You may have heard of this story, or this musician, or this concert but in case you haven’t I think you’ll find it to be a fascinating account of the creative process and how one of the most influential and beloved albums in music history might not have happened.
The musician is Keith Jarret, and the event was the infamous 'Köln Concert’. Keith hadn’t slept in 24 hours and arrived at the concert exhausted. His mood wasn't helped by the fact that there had been a mistake with the piano. It was too small for the vast hall, some keys were stuck, and other keys were out of tune. Jarrett walked out, he was not going to perform on a piano with a tinny toy-like sound. The concert organizer, a mere 17 year old teenager, Vera had convinced the concert hall to allow this late night performance and had sold out all 1,400 seats. Vera was not going to take take no for an answer. She walked out to his car and convinced him to play. Vera’s plea along with taking a peek at the engineers sitting, with their equipment helped to change his mind.
Keith started thinking, "I'm going to do this”. “It just seemed like everybody in the audience was there for a tremendous experience, and that made my job easy. What happened with this piano was that I was forced to play in what was — at the time — a new way. Somehow I felt I had to bring out whatever qualities this instrument had.” recalled Keith. A sleep deprived Jarrett avoided the problematic notes, and pounded the keys with the energy necessary to fill the vast concert house. An improvised performance with no rehearsal, no sheet music, no sleep and a poor piano at an 11:30 pm concert sounds like a recipe for disaster. 45 years later, the the recording of 'The Köln Concert’ is still the best-selling solo album in jazz history, and the all-time best-selling piano album, with sales of more than 3.5 million. The album is one of those rare pieces of music that is not only beauty, art and truth, but a window into a pure and spontaneous moment of creation. How many unfulfilled moments of creation have we let slip through our fingers?
I share this story because it is one I come back to often during those moments when everything seems destined for failure, or when I just simply feel too tired to persevere. Next time your inner voice discourages you from creation, remember Keith’s initial resistance. Lack of sleep, lack of the proper tools or even just plain lack of inspiration, take your pick. It's okay if your first instinct is to quit when times get tough, it is even natural. All I ask is that you consider giving yourself a second chance. Rethink your circumstances. Perhaps the very challenge that you perceived as a red stop sign, was in fact the key to unlock a gift of unimagined potential to the world.