Born May 8, 1945, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Jarrett began playing the piano at the age of 3 and undertook classical studies throughout his youth - appearing in programs at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia and at Madison Square Garden. He began formal composition studies at 15, before moving to Boston to study briefly at the Berklee School of Music. While still in his late teens, arrangements were made to study composition in Paris with the great pedagogue Nadia Boulanger, but then cancelled in favor of moving to New York to play jazz.
In 1966 he joined the Charles Lloyd Quartet, one of the most popular groups on the international jazz scene. In the late '60's, he formed his own trio with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian which in 1972 expanded to a quartet with the addition of tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman. The group disbanded in 1976. And in 1970/71, Jarrett played electric piano and organ with Miles Davis - his last stint as a sideman; thereafter dedicating himself to performing acoustic music as a leader.
In 1970, Keith Jarrett began his recording collaboration with producer Manfred Eicher and ECM Records. His solo piano recordings - including, Solo Concerts, The Köln Concert, Sun Bear Concerts, Paris Concert, Dark Intervals and Vienna Concert, have been particularly influential.
Since 1983, Jarrett's jazz playing has been focused in the Standards Trio, with bassist Gary Peacoc and drummer Jack DeJohnette which explores the American songbook of the '30's, '40's, and '50's.
A Bach/Jarrett keyboard cycle was initiated by ECM in 1988 beginning with The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 (piano) and Book II (harpsichord). In 1993 he recorded Shostakovich 24 Preludes and Fugues, op. 87. Jarrett's classical repertoire includes works by Barber, Bartok, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Lou Harrison, Hindemith, Alan Hovhaness, Colin McPhee and Stravinsky. Orchestras with which he has performed include the San Francisco Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, American Composers Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic and the Beethovenhalle Orchestra Bonn; conductors include John Adams, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Dennis Russell Davies and John Eliot Gardiner.
Several Jarrett compositions have received their premieres at major music centers. Celestial Hawk premiered in 1980 with Christopher Keene and the Syracuse Symphony at Carnegie Hall. Sonata for Violin and Piano and Elegy for Violin and String Orchestra both debuted in 1985 in Tokyo, performed by Koichiro Harada and the New Japan Symphony. Elegy had its American premiere in 1986 at Saratoga Springs, with Dennis Russell Davies and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Sacred Ground, for piano, flute, cello, and clarinet, commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, premiered in 1985 at Alice Tully Hall, with Jarrett joined by Paula Robison, Fred Sherry and Richard Stoltzman.
In April 1994 ECM issued two new Jarrett albums: At The Deer Head Inn, a live jazz club recording of Jarrett playing with drummer Paul Motian and bassist Gary Peacock, and Bridge of Light, a recording of four Jarrett compositions performed by the Fairfield Orchestra under Thomas Crawford.
Two books about Jarrett have been written: Keith Jarrett: Inner Views by Kunihiko Yamashita and Keith Jarrett: A Man And His Music, a biography written by British jazz trumpeter and critic Ian Carr.