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.
Lee Konitz & Red Mitchell
“YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO”
I Concentrate on You: A Tribute to Cole Porter (SteepleChase, 1974)
Every note they play on this duo album is either a lead melody or a countermelody. They improvise counterpoint throughout this tune, and it’s a good example of how the bassline needs to have this melodic aspect to it. You can really hear it here, because that’s how [bassist Mitchell] supports the song.
Charlie Haden/Jan Garbarek/Egberto Gismonti
Magico (ECM, 1980)
Both Charlie and Jan Garbarek play some hot melodies during their solos. But I also chose this track because if you just look at the melody it’s very simple; there’s not that much development to it. It’s a melody that’s dependent on the harmonic progression for its identity.
“IN LOVE IN VAIN”
Standards, Vol. 2 (ECM, 1985)
Keith is a master of improvising shapes with internal structures. He gives the whole solo a natural development and a climax and a very organic form. And “In Love in Vain” is a great melody in itself.
Sam Yahel Trio
Truth and Beauty (Origin, 2007)
There’s something about Sam’s [organ] playing: His music is like dancing, in a way. He sings and dances, and this track illustrates that very well. Also, in his improvisations he has an ability to go deep into the harmony of a tune, exploring that element and bringing it out front.
E.S.P. (Columbia, 1965)
Ron Carter is on this album, and he demonstrates that melody is important no matter what instrument you play in a group. I transcribed Ron’s lines on “E.S.P.,” and I was blown away by how well constructed they are, in terms of both melody and harmony. Both of these songs are Wayne Shorter compositions, and he’s had such an impact on jazz harmony and form as well as melody. He was moving away from standards; there’s a personal inner logic to his melodies here.
Elis Regina & Antonio Carlos Jobim
“RETRATO EM BRANCO E PRETO”
Elis & Tom (Philips [Brazil], 1974)
Jobim’s melodies are so emotionally rich. The other reason I chose this is that when he writes, it’s not only the one main melody, it’s all these countermelodies he writes into the arrangement. You can hear that on this track when it’s just piano, and then the strings come in later on, and they’re very important for conveying the emotion.
[As told to Jeff Tamarkin]
Splitting her time between New York and Berlin, bassist-composer Anne Mette Iversen has released six albums as a leader and is presently working on two more. As bandleader and sideperson, she has toured extensively in Europe and the U.S., including performances at major European jazz festivals. She is a founding member of the collective Brooklyn Jazz Underground.Originally Published