The Köln Concert

The Köln Concert is a live recording of solo piano improvisations performed by Keith Jarrett at the Opera House in Cologne on 24th January 1975. The double-vinyl album was released in the autumn of 1975 by ECM Records and went on to become the best-selling solo album in jazz history, and the all-time best-selling piano album with sales of more than 3.5 million. (Wikipedia)

The story behind the concert

Defying all advice, 17-year-old Vera Brandes organised the concert straight after the evening’s opera performance at 11:30pm. It sold out. 1400 tickets snapped up at just 4 DM each—just under £1.00 back in 1975.

Keith Jarrett had specifically requested a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial concert grand piano for his performance. However, what was on stage was a rehearsal baby grand Bösendorfer.  It was in bad condition, out of tune and the pedals stuck. Vera Brandes managed to locate a suitable replacement, but she was advised the risk of moving it in the cold and rain was too high.  She had no choice but to proceed with the rehearsal piano which, despite hours of tuning and adjustments, failed to meet performance standards.

Brandes had arranged for Jarrett to fly to Köln after his gig the previous night in Zurich. Instead, he cashed in the ticket opting to drive with Manfred Eicher, ECM Records’ producer, in Eicher’s old Renault. Jarrett had not slept well for several nights and it was a 350 mile drive. When they arrived, it was late afternoon, Jarrett was exhausted, suffering from severe back pain, wearing a brace for support and there was no time to eat.

After trying out the piano, Jarrett threatened to cancel the show. With Jarrett sitting in the car ready to leave, and only hours to go to the concert, somehow, the teenager persuaded him to stay. The rest is history!

At the very beginning of the recording the audience can be heard laughing as Jarrett echoes the notes of the bell at the Köln Opera House that signals the start of a performance. Jarrett doesn’t remember doing it consciously, but he believes this raised the mood in the auditorium elevating his performance.