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By Alyce Barry

Keith Jarrett is a pianist known both for his jazz trio and for his concerts, in which he improvises onstage, alone, seated at a Steinway grand.

In a recent television interview, Jarrett spoke about improvisation and illustrated eloquently what in Shadow Work® we call the two sides of Magician energy.


The Magician is the "brainy" part of us — the part of us that thinks, knows, learns, intuits, and analyzes. Like every archetype, the Magician has two sides — one oriented more towards the world around us and toward other people, and one more oriented towards our inner world, to what's going on inside us.

The more world-oriented side of the magician is learning: we learn from the world around us, from teachers, books, mentors, and so on. The more self-oriented side of the Magician is intuition: we intuit when we listen to, and are guided by, what's happening inside us.

Jarrett was trained as a classical pianist and went on to play with jazz greats like Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis.

"When you are improvising," he told interviewer Jeffrey Brown on PBS's News Hour with Jim Lehrer, "what you have to be true to is yourself, and you aren't historical at that moment. You are at that moment at that moment." The world-oriented side of the Magician loves to study history, to collect facts and analyze them and learn from them. The self-oriented side of the Magician doesn't care much about the past; it's the inner experience, being "at that moment," that counts. "They [the audience] don't know what's coming up," said Jarrett, "and neither do I. After a while, that's not scary; after a while, that's what you would want."

The world-oriented side of the Magician cares about control, about having a plan, and Jarrett consciously resists control prior to a performance. "When I go out on stage, if I have an idea in my head, it's going to be in my way. Those notes and feelings come to the player, to the improviser, if he lets them. But if there's an idea in the way, those notes and those feelings will be restricted to whatever that idea started out to be."

Just because he improvises in performance, however, doesn't mean that Jarrett isn't in touch with his Magician's other side. He couldn't entertain a large audience if he hadn't learned to play a piano really well, and he didn't do that strictly by intuition. He had instruction in classical music as a child, and he played with and learned from some of the best jazz musicians in the world. He learned from the outside first, and that created a level of skill and understanding of music that acts as a sort of platform from which he can play from it from the inside. He still practices regularly in a music studio and listens to other musicians' work.

"You do not imitate," Jarrett says about the improvisational musician. "You find out what you're about, and you try to convey that to yourself and to the audience in some way that demonstrates what your experience is. ... It's like ... an electrical current is flowing through you."


If Jarrett were less in touch with the intuitive side of his Magician, he would still be able to improvise but he probably couldn't hold a large audience in fascinated silence as he played. He entertains an audience not only with his unique process, in which he steps onto the stage not knowing what he's going to play, but with music that touches something deep inside them. He touches the Magician inside us all.

Any energy can be used for good or ill. When the intuitive Magician is used for evil purposes, we call it manipulation — it's the sneaky, deceptive side of us. The other side of the Magician is about control. Manipulation deals more with the unseen, control more with the seen. Neither is bad in itself; in fact, we couldn't do without either one. No healer can heal without some form of manipulation (with the client's consent), and no parent could keep a child safe without some form of control. The unseen often scares us simply because it is unseen. Control can be scary, too, of course. There's a kind of poetic justice about jazz, which came out of African-American culture, which the dominant white culture was attempting to control. Jazz fought back by going inside and bringing out the unique beauty of its African roots.

"In the Trio," Jarrett says, "we'll be suddenly swinging. You can't swing on purpose. You can't say, We're going to sit down and now we're going to swing. This is a very good example of the entirety of what we're talking about. You can just be ready for swinging; and so sometimes it will happen on stage, and we're looking at each other like a light just got turned on and we know we didn't turn it on, and we also know we don't know where the switch is. There is no switch; it just happens for many, many reasons that are beyond our control. A couple nights later, the Trio might play that same tune again, remembering how great it felt, and nothing happens. ... Here we are, being dunces again...."


Actually, there is such a thing as a switch; we work with it regularly in Shadow Work®. When a person has some feeling or sensation — let's call it A — and what they want is to have a different feeling or sensation, which we'll call B, we use a series of steps called a Switch process to re-identify the sensation as B.

For example, let's say I've got a feeling that I identify as "restlessness," and what I'd really like to be doing is creating something, like artwork or writing — what I really want is "creative impulse". I may have learned to experience a creative impulse as restlessness because having a creative impulse wasn't supported, or perhaps was even ridiculed, by people whose opinion I cared about; so I stifled my creative impulse and was left with a feeling of restlessness.

In the Switch process, I'm asked first what the restlessness is like: where it is in my body and what it feels like. Then I'm invited to go inside and just feel A as energy or sensation. I'm asked if it might be possible that I learned to experience creative impulse as restlessness because it wasn't safe to experience it as creative impulse. What is the risk, I'm asked, in experiencing this energy as creative impulse?

When I work through that risk, I'm invited to imagine that there's a switch on this sensation; I can either "throw the switch the old way" and feel this energy as restlessness, or I can "throw the switch the new way" and feel it as creative impulse. As creative impulse, I can use it in the way I want to use it, so the Switch process frees me up to use this energy to create.


Jarrett feels that the process of improvisation "is mysterious, it is totally mysterious." I think the Magician is the archetype of mystery itself: the ability to manipulate the unseen. Of such is magic made.

Alyce Barry is a Certified Shadow Work® Group Facilitator and Coach, and a writer, in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago Read more about Alyce.

To read the entire transcript of Jeffrey Brown's interview with Keith Jarrett, visit


This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in July 2005. To subscribe, visit our subscription page.

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