Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis invokes tale of legendary keyboards player’s famous 1975 concert in inspirational speech about weathering the hardships of cost-of-living crisis. The Chief Rabbi has urged British Jews to be like a jazz pianist in a Rosh Hashanah message to communities.
In the colourful letter, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis advised congregants to emulate Keith Jarrett, the legendary jazzman who produced one of the world’s greatest musical performances while improvising on a broken piano.
Mr Jarrett had taken one look at the dilapidated instrument provided for his concert at the Cologne Opera House in 1975 and told the organisers he was pulling out.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
He was, however, persuaded to play. Despite being in agony from backache and suffering from sleep deprivation, he gave a performance that was to become the Köln Concert, the bestselling piano album of all time.
In his Rosh Hashanah message for 5783, Rabbi Mirvis has invited Jews to take inspiration from the American maestro as we face a cost-of-living crisis, the aftermath of a global pandemic and war in the Ukraine.
The Chief Rabbi drew on the economist Tim Harford’s book Messy: The Power of Disorder To Transform Our Lives, in which he tells the remarkable story of Mr Jarrett’s triumph over adversity in January 1975 at the Cologne Opera House. With an audience of 1,400 people, Mr Jarrett discovered that the grand piano he had been expecting to see on stage was not grand — and barely a piano.
Jazz star Jarrett
“The piano was far too small to achieve any quality of sound, the keys were sticking, the pedals didn’t work and the felt was worn away in the upper register,” writes the Chief Rabbi.
“Jarrett explained that the event would have to be cancelled, but the inexperienced concert promoter begged him to reconsider.
“After much pleading, Jarrett took pity on the young promoter and agreed to perform on the unplayable piano. A moment of musical history followed. Forced to adapt and improvise, Jarrett energetically achieved the necessary volume from the piano.
“He avoided the tinny high notes and focused instead on the middle register. Remarkably, Jarrett brought the house down.
“In some respects, our post-pandemic experience feels like being asked to perform on an unplayable piano. During an exceptionally challenging period, we longed for a time when we could step back out onto the stage of our lives, free of restrictions.
“Baruch Hashem, this has indeed transpired, but the world we have returned to is not the one we expected.
“The enduring impact of the pandemic and the devastating invasion of Ukraine have been compounded by political instability both at home and abroad.
“Many people are struggling financially. Significant aspects of our national infrastructure, from healthcare to travel, seem to be in turmoil.
“Many societies are polarised and fractious. We are far from where we want to be.”
But, the Chief Rabbi said, if we adapt and respond positively to “the external forces beyond our control”, we may “carve out a glorious destiny”.