Chris Jarrett: New Journeys in Saarwellingen Live Organ Improvisations


Official release: May 2021

  • Artist(s): Chris Jarrett
  • Composer(s): Chris Jarrett
  • EAN Code: 7.46160912363
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Instrumental
  • Instrumentation: Organ
  • Period: Contemporary
  • Publication year: 2021
SKU: C00406 Category:

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No more than several dozen people were allowed into the concert, and they were set in all corners of the St. Blasius church in Saarwellingen in order to keep adequate distance from one another. It was a bizarre thing to see from the the organ loft – the audience shuffling in without much ado and sitting themselves down on widely seperated church benches. A quiet desperation strongly spiced by hope could be felt within the walls of this very roomy neo-gothic church with an echo able to carry for about 8 seconds.

My organ improvisations, which I like to call “New Journeys,” are always reflections of our times, but also of the specific conditions under which they are performed. I have more trouble distancing myself from present and immediate conditions than I do describing them in music, and I do always take 2 or three days, not only to check the registration of the organ, but also to put out my antennas for the environment, the people and the room or church where the performance will take place. Saarwellingen is a small town in the Southwestern district of Germany called “Saarland.” The area is marked by its industrial history and especially by coal-mining. Saarwellingen specifically also has a history of dynamite production. Most of the mines and old factories have now been shut down and there has been a feeling of frustration, but also one of hope for a new horizon here: What will become of these small industrial towns? How can their future be secured and optimized? How can they move forward and keep their identity at the same time? Culture and music are certainly part of these new concepts, and traditionally this area has been open to new ideas and modern forms partially, of course, due to its background as a port of modern industry.

So, how are these improvisations conceived? One important thing is that I an wary of using any electronic means to alter any sounds these instruments can create on their own. It is important for the listener to know that absolutely no tricks or electronic enhancements have been used either on the organ itself by connecting digital sounds to the keyboard or by mixing something foreign into the recording during the mix. This organ was built by the Walcker company and finished in 1995, but relied substantially on the material already installed by Haerpfer and Erman in 1953 and the original by Gerhardt of 1903. It has typical qualities of a “Romantic” organ, BUT (and this is what appealed to me) also has a range of sounds which do not only slide slowly from one to the other, but find stark contrasts. I usually enjoy these contrasts in organs of the 18th century such as those I performed upon built by Silbermann (Freiberg), Stumm (Bendorf-Sayn, Simmern) or Schnitger (Ganderkesee), but have also been inspired by sounds of Romantic organs such as those in Graz, Austria (Heiliggeistkirche) or Neuwied (Marktkirche). The Saarwellingen instrument may be classed as a middle-large, above average church organ, but it is, for those who search more carefully, quite an outstanding machine. I was especially surprised about the balance it offered, without sacrificing the wonderful and voluminous resonace of the trombones in the pedals.
Mechanically, too, it is in great shape and has been only recently rennovated. I have the habit, when creating these “journeys,” to check the organ for 2 or three days, find the sounds I want, save them and make a list of them. Within each of these settings, I will usually just improvise freely, but in a fraction of these journeys I tend to re-take material I have used before if it seems appropriate on the specific instrument. Once in a while, (as in the last section of Part 2 here, where I arranged some music by the Finnish composer Jan Sibelius), I will also find something from the past which corresponds to the situation and the organ. So, widely, these are free improvisations within given sounds and patterns with a few adequate additions from my own repertoire plus, perhaps, a small section using another source.

This recording would never have taken place if it hadn’t been for the kind and spontaneous offer by Cornelia Rohe of the city of Saarwellingen. Peter Welsch, the recording engineer, also really put his heart into it, and this did make a difference. Thanks to all.
Album Notes by Chris Jarrett

Chris Jarrett Embarks on a New Journey
(Saarbrücker Zeitung von 20. Oktober 2020)

…This music confronts the listener with open questions and contradictions concerning human existence: it‘s comforting, then frightening, familiar and strange, harmonic and dissonant; there are quick, bright passages set above long, dark fundamentals – the music is set into frames and never completely free and atonal or chaotic.
…The organist captures and awakens the audience and then lets them relax again, he inspires reflection and creates connotations. But most importantly, Jarrett resolves acoustic irritations in a „double“ manner: in that they are consumed by more consonant chords in the short run, but are still kept alive to paint the larger picture. One of the posters in the chancel of the church fits into this concept perfectly: it displayed the words „discover the secret!“ Of course, the secret is never given away, but remains alive and suspended. One can recognize it and learn to appreciate it. Jarrett‘s music is an experience which shows us that the riddling and the mysterious in life are not only harbingers of insecurity and fear but are also gifts of enrichment and beauty for those who dare to take on the challenge.
After (the break) there is a meditative stretch: a steady rhythm is widened and begins to take off while impressions of passing landscapes, both bright and dark, enter the scene. The calm, bowever, is soon broken, as if to make up for lost time.
At the end of every journey something new begins: a new risk must be taken and with it– within the flow of events – new involvements arise. This is existential philosophy clothed as sacred music. Suspense and adventure, irritation and orientation.
Perhaps, in the end, there were more comforting passages than insecure ones after all: a strong, self-chosen affirmation of life and ones self. The voluminous, orchestral closing section was affirmative, optimistic and positive: an „amen.“ Asked how he liked his own concert, Chris Jarrett only replied, „Ich bin ganz zufrieden“ – „I feel alright about it.“

Gerhard Alt, Saarbrücker Zeitung, 20 October 2020


Chris Jarrett: Born in Allentown, USA in 1956 and grew up in the mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania. He studied piano at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and Indiana University, but was unable to finish his studies for financial reasons. At the same time, he was also less and less willing to do so, feeling very “caged-in” within these institutions. It was in the following several years of struggle, working odd jobs from shrimp-fishing in Texas to office work in New York City that he feels his real musicianship developed.
No wonder he has written so much music for the stage – including his opera “John Donne”, his film-music to the “Battleship Potemkin” or incidental music to “Romeo and Juliette.”
The human drama and it‘s immediate and present manifestations are what his music is about. Chris Jarrett has been living in Europe, touring as a solo pianist with his own compositions, with ensembles and duos or as an improvising organist for decades now. In jazz circles, he is often seen as a jazz musician, while musicians and critics of “serious contemporary music“ may categorize his compositions under the heading “classical.”
When asked how his music should be described, Chris Jarrett‘s stoic, habitual answer is: “Yes.”


Chris Jarrett was born in 1956 in Allentown, Pa. and raised in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania. He never doubted that he would become a composer, but economical and family problems hindered his musical education until Virginia Waring (wife of Fred Waring) introduced him to the Austrian pianist Vincenz Ruzicka (of Dougherty and Ruzicka, piano duo) at the age of 13. Ruzicka, a student of Rosina Lhévinne living in the Pocono mountains becomes his most important teacher.
Jarrett continues his musical studies at Indiana University and Oberlin Conservatory, where he receives a partial scholarship. Disappointed with the environment and musical standards of these institutions, he leaves for “the road.” He says that it was really then that his career as a creative musician began (“15 Questions with Chris Jarrett”). Jarrett unwillingly gets to know the hardships of work on a shrimp boat, in various factories in Texas, in offices in New York. He travels, first the U.S. and then Europe, by thumb in a wild quest for survival and first-hand knowledge.
It was in North Germany that friends give him what he needs – a new musical start and a job. Within a short time, he studies, and then teaches at the University of Oldenburg. He composes small political piano compositions and then the full-fledged ballet “For Anne Frank”, which is premiered in the Oldenburg Palace in 1985. After this important year, Jarrett’s career is on its way. First LPs are “Tanz auf dem Vulkan,” and “Aufruf/Outcry”. He becomes an unusual, critically thinking and engaged musical figure in Oldenburg – and more and more in all of Northwestern Germany.
From 1985 to 1990, Jarrett writes film music (“Danton”, “Faust”, “Battleship Potemkin”, among others), a symphonic ballet (“… Liebt Mich Nicht” – Oldenburgisches Staatstheater; Choreographie: Ingrid Collet) and a choreadrama (“LP” – Nada Kokotovic). He tours Central and Eastern Europe as a solist and composer. In Berlin, he presents his first “motivic” improvisations with German musicians. He develops a friendship with the Austrian poet and translator Erich Fried, and tours with him, performing his own compositions, during some of Fried’s very last public readings in 1988. Especially notable are the performances of his ballet music in the Soviet Union in 1986 and 1988 (Moscow, Alma-Ata, Mahachkala, etc.), and his intense work in the Yugoslavia of this period.
In the early 90s, Jarrett begins his biggest composition to date – the opera “John Donne – a Poetic Opera.” He leaves North Germany to move to the “Middle-Rhein” area of Germany near Koblenz. Here he completes new projects, such as an oratorio for trombones, organ and chorus, “Erlösungen 3?” (“Salvations 3?”), premiered in St. Wendel, Saarland, and “Hände” (“Hands”), a composition performed to introduce a speech by the German president of that time, Richard von Weizsäcker. New solo CDs are “Fire” and “Live in Tübingen.” He also finds time for recording sessions with the famous Hungarian violinist Zoltán Lantos and launches on an extremely successful solo-piano-tour of the concert halls of the Ukraine, including the Philharmonic Hall, Kiev. Other colleagues with whom he works at this period are Ramesh Shotham, Urna Chahar Tugchi, Ralf Siedhoff, Dorsaf, Dhafer Youssef, Muhammed Zine-el-Abidine and many more. Chris Jarrett’s interest for “ethnic” music had always been intense, and it blossoms in the 90s leading to many tours of Tunisia and Northern Africa.
Jarrett tours Poland, Germany, Serbia and France in 2001/2002, but also dedicates himself to the foundation of the Chris Jarrett Trio with Karim Othmann Hassan (Oud) and Shakir Ertek (drums). Along with such musicians as Wolfgang Dauner and D.R. Davies, the trio concertizes at the opening of the Theaterhaus Stuttgart in April, 2003. This year also sees the premiere of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliette” in the Young Person’s Theater, Düsseldorf (Germany) under Guido Schumacher’s direction and with new stage music by Chris Jarrett. During a solo-tour of Serbia in November, Jarrett plays in the renowned Kolarac Hall, Belgrade (“Carnegie Hall of the Balkan”) where he is rewarded by a thunderously thankful audience. Solo piano CD productions of this time include “Scenes and Preludes”, and “Short Stories for Piano” (Edition Musikat, Stuttgart). The Chris Jarrett Trio releases the CD “New World Music” (Edition Musikat, Stuttgart).
Jarrett’s composition for 2 pianos, clarinet and percussion, “Suite Grecque” has first performances in Athens, Thebes and Alexandroupolis in 2004. Continuing his career as a film music composer, Jarrett writes music for Karl-Heinz Heilig’s “Geträumtes Leben, Gelebter Traum” and is invited to the Cairo Opera House to perform “Suite Grecque.”
The beginning of 2005 sees the founding of a new formation: “Four Free.” Three of France’s most talented improvising musicians (Adrien Dennefeld, electric guitar; Jérôme Fohrer, double-bass; and Pascal Gully, drums) and Chris Jarrett make up this “chamber-hardcore” ensemble with it’s own very special sound. The same year witnesses the creation of a piece written especially for performance during the soccer world championship in Germany in 2006. “Viertelfinale” (“quarter final”) for 11 strings and conductor/referee consists of motives translating a football game (and not without humor) into the language of contemporary music.
Aside from some concerts in Germany and the U.S. (New York City, Maryland), Jarrett’s concertizing and compositional work is interrupted for a few years after the birth of his son Ivan Shaoki, in Paris, in 2006. But his new role as a father in Paris is as inspiring as it is complicated, and his work continues with new vigor in 2008. The virtuoso accordianist Jelena Milojevic performs the music of Chris Jarrett in Weil Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York in 2009. The piano piece “The Simmer” is dedicated to his son.
In the following busy years, there are new projects with the Turkish saz-player and composer Ismail Türker, with the Wagnerian soprano Jayne Casselmann in an Eisler/Tucholsky programm, with the creation of a satirical work about Jacques Offenbach (commissioned by the Offenbach Festival, Bad Ems) and with the development of an extensive and “game-changing” music history course. The CD “Wax Cabinet” with his group “Four Free” is released by Edition Collage, Munich in 2010. Jarrett tours Canada, Austria, Croatia, and various parts of Germany, where he now again resides. A 2012 solo tour of the Prekmurje and Apasko Polje areas of Slovenia, where his family origins are to be found and where he still keeps in close touch with relatives and friends, is especially remarkable.
Since 2013 Chris Jarrett begins to intensify his teaching activities by leading workshops for piano improvisation. He dedicates himself again to composing new piano music (his wife, the pianist Martina Cukrov Jarrett now regularly performs his compositions). He produces a new CD with stories by the Russian author Ludmilla Petroshevskaya (recited by Julius Pischl) and begins a new musical journey with the renowned Italian violinistLuca Ciarla in a duo formation. 2014 also sees the beginning of a new chapter in Jarrett’s musical career, and in September of that year, his first CD with music for the pipe-organ appears: “New Journeys” – organ improvisations by Chris Jarrett (Atrius Records). In the same month, he performs the first performances of two piano works commissioned by the Mozart Society of Rovereto, Italy: “Hommage a Mozart” and “Rondo a la Wolferl.” In 2014 and 2015, extensive concert tours with Luca Ciarla in duo formation, and with his band, as well as with solo concerts are sending Chris Jarrett on tour to Italy, France, Australia, Indonesia and Singapore. The new CD “Offshots” by “Four Free” is released in 2016.
Chris Jarrett utilizes the structures of classical music and the freedom of jazz improvisation. He combines his secure instinct for formal structures with the spontaneity of jazz. Great influences to be heard in his music come from as diverse a list of personalities as Johannes Ockeghem, Sergej Prokofiev, Charles Mingus and Frank Zappa.

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