy on devising new ways to approach standards from a post-bop perspective. Ego is the root of most discussions of leading and following, but these performers easily prove that time makes ego a moot point.
The funny thing is that the time in question isn’t even the period they’ve spent together. Maybe it’s about their earlier years and the influential figure that helped to guide them along the way. Peacock began his music career as a pianist in the late 1950s before settling on the bass. He did a stint with pianist Bill Evans from 1962-1963. Briefly in 1964 and again in the late 1960’s, he found himself as a sideman with Miles Davis. DeJohnette, also a classically trained pianist, played with John Coltrane early on, but far more significantly accepted the opportunity to replace drummer Tony Williams and keep time with Davis from 1969 through 1972, a period which includes the landmark Bitches Brew recording. Jarrett was supplying organ and electric keyboard, largely in direct competition with Chick Corea, along with DeJohnette, although Jarrett broke free from Davis in 1971 and discontinued playing electric keyboards.
For Jarrett, the time with Davis could be seen as the signpost that turned him onto the long post-bop road. Peacock and DeJohnette have experimented more so with free jazz and fusion, but each man and their later exchanges bear the mark of Davis.
At Festival de Jazz d’Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, France on 16 July 2002, they marked their anniversary by recording Up for It. The set includes “My Funny Valentine”, a standard possibly best remembered from Davis’ 1964 concert at Lincoln Center’s Philharmonic Hall. “Standards are underestimated,” Jarrett explains, “because I don’t think people understand how hard it is to write melody.” Melody is the link for the listener, but also the point of departure for the improvisers, and it would take musicians schooled by Davis to play it so that the debt can be acknowledged, paid, and borrowed from again.
It comes back on “Someday My Prince Will Come”, another Davis staple. Jarrett establishes the familiar melodic line, which allows Peacock the opportunity to bounce free early, while DeJohnette’s stuttering rhythm swings the proceedings. Time and again, on this set, Peacock and DeJohnette find ways to offer their own unique comments on the themes without feeling restrained by a need to limit themselves to simple rhythmic chores. They are free to speak the notes without succumbing to the rote readings of uninspired actors onstage.
During an initial run through the performances on Up for It, the complexity of the interactions won’t freeze out the less-aware listener thanks in part to the songs themselves. Standards truly are aural memories that haven’t quite faded from our collective consciousness despite the rise of contemporary rock and pop. Besides “Autumn Leaves” and “If I Were a Bell”, which are part of their regular performance rotation, the trio add Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple from the Apple” and the Modern Jazz Quartet’s “Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West” and they conclude things with Jarrett’s own “Up for It”.
The nomadic path that jazz musicians take over the course of their careers requires a dedication to work and perfecting a craft that seems at odds with an industry, and a world, dominated by bottom line concerns. The best efforts redefine history and culture. It’s this commitment to musicianship that has earned Jarrett the Polar Music Prize for 2003, an award from the Royal Swedish Music Academy, which is considered the musical equivalent of the Nobel Prize. There’s no doubt that Jarrett, Peacock, and DeJohnette will continue to uplift both the music and our spirits for years to come. And those who listen will thank them for the memories.