There is so much jazz theory about rhythm and harmony, but writing a good melody is more about intuition. It hasn’t been analyzed in the same way, and it’s difficult to teach someone to write a good melody. There’s an inner structure to these songs; they go places and develop. And there’s a level of storytelling to them. As a bassist, I think a great bassline is essentially a great melody—that playing a good walking line is identical to playing a good melody.
“SHE WAS YOUNG…”
Home (ECM, 1980)
Steve Swallow was my first bass hero. This song starts out with his solo, which to me is one long, almost perfect melody. It has such a natural sense of development to it, and it has so much infrastructure; it’s so organic that it seems like it could be written, but it’s obviously an improvisation. All of the compositions on this album are great melodies, and they’re all written to poetry [by Robert Creeley], which brings out the storytelling element.