Broken Pianos


By Mark E. Smith

The story of American jazz piano great, Keith Jarrett’s, 1975 concert in Cologne, Germany, is legendary. See, Jarrett was scheduled to perform solo that night at the Opera House in front of a sold-out crowd of over 14,000 people, to be recorded live for an album.

However, when Jarrett arrived at the Opera House the afternoon of the concert – exhausted, with a bad back from touring Europe – he was horrified to find that they didn’t have his required piano. Instead, they had an old, small broken piano – not concert worthy.

The young promoter called around, but couldn’t come up with the needed piano. The best she could do was get the old piano tuned, but the upper keys were all but useless and the pedals didn’t work. Jarrett was done, insistent that he couldn’t perform without a proper, working instrument.

With 14,000 people waiting until close to midnight and recording equipment set up, the young promoter begged Jarrett to perform. With nothing but tenacity, Jarrett took a leap of faith in himself and walked onto the stage, standing behind the tiny, broken piano. The packed Opera House was silent.

Jarrett focused on only the piano’s center keys, the only ones that worked, and pounded them with ferocity that allowed the tiny piano to project, rearranging the songs in real time with each key strike. The result was over an hour concert that ended in a standing ovation – and became the best selling solo jazz album of all time, The Koln Concert, with over 3.5 million albums sold.

How often do we, in our own lives, find ourselves in Jarrett’s situation, seemingly not having what we need to succeed? How often do we only see limitations in the face of adversity? But, more importantly, how often do we have the tenacity and courage to do as Jarrett did, and not dwell on what may limit us, but strive to find that which may elevate us?

I’ve had my share of adversity in life, as have many who I’ve known. After all, adversity doesn’t discriminate. What I’ve learned is that when we succeed in adversity, we do so by using what we have, ignoring that which we don’t. We’re fearless experts at playing broken pianos.

It’s trite, cliché and undeniably true: Never let what you can’t do stop you from what you can do. There’s stunning form waiting to be played on our own broken pianos.


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

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