122 – Grumpy maestros and all that jazz

Imperfect conditions don’t equate to imperfect performance. Listen to hear how a solo jazz pianist made the most of what he had and recorded the best selling solo piano album of all time.

Pianist playing piano

This week, another special guest, Rob Grundel, joins Shawn and Mark on the podcast! Rob has just joined the Anecdote team, and we recorded this episode on his third day with us!

Rob shares his background before launching into a story that you might use at work. The story is that of the Köln Concert, where American jazz pianist Keith Jarrett recorded the best selling solo album in jazz and the best selling solo piano album in any genre.

Shawn and Mark mention our upcoming virtual Story-Powered Data and Storytelling for Leaders programs. For more information and to register, visit our events page.

For your storybank

Tags: adaptation, attitude, execution, expectation, expertise, performance

This story starts at 07:49

In 1975, Vera Brandes, a 17-year-old jazz fan, invited Keith Jarrett, an American Jazz pianist, to play at the opera house in Cologne. He accepted and specified that he would need a Bösendorfer grand piano—a specific piano with a unique character.

Keith and his work were hugely popular. He was already considered one of the best solo jazz pianists of all time. He was also a notorious perfectionist, known to give his audience cough lollies before starting so there wouldn’t be any coughing. And if someone did cough, he would sometimes stop the concert.

On the day of his Cologne performance, Keith drove the four-hour distance from Zurich to Cologne. He arrived with back pain but entered the opera house, keen to see the piano. What he found was a Bösendorfer, but not a Bösendorfer grand piano. It was a much smaller, baby grand piano. It was in poor shape and out of tune, having been used for lots of opera rehearsals.

Keith was livid. “You brought me all the way here for this? I’m not going to play this piano,” he remarked, “I’m going back to my hotel. My back is in agony.”

So he went outside, into the rain, and got in his car. Vera ran after him. “Please, Keith, please play this concert. I’ve got 1300 people coming to this opera house tonight to hear you play,” she pleaded through his open window.

After some time, she finally convinced him. Engineers set to work on the piano, trying to tune it and make it playable. They got it to an acceptable state, but it was still far below Keith’s usual standard.

Manfred Eicher, an engineer who had been recording concerts, was travelling with Keith. Keith asked him to record the performance, thinking it would become a cautionary tale for future promoters.

At 11:30pm, the Köln Concert started. Some 1300 people were in the audience.

Throughout the recording, you can hear Keith groaning. He was working hard, in pain, having to do things he wouldn’t normally, to get the sound he wanted.

He released the recording as an album, and it became both the best selling solo album in jazz and the best selling solo piano album in any genre.

About  Anecdote International

Anecdote International is a global training and consulting company, specialising in utilising storytelling to bring humanity back to the workforce. Anecdote is now unique in having a global network of over 60 partners in 28 countries, with their learning programs translated into 11 languages, and customers who incorporate these programs into their leadership and sales enablement activities.

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