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Film 'Crash' Explores Racial Divisions

Film critic David Edelstein reviews Crash, a new film by writer-director Paul Haggis. The movie's ensemble cast includes Brendan Fraser, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton and hip-hop artist Ludacris.

06:22

Other segments from the episode on May 6, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 6, 2005: Interview with Martin Short; Review of the film "Crash;"Interview with Keith Jarrett; Obituary for Col. David H. Hackworth.

Transcript

DATE May 6, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Martin Short discusses his TV series "Primetime Glick"
DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.

The Martin Short character Jiminy Glick lampooned celebrity interviews on the
Comedy Central series "Primetime Glick." Now Glick is starring in a new movie,
"Jiminy Glick in La La Wood." Grotesquely overweight and intellectually
shallow, Jiminy Glick interviews real celebrities who endure his irreverent
and often irrelevant questions. One of the celebrities he interviews in the
film is Kurt Russell.

(Soundbite of "Jiminy Glick in La La Wood")

Mr. MARTIN SHORT: (As Jiminy Glick) Tell me about Elvis Presley.

Mr. KURT RUSSELL: Elvis...

Mr. SHORT: I love Elvis! Tell me about him.

Mr. RUSSELL: I was 10 years old, I guess, and he was coming down onto the set
in his car and...

Mr. SHORT: Oh, that's wonderful. And then you end up playing Elvis.

Mr. RUSSELL: Yes.

Mr. SHORT: How does that feel? It's like a full journey, I suppose.

Mr. RUSSELL: I--yeah, it was. It was...

Mr. SHORT: I mean, I'm just theorizing here. I don't know if I'm right in
this theory, but it seems like if you meet someone, then you do them...

Mr. RUSSELL: I didn't meet him and do him. I mean, you know...

Mr. SHORT: I mean--but I mean that if you meet him and then...

Mr. RUSSELL: Yeah, and then play him.

Mr. SHORT: ...and play him...

Mr. RUSSELL: Yeah.

Mr. SHORT: Did you have any instinct then that his daughter might end up
marrying Michael Jackson?

Mr. RUSSELL: I--you know, I was a 10-year-old kid. I had no--I wasn't
looking into the future or...

Mr. SHORT: Nic Cage?

Mr. RUSSELL: That she would marry Nic Cage? No, that--I gotta be honest with
you...

DAVIES: Martin Short got his start doing sketch comedy on "SCTV" and
"Saturday Night Live," where he created the characters Ed Grimley, Jackie
Rogers Jr. and the songwriter Irving Cohen. His cable show "Primetime Glick"
last aired on Comedy Central in 2003. Here's a typical interview from the
series. Martin Short, as Jiminy, asks actor Brendan Fraser about his first
movie role.

(Soundbite of "Primetime Glick")

Mr. SHORT: (As Glick) Now let me ask you this. Your first film was "Encino
Man."

Mr. BRENDAN FRASER: Yes.

Mr. SHORT: Oh, I loved that. You played Link.

Mr. FRASER: I did, yeah.

Mr. SHORT: (Laughs) Then you played a Jew. You played a Jewish man.

Mr. FRASER: Yes, I did.

Mr. SHORT: And that was risky, to play a Jew in Hollywood in the '90s. What
went through your head, taking that kind of risk?

Mr. FRASER: Well, I made sure that it was a film that had meaning...

Mr. SHORT: But why a Jew?

Mr. FRASER: Well, it--the character was actually just a kid. He was a
football player and he just wanted to belong. And he was willing to do
anything to be a part of a group, even to deny who he was fundamentally as a
person.

Mr. SHORT: That's wrong. That's wrong. You should embrace whoever you are.

Mr. FRASER: Well, that was the point of...

Mr. SHORT: If you're athletic, be happy you're athletic. If you're maudlin,
be happy that you're maudlin. If you are Episcopalian--hide that fact.

DAVIES: Terry spoke to Martin Short in 2002.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Are your interviews on "Primetime Glick" scripted? When you have on real
celebrities and you're playing this satire of a celebrity interviewer, do the
real celebrities know what you're going to ask in advance, and have they
already had a chance to think through how they're going to respond?

Mr. SHORT: No. None of it is planned and none of it's scripted. No one
knows what I'm going to say, and I don't know what I'm going to say. I have
pages in front of me that have facts about the celebrity. And often, I won't
even look at it until the last second because Jiminy wouldn't look at it till
the last second.

GROSS: Right. And you have a way of choosing the most unimportant movie that
an actor's made to zero in on. Why is it so important for Jiminy Glick to
always be in touch with celebrities?

Mr. SHORT: I don't know. I think that Jiminy is someone who thrives on this
shallow world of celebrity. When I started the show, and then it went on the
air and then I would read some response to it--only the positive, of
course--that would claim, you know, great declarations of intent, you know,
`The ultimate satire of a form of a blankety-blank,' and I would just say,
`Absolutely.' But it's not always true. Sometimes you set out by just saying
that this character, if you've met him in life, whether he was a teacher or
whether he was a politician or whether he was a celebrity interviewer would
make you laugh because of his strange, sincere take on the world and how wrong
it is.

GROSS: Now one of Jiminy Glick's trademarks is that he's very self-absorbed.
So when he is interviewing a celebrity, he is also talking about himself a lot
and talking about his adventures with other celebrities and...

Mr. SHORT: Right.

GROSS: ...his wife and his past. Have you met a lot of interviewers like
that where it seems to be more about them than it is about you?

Mr. SHORT: I was interviewed once for a show and the--I'm not going to say
who it was because he's kind of known and you--it seems to me--but he would
end up talking about himself to a degree that in my mind I was thinking, `It's
been about four minutes since I've spoken.' And it was an interview, not
unlike this, where it was just, you know, supposed to be an interview with me.

GROSS: So what does that bring out in you?

Mr. SHORT: You know what I do? Truthfully, it brings out no reaction other
than laughter, whether I can laugh then or laugh later.

GROSS: Now one of the things that the Jiminy Glick show does is break for
commercials, as most broadcast shows do. But these are all satirical
commercials. I thought maybe we could break for one of your commercials from
"Primetime Glick," and this is a commercial for the Independent Film Channel.

(Soundbite of "Primetime Glick")

Unidentified Announcer: This Monday on the Independent Movie Channel's best
of the fest, Robin Herker's(ph) "Explaining Carlo,"(ph) the explosive story of
two young heroin addicts who drive cross-country and strike up a relationship
with two Texas lesbians.

Then on Tuesday, two different lesbians on their way to LA strike up a
relationship with a heroin-addicted ex-security guard from Texas in Kiera
Sandoval's(ph) controversial "The Wisdom of Sarah Finkelman."(ph)

Then on Wednesday, two ex-lesbians are drawn back into their former lifestyle
when they pick up three heroin-addicted hitchhikers...

GROSS: That's one of the very funny satirical commercials from Martin Short's
show "Primetime Glick." Do you write any of those commercials yourself?

Mr. SHORT: Yes.

GROSS: Good. They're very funny.

Mr. SHORT: Yeah. Well, I mean, I work with two brilliant guys. One is
Michael Short and one is Paul Flaherty. And the three of us create the show
together.

GROSS: Is Michael Short a relation?

Mr. SHORT: Yes, he's a brother.

GROSS: Aha. And is...

Mr. SHORT: My big brother Mike.

GROSS: Is Paul Flaherty related to...

Mr. SHORT: Joe Flaherty's brother.

GROSS: Joe Flaherty, yeah.

Mr. SHORT: Yep.

GROSS: Oh, wow. All right. All in the family.

Mr. SHORT: They're all, actually--well, obviously, I grew up with Michael,
but I met Paul on "SCTV," which Michael also wrote.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Hmm. Now I know you did imaginary TV shows when you were a
kid. Were any of them interview shows where you got to interview the guests?

Mr. SHORT: Absolutely, yeah. Well, they were variety, variety-interview,
you know. I'd come out, sing a few numbers. I had, you know, a huge
orchestra. And then I would sit down. I would get, you know, Playboy
magazine and I would, you know, read the interview with, I don't know, Norman
Lear, and I'd do both voices. So I'd do a hard-hitting interview in the midst
of, you know, doing a medley of songs that weren't nominated or something.

GROSS: So when you were young and you were watching all these TV shows and
doing your imaginary show, did you have any training? Did your mother say,
`Send this boy to acting school,' or `Give him singing lessons; develop that
talent'?

Mr. SHORT: No, no, no. My mother was the concert mistress of the symphony.
She was the first female concertmaster, actually. So I grew up with, at times
during the season, five hours of practice heard within the house on the
violin. So the idea of rehearsal and opening night was not foreign. But no.
I think that growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, you don't
instinctively--you know, Broadway isn't down the street. So it all seems not
terribly realistic. I took piano lessons, but--and I never stated I was going
to be an actor. Again, it wasn't a realistic declaration. And I was always
drawn toward, I guess, reality in that respect.

So it wasn't until I was in university and having been through this at the
university, realized that there was actually an acting scene in Toronto,
Ontario, which is 40 miles away, and that it was not inconceivable to take a
year off school and try it.

GROSS: Did your mother measure talent according to more classical standards,
of, you know, rigorous studies and a more legit kind of singing voice than you
probably had? You had a more pop voice.

Mr. SHORT: No. You know what? It was very interesting. She was always
very encouraging. In fact, I have--when I was 15, Frank Sinatra had released
an album called "September of My Years", and I re-recorded that. I typed up
all the lyrics, and I had an attic bedroom and the hallway to the bedroom kind
of had an echo to it. So I set up my chair--I had a microphone, a
reel-to-reel, and I would play the introductions from the Sinatra album, but
it would be--and, of course, Frank was, you know, 53 and I was 14. But the
introductions would be in his key, so it would be (singing) `Do-do-do-do-do,
mmm-do-do-do-do-do-do-do, mmm--do-do-do-do,' and you'd hear `click,' (singing)
`Strangers in the night.' I was in Frank's keys.

But I would do the album, and it would take me about a week, you know, and I'd
make up an album cover. And then my mother, I remember, listened to it and
critiqued it, because she used to adjudicate at certain, you now, violin
contests and things in her life, and so she wrote a synopsis of--I mean, a
critique of each song, `In this, the pitch was very good,' `lovely old song,'
`well-phrased at the end,' `hold the note too long here,' and rated them on
a--four stars, three stars, three and a half stars. So I still have that.

GROSS: Was that helpful?

Mr. SHORT: It was helpful. I think it was mainly helpful because someone
was taking my fantasy world very seriously, and treating it with credibility
and respect. You know, Frank Sinatra once said that his father was always
around to piss on his dreams, and I think it's very important for parents to
constantly nurture and support eclectic interests of their children, because
you never know which one is going to develop, become the fuel that, you know,
drives their life.

GROSS: Getting back to "Primetime Glick," Jiminy Glick has a sidekick and
band leader, whose name is Adrean Van Vorhese,(ph) a great name I have to say,
and he plays harp. Michael McKean plays the character. Can you talk about
coming up with this character?

Mr. SHORT: Well, I certainly didn't come up with the character. Michael did.
But we kind of wrote it in a direction. It was--you kind of find that the
more things you do with characters the more you come up with it. We'd be
writing something and Michael would come in and Michael said, `You know, I
want to play him like he's older, but he wears a lot of makeup to hide it.'
So that becomes part of the character. `Is he married?' we discussed. `Yeah,
he's married four times, no children,' Michael said one day. So that becomes
part of the character.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SHORT: Does he like Jiminy? He doesn't dislike Jiminy, but it's a job.
So if Jiminy insults him or cuts him off, he goes, `Very good; no problem,'
because it's a job.

In one of the episodes, his first wife, who's around 85, is on. It's one of
those scenarios where you assume that he's married his first wife was 25 years
older. She's a horn player, and he just loses it. And there's a tape of
Buddy Rich, a pirated tape of Buddy Rich screaming at the band on a bus, once
his band. And so we made that Adrean Von Vorhese. So we come back from
commercial and he's just berating--(As Adrean) Clams! You've hitting nothing
but clams! (in normal voice), you know. And so that's a new side of Adrean,
the side of Adrean losing it. So that's what makes that stuff fun, is you
keep saying what if--`OK, what if Adrean, you know, was in a bad mood this
show, or what if Adrean gets hurt?'

I interviewed Michael last year, Michael McKean, as Adrean, and the idea was
that Russell Crowe hadn't shown up, and now we had to interview Adrean Van
Vorhese. And at one point--again it's all improvised--I asked him something
about--I made some comment about the fact that he wasn't terribly educated,
that--Was that ever a limitation as a musician? And Michael's face completely
changed, and he started to tear up, real tears. And for--there was a split
second that even I as Jiminy thought, `Wait a second. Have I mentioned
something that's actually gotten Michael upset here?' I mean, it was so real.
And he then proceeded to let me know, as Adrean Van Vorhese, that this was a
very hurtful subject for him, and I could be hurtful sometimes and
insensitive, and that he was always--you know, it was a sore spot for him, his
lack of education. And it was an amazing exercise to watch, even after all
these years of doing--of improvising, to see someone that into it and to make
it that real.

GROSS: So how did your character, Jiminy Glick, react when...

Mr. SHORT: He became very--I--you know, (as Jiminy), `Oh, my God, Adrean,
I'm--I so didn't mean that.' (In normal voice) I mean, he became a little bit
attentive to the possibility that he'd gone too far. You know, Jiminy Glick
has no intention of hurting anyone. And when people get upset when he's--when
they walk off or they storm out--(As Jiminy) What have I done? Someone
explain to me what I have done. (In normal voice) He doesn't know.

GROSS: Well, Martin Short, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. SHORT: My pleasure.

DAVIES: Actor Martin Short speaking with Terry Gross in 2002. Short's new
movie is "Jiminy Glick in La La Wood."

Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new movie, "Crash."

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New film "Crash"
DAVE DAVIES, host:

The writer and director Paul Haggis made his mark nearly a decade ago on a
critically acclaimed and very short-lived crimeland TV series called "EZ
Streets," and his "Million Dollar Baby" screenplay was nominated for an Oscar.
His new feature film, "Crash," features a large cast and a story of colliding
cars and racial conflict. Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN:

`Between the conception and the creation falls the shadow,' wrote T.S. Eliot,
and I know he wasn't writing about movies, but there are two this week where
the conception is worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize and the creation is--well,
there's no getting around it--lousy. "Kingdom of Heaven" is an epic about
Christian crusaders who also happen to be liberal humanists, willing to die in
the name of religious tolerance. That's just weird. But "Crash," that in
conception has potential.

The movie is an ensemble drama set in LA, and, in the style of Paul Thomas
Anderson's "Magnolia," characters rudely collide with other characters in
multiple and crisscrossing plots. The theme is racism. Let me say that again.
The theme is racism. I could say it 500 more times because that's how many
times the movie says it in every scene. The director and co-writer, Paul
Haggis, wrote "Million Dollar Baby" and he thinks like a pugilist. He softens
you up with a series of blows to the head and then he pummels your gut, then
he hammers you a few inches lower. He's so relentless that you have to laugh.
But you're also transfixed. Because the actors are going full throttle and
the movie makes a show of its own momentousness.

In the opening, the camera prowls the site of a car crash, and a homicide
detective, played by Don Cheadle, narrates. `What's missing in LA,' he says,
`is the sense of touch. Everyone is always behind metal and glass.' Then he
says, `We crash just so we can feel something.' I know it's a metaphor but it
still made me groan. Then Cheadle gazes at the quaintly blurry lights of LA,
and Mark Isham's synthesized keyboards get all shimmery. You know you're
about to see a lot of lonely, angry, vulnerable people lashing out at a lot of
other lonely, angry, vulnerable people. After the overture, Haggis cuts to
the hip-hop guy Ludacris and Larenz Tate, two young black guys strolling down
an affluent white city block. Ludacris holds forth on the outrageous racist
fear that white people have of black men. Then he pulls out a gun and
carjacks a fancy SUV belonging to Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock.

Fraser plays the callowly ambitious LA DA. Bullock is the wife who--at home,
she's horrified by a Spanish locksmith played by Michael Pena.

(Soundbite of "Crash")

Ms. SANDRA BULLOCK: (As Jean) I want the locks changed again in the morning.

Mr. BRENDAN FRASER: (As Rick) You want--Look, why don't you just go lie down,
huh? Have you check on James?

Ms. BULLOCK: (As Jean) Well, of course I've checked on James. I've checked
on him every five minutes since we've been home. Do not patronize me.

Mr. FRASER: (As Rick) I'm not.

Ms. BULLOCK: (As Jean) I want the locks changed again in the morning.

Mr. FRASER: (As Rick) Sshh, it's OK. Just go to bed. ...(Unintelligible).

Ms. BULLOCK: (As Jean) You know what? Didn't I just ask you not to treat me
like a child?

Ms. YOMI PERRY: (As Maria) I'm sorry, Miss Jean. It's OK I go home now?

Mr. FRASER: (As Rick) It's fine; thank you very much for staying, Maria.

Ms. PERRY: (As Maria) You're welcome. No problem. Good night, Miss Jean.

Ms. BULLOCK: (As Jean) Good night.

Mr. FRASER: (As Rick) We'll see you tomorrow.

Ms. BULLOCK: (As Jean) I would like the locks changed again in the morning.
And you know what? You might mention that we'd appreciate if next time they
didn't send a gang member?

Mr. FRASER: (As Rick) A gang member?

Ms. BULLOCK: (As Jean) Yes. Yes.

Mr. FRASER: (As Rick) What? You mean that kid in there?

Ms. BULLOCK: (As Jean) Yes, the guy in there with the shaved head, the pants
around his ass...

Mr. FRASER: (As Rick) Oh, come on.

Ms. BULLOCK: (As Jean) ...the prison tattoo.

Mr. FRASER: (As Rick) Those are not prison tattoos.

Ms. BULLOCK: (As Jean) Oh, really? And he's not going to go sell our key to
one of his gangbanger friends the moment he is out our door?

Mr. FRASER: (As Rick) Look, we've had a really tough night. I think it would
be best if you just went upstairs right now...

Ms. BULLOCK: (As Jean) And what? Wait for them to break in? I just had a
gun pointed in my face.

Mr. FRASER: (As Rick) You lower your voice.

Ms. BULLOCK: (As Jean) And it was may fault because I knew it was gonna
happen. But if a white person sees two black men walking towards her and she
turns and walks in the other direction, she's a racist. Right? Well, I got
scared and I didn't say anything. And 10 seconds later, I had a gun in my
face. Now I am telling you, your amigo in there is gonna sell our key to one
of his homies and this time it would be really (censored) great if you acted
like you actually gave a (censored).

EDELSTEIN: The irony is that Bullock is picking on "Crash's" one saint, a guy
who only wants to protect his adorable little daughter. Everyone else is
warped by fear and rage. Matt Dillon plays a cop whose old dad is sick and in
pain. But a black woman insurance supervisor named Shaniqua won't OK a
specialist. Dillon hates what he calls `affirmative action hires.' So he
stops a wealthy black couple, Terrence Howard and Thandie Newton, and sexually
molests the woman while his partner, played by Ryan Phillippe, looks on in
horror. Later, Dillon and Newton will be reunited under different
circumstances, and we'll see that Dillon can be brave and selfless, and
Phillippe will come to the aid of Howard, and then do something horrible to
another black man. "Crash" says that when you scratch a vicious racist, you
get a caring human. But when you push a caring human, you can get a vicious
racist.

The complex dramatic architecture and the admiral message that we must
transcend our boundaries can't disguise the tidiness of that formulation.
Haggis wants to distill all the resentment among racists and all the hypocrisy
into one fierce parable, but he's too much a creature of 1930s socially
conscious melodrama. His shopworn dramaturgy makes this portrait of how we
live now seem ludicrous, and I don't mean the hip-hop guy. A universe in
which we're all racist puppets is finally just as simple-minded and
predictable as one in which we're all smiling multicolored zombies under the
rainbow. It's hard to be elevated when you're feeling so talked down to.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.

I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Music from the new solo improvised CD by Keith Jarrett. Coming up,
we feature an interview with Jarrett who celebrates his 60th birthday this
Sunday. And we remember Army Colonel David Hackworth, one of the military's
most highly decorated officers and a combat legend in Vietnam. He died
Wednesday at the age of 74.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Pianist Keith Jarrett discusses his new music, as
well as his recent illness
DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.

One of the most famous pianists in jazz, Keith Jarrett, a musician acclaimed
for his emotionally intense and physically energetic, improvised solo piano
performances, has had to keep his playing to a minimum. Jarrett has had
chronic fatigue syndrome since 1996, but he's significantly recovered from his
most debilitating period of CFS, in part through a careful regimen of diet,
exercise and rest. Jarrett has just released "Radiance," a CD of his concert
performances in Japan recorded in 2002. His performances marked his return to
the demanding format of extended improvised solo piano.

(Soundbite of "Radiance")

DAVIES: All of the music in this concert was improvised, with nothing
preconceived before Jarrett sat down to play. In his liner notes, he wrote,
`I wanted my hands, especially the left hand, to tell me things. This is part
of the process I've wanted to experiment with. The listener has to bear with
me here. The whole thing is risky, but I've taken you places before, and I'm
not aiming to disappoint.' Jarrett grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and
was a piano prodigy from childhood. Terry spoke with him in 2000.

TERRY GROSS, host:

You started taking piano lessons when you were three, which I think is
uncommonly early. Why did your parents get you a teacher at such a young age?

Mr. KEITH JARRETT (Jazz Pianist): Well, they discovered I had a perfect
pitch. So...

GROSS: How'd they discover that?

Mr. JARRETT: Well, there was an old, converted player piano. It was just in
the house, and I think no one really played it at all. And I ended up sitting
at the piano, picking out melodies that were coming out of the radio. And I
guess they figured it out; that something was going on here, you know. This
should--`Either get him away from that instrument or get him a teacher.'

GROSS: A lot of people barely have any memories from the time that they were
three years old. Do you have many memories of those very early piano lessons?

Mr. JARRETT: Not really. I remember the gate at the top of my piano
teacher's stairway so that, I guess, the little kids she taught wouldn't fall
down the stairs. It's like--I think I remember that the piano was to the left
of the top of the stairs, but I don't remember anything else.

GROSS: And you don't remember what you were first taught to play?

Mr. JARRETT: Not really, no.

GROSS: Do you remember what you were praised or criticized for by that first
teacher?

Mr. JARRETT: Nope. No, I don't. I really don't. I don't remember--I'm sure
it was a woman, and that's about all I know. I do remember, however, a few
years later when I got my second--I believe it was my second--teacher, who
was, of course, a more serious piano teacher. At the point I was at, I guess
it was a given that there was something happening here. And they had to try
to find someone who took me further.

And I don't know how old I was, but I do know that I hated this guy. And I do
know that now, I believe, he probably gave me the most of any teacher in such
a short time. And he did not let me use the pedal. He gave me only Bartok.
And I was just a little kid. I mean, Bartok was not particularly pleasant
music for a little kid to be learning. And I played the violin at the time--I
started to play the violin, and I really liked that, too. And one day he
said--and I guess he had a--I think he was German, and he had an accent. He
said, `You must choose.' And I said, `What?' He said, `You must choose which
instrument you play.' And I said, `Oh, you have to be kidding. I like them
both.' `Well, you have great talent, but you have to put this talent in one
instrument.'

And I went home, and I was really upset, and I didn't know what to do, and he
wasn't going to teach me, you know. So I eventually chose the piano, I guess
partially based on the fact that I'd played it a little longer. But he was
right about all the things he taught me. I mean, there's such a--the pedal is
something you can really overuse to the point of covering up what you're
unable to do. He just discipline me in an important way.

GROSS: As you got a little bit older, in your preteen and teen years, did
playing piano earn you the admiration or the mockery of friends? Friends can
sometimes really mock you for being very serious about something.

Mr. JARRETT: Yeah. I was a normal kid by the time I was in junior high and
high school, which were public schools. I just was a normal kid. I mean, I
didn't want to practice. I went out and wanted to play basketball. If my
grandmother wasn't in the kitchen, I'd move the timer forward that was
supposed to go off when I was able to stop practicing, that kind of thing.
And she was--she probably knew I was doing it, but she was so kindhearted that
she didn't--you know, she had never...

GROSS: Whose idea was the timer?

Mr. JARRETT: Probably my mother's because she wasn't home, and so my
grandmother was keeping this two-and-a-half-hour practice schedule, or
whatever it was I had at the time.

GROSS: Did you resent having to practice that much?

Mr. JARRETT: Well, I did, and then I would say something--or I might say
something about it, and my parents would say, `Well, you know, we don't have
that much money. We'll sell the piano.' And I would immediately give up my
position because I loved it. I loved doing that. So, I mean, I knew that
playing piano was important to me.

GROSS: You know, I think a lot of musicians who started off as prodigies go
through a period where they're really confused about whether they're staying
in music because they love music or whether they're staying in music because
it's what they've always done and it's what people have always expected them
to do and it's what adults almost required them to do.

Mr. JARRETT: Yeah.

GROSS: And some former prodigies go through a period of rebelling against
music and against the discipline that's been enforced all their lives. Did
you go through a period like that ever?

Mr. JARRETT: No. Nope. No, I think I had a calling, and I think I knew that
from the time I have any memories, you know. No, I didn't go through that. I
just would have rather been out playing basketball, you know. I thought, `I
could get this practicing in some other time.'

GROSS: Your parents divorced when you were 11. Did that interfere with your
ability to focus on music?

Mr. JARRETT: I think it made me more ferociously focused on music. One
phenomenal thing about being a musician and, in particular, I guess, playing
an instrument that doesn't need other instruments to play with, like a piano
or a guitar, is that you can change any mental state or emotional state you're
in into music. And it's a transformative thing. And, I mean, I learned
that--I guess I learned that a very, very young age. If I was angry, I'd go
play the piano, and I might not play angry music. But everything is energy,
and you can change the direction those arrows are pointing. It's just that
you have to use the energy somehow. And when I sometimes talk to my sons, who
are both musicians and want to be, you know, in music, that's about the best
thing I can say about music; that it's for the player, you know. It's a way
of knowing where you're at and what you're feeling.

DAVIES: Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, speaking with Terry Gross in 2000. He
has a new solo recording called "Radiance." We'll hear more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview with Keith Jarrett. When they
left off, they were talking about his childhood when he was a classical
prodigy. Terry asked him how he realized he wanted to play jazz.

Mr. JARRETT: Well, when I heard jazz in Allentown in my early teens,
probably 12, 13, and I heard--so let's see, I think I heard Andre Previn
because, you know, Allentown was not a center of jazz culture. I think the
Woolworth's that I got these records from probably made--the buyer made a
mistake and bought a couple jazz albums they didn't intend to, and he lucked
out. And, actually, they were mostly people like Andre Previn.

And then I heard Oscar Peterson, then I heard, oh, Brubeck live in Allentown.
And when I was in the audience, I remember listening and saying, `This is
really great, but there's more to do.' Now I was a kid, you know, and I'm
thinking, `There's just--he's not doing everything that you could do in this
situation,' you know. So I already knew something was--you know, that I was
going to contribute something, I guess.

And I heard Basie live a couple times. That was great. And I actually sat in
with Stan Kenton when he had that giant band. And then a lot of experiences I
had that probably I couldn't trade for any other kind of learning experience.

GROSS: You went to New York, scuffled there for a while...

Mr. JARRETT: Yeah.

GROSS: ...eventually started to get noticed. Then you started playing with
Charles Lloyd and, after that, went with Miles Davis. Apparently, he invited
you to join his band several times before you accepted. Why did you turn down
Miles Davis?

Mr. JARRETT: I said no to Miles because I had work for my trio, and I was in
the middle of setting up tours with the trio. And I remember telling him
that if there's a break in my schedule with the trio, that I would be happy to
play with his group and I would--I want to. But I'm not sure if he was--had
already gone electric. He probably had. And that was another thing that was
easy to say no to. It wasn't that attractive from that point of view.

If my memory serves me, when the trio came back from Europe, Miles had said,
`Well, whenever you feel like it, just come down and play. And, you know, it
doesn't matter, you just come down wherever we're playing and sit in with the
band and play.' And so that's what eventually happened. I think it was
Philadelphia.

GROSS: You certainly pioneered the solo piano concert, which eventually
really caught on and spread to other instruments as well. What was it like in
the early days being alone out there on the stage and improvising on your own?

Mr. JARRETT: It started out maybe as a result of recording "Facing You." I
can't remember. But it started out, I remember, at the Heidelberg Jazz
Festival(ph), where I was supposedly--I wasn't very well-known, I guess. And
I came out and did a solo thing. And it was tunes, but I started to connect
them somehow. Like, I'd have these transitional parts that connected
everything. And then that somehow just moved slowly into the expanded solo
concert, where there are no songs whatsoever and everything is improvised on
the spot.

I don't know. Someone once sent me a note from the audience that saying, `You
must be awfully alone. You must feel awfully alone,' or something like that.
And I realized, when I read that, that that was true. It is a terribly lonely
thing to do. I mean, you're not even bringing material along for
companionship.

GROSS: Right. Right.

Mr. JARRETT: So it was a sort of--I wish I could think of a word, but it was
sort of like having a seance with the audience. So it wasn't all that lonely
in the midst of it. But as a rule, the mechanism of doing it, traveling alone
and, you know, just going up there on an empty stage with a piano--I guess if
I thought about it, it would have scared the hell out of me. But I didn't
think much about it other than it was a challenge.

GROSS: In the '70s, I think a lot of your fans debated with each other
whether you were black or white.

Mr. JARRETT: Yeah. Well, you know, at the same Heidelberg festival, there
were some black musicians, or black audience members, trying to disrupt my
performance because they claimed it wasn't black music. And, of course, it
wasn't. One reason was that I wasn't black. But this was a jazz festival.
They were claiming not only was it not black music, but it wasn't jazz and it
shouldn't be at this festival. And this was, I guess, during the time when,
you know, the Black Muslim thing was pretty big.

And I went backstage afterwards, and I was rather heartbroken because I
thought, `Gee, these are fellow musicians or, like, people who like music, and
why are they doing this?' And I was just sitting alone in my dressing room
probably very upset, and a man and his daughter knocked on--a man knocked on
the door, blacker than any of the guys who were trying to disrupt the stuff on
stage, who was actually from central Africa. And he and his daughter came
back and said, `Mr. Jarrett, we just want to say that that was so beautiful.'
And I thought, `OK. Well, this is going to be just a political problem for
me. It isn't the music, it's just the politics.'

GROSS: Did you think that a lot of people assumed you were African-American
because your hair was really curly and looked like an Afro?

Mr. JARRETT: Yeah. And a friend of my ex-wife's was arguing with me and her
that I had to be black, no matter what I said. And once Ornette, backstage,
said something...

GROSS: This is Ornette Coleman?

Mr. JARRETT: Yeah, Ornette Coleman. One of the earliest times I was in the
same room with him, he said something like, `Man, you've got to be black. You
just have to be black.' I said, `I know. I know. I'm working on it.
I'm...'

GROSS: Well, do you think that that worked in your favor?

Mr. JARRETT: Well, it didn't hurt, you know. I don't think it hurt to
be--when I get that kind of feedback from the actual players, who I've felt
were partly my inspiration, who happened to be black, yeah. I mean, it's
great. It's a compliment.

GROSS: Well, Keith Jarrett, I'm really glad you're playing again and
recording again. And thank you so much for spending some time with us.

Mr. JARRETT: Well, thank you very much for the interest.

DAVIES: Keith Jarrett speaking with Terry Gross in 2000. On Sunday, he
celebrates his 60th birthday. He has a new solo recording called "Radiance."
Jarrett will perform June 22nd at Carnegie Hall with bassist Gary Peacock and
drummer Jack Dejohnette, and a DVD of his complete Tokyo concert will be
released in the fall.

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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