Since he’s one of the most popular artists in jazz, I don’t imagine many people need much introduction to Keith Jarrett. And although he’s also one of the most controversial, in part due to his onstage vocalizing and offstage opinions, I don’t think many people question his influence. Virtually every mainstream pianist since the 60s has borrowed heavily from Jarrett, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, or McCoy Tyner, and Jarrett’s early-70s efforts for the ECM label started a fashion for solo piano that has lasted out the century. Of Jarrett’s group projects, none has endured like this one, his “standards trio,” formed in the early 80s with limber bassist Gary Peacock and constantly surprising drummer Jack DeJohnette. Paradoxically, playing in this group gives Jarrett more freedom than playing alone: on solo pieces he often locks himself into a closed loop, with only his own inspiration to rely on, but here his romanticism can sail above the chords and rhythms outlined by his bandmates. More than his exquisite touch, bountiful voicings, and carefully channeled passion, Jarrett’s great (if rarely recognized) strength is his unlikely combination of two towering influences: Bill Evans and Ornette Coleman, who both played a vital role in blurring the lines that traditionally separated melody and rhythm in jazz. Jarrett’s lyricism stems from his love for Evans, but his sharply angled melodies have more in common with Coleman’s. The trio originally favored pop standards, but by the early 90s its repertoire had come to include plenty of jazz tunes as well, by Gillespie, Monk, Parker, and others. That mix of popular song and classic jazz characterizes Tokyo ’96 (ECM), released the summer of ’98–one of the last recordings Jarrett made before his long bout with chronic fatigue syndrome, which delayed this concert two and a half years. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Judith Jay Ross.