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April 3, 2012

Keith Jarrett and Elizabeth's blue vein


I noticed her as I walked across the BART platform, waiting for a train to take me over to Berkeley to see Keith Jarrett perform his first solo improv show at Zellerbach in thirty years. Everyone noticed her. One couldn't help it- the girl, in her early 20s, with the straight, strawberry-blonde hair, blunt bangs, orange-sherbet-colored lace bustier worn as a blouse and a foam-green H&M-looking jacquard bolero jacket over it. The jacket, like the inexpensive and unflattering jeans she wore, didn't draw any attention from her breasts, which the bustier-as-blouse displayed as if they were extremely rare, exotic, honey-colored melons plucked from some fantastic Eden and placed upon the girl's chest by none other than Satan himself.

Not from around here, I thought, wondering if the girl appreciated the attention she was getting from both sexes, or if she found it annoying. She feigned obliviousness to the allure of the breasts quite well, as if there was a thought balloon over her head  which read What? These? Yes, aren't they nice?

I went over to sit down on an empty spot on a bench, opened up my book, and having ten minutes until the train arrived, read the same sentence about thirty times, all the while noticing people notice the breasts. While I was sitting there trying to read Understanding Toscanini, I was listening to Blue Oyster Cult's Secret Treaties album on my phone. "Career of Evil" came on, and I think I sang along with the line "I'd like... to do it to your daughter in a dirt road..." out loud without really thinking about what the small, elderly Asian woman seated next to me must have thought. She got up a moment later and wandered off.

The train arrived and the breasts were already on board when I stepped into the train, sitting on the seat next to the opposite door, illuminated by the harsh florescent lights of the train- lights that make 98% of the population look like cadavers, but only served to draw attention to a gorgeous blue vein that lay just beneath the stage-left breast, which I'll call Elizabeth. I found myself momentarily mesmerized at the sight of Elizabeth's blue vein- a glorious imperfection which made Elizabeth and her veinless twin all the more perfect in my eyes. So perfect in fact, I sat facing the other way, next to a heavy-set Latino man and across from a guy who looked like Refrigerator Perry who was talking on a cell phone. I went back to trying to understand Toscanini, but my attention was drawn to these two guys, who were obviously marveling at Elizabeth and her sister.

I felt somewhat sad- not only for these two pathetic guys, but also for the bearer of the objects of their desire. I'm judgemental that way. Elizabeth and her sister deserve better from everyone involved. I wish I had a picture of that vein. I'd put it on the wall of my bathroom.

At the Downtown Berkeley stop I got off, and so did the Blonde, who went in a different direction, followed like the Pied Piper by an assortment of admirers. I bet she's thinking about me at this very moment. Life is like that- sliding doors and all that kind of thing.

Zellerbach was packed with Jarrett's fans, a vast portion of which seemed willing to applaud anything he played as if it were the most brilliant music ever performed. And some of it came pretty damn close to that, but not all of it. It took him awhile to find the perfect groove, beginning with a Bach-infused mid-tempo workout which he slowed down to a ballad, with snippets that sounded like  "Someone to Watch Over Me" escaping at moments.

Jarrett paused, turned to the audience and said, "Sometimes subject matter gets in the way," before returning to the ballad, which increasingly took on bop elements, with Jarrett starting to rise from his seat and do his thing, moving into Brubeck territory as he increased the tempo.

He began the next part by slapping out a rhythm on top of the piano, setting a beat, which he sat down on followed on the keys, and here is where the set took off into the rarefied musical expressiveness the audience had come to hear, creating an increasingly dramatic yet melodic web of intricate flourishes drawn with his right hand while the left chugged along in an almost barrelhouse meditation. It soared into a beautiful ballad.

The next part began with a riff that sounded like "All Blues" and I realized the futility of trying to figure out where he was going as I couldn't quite believe that there was something like "Sweet Home Chicago" coming from the man's hands. At that point I just decided to roll along with him and see where it went.

Intermission was followed by an incredibly Romantic-era bit of classical playing that was stunning as much as for its beauty as for Jarrett's virtuosity and I had this crazy thought float into my mind that if a remake of The Seven Year Itch were made, with Jarrett cast in the Tom Ewell role, this is what he would play in the scene where Ewell imagines himself successfully seducing Marilyn Monroe by playing Rachmaninoff. And it would have worked.

After that, he drew a blank on what to play next- as if he had just peaked and he knew it. What followed in the remainder of the set never reached the same heights, but he came close during what proved to be five encores when he acquiesced to numerous shouts from the audience for "Over the Rainbow" and gave the crowd what it wanted and then some. It was gorgeous. Perfectly paced, he played it with a delicate, thoughtful beauty I can't describe in any other way. "Summertime" and "I'm Through with Love" were two of the other encores, and the former would have been more memorable had Jarrett not "sung" along with it. But that's what the man does, and all in all, it was worth it to watch a true master willing to wing it.

The ride back to the City was uneventful, and I managed to understand more Toscanini without Elizabethan interruptions. The concert was presented by Cal Performances




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