Stuart Nicholson: One important aspect of your playing is your respect for melody, both written and improvised. I wonder if you could let me have your perspective on the importance of melody, which, to me at least, is often being lost in jazz in favour of patterns.
Keith Jarrett: Yes, I agree. I would say the 'cleverness' syndrome has taken the place of melody. Itís like everyone has come down with this terrible disease in jazz. First of all you are always expected to do your own material, which is a strange thing to do if youíre a poor composer but a great player. If you are a great player and luckily you know what great melody is about things can happen that canít happen otherwise. There was a class on melody when I went to Berklee school, I didnít learn anything in that class but I thought it was an immensely innovative idea. I already felt I knew what melody was and what good melody was. It was held by a guitarist and I canít think of his name; I think he was from the Southwest. The deal was, youíd go in and it was like a melody class, melody writing. And it was like 'Jeez, whatís this about?' And that was exactly the point. It was boring in its concept but it provoked the awareness that Ö in other words, if you need to be made conscious of something, the only way to do that is by finding how bad you are at it. One of the first exercises we were given was eight bars and you could only use whole notes and half notes and youíre supposed to write a melody and bring it in.
Itís almost what Iíd tell piano students, theyíd play a lot of licks I could tell they were not coming from them; they were coming from mechanical patterns. And they would say, 'How do you do what you do?' And I would say, 'Donít even ask that question. Ask yourself why do you do what you do? Do you like what you just played or not?' 'Well no. Not really' And Iíd say, 'Okay, I want you to play a fifth in your left hand, C and G, any fifth, anywhere, in your left hand. And just wait, and if you donít hear anything in your head to play, donít start playing. And when you do start playing, if itís not something you like, stop.' And they come back and say, 'You know, I never discover anything I like and I wait forever and nothing happens and nothing goes through my head.' And Iíd go, 'Okay, thatís the first stage. Keep doing it.'
With melody, Ornette is a good example. Thereís naivety in his music, but thereís something natural there that you canít teach. Itís either there or itís not, and Iím not sure there are rules, like there are in architecture. If you graph a good melody, it probably looks good as a graph. Iím working on the Bach violin concertos now to play with a violinist, and some of the slow movementsóif you just look at the intervallic motion and the immense amount of juice thatís there is in the shapesó[there's] something very, very meaningful in the shapes, even on the page. When I look at music, I can tell by looking at it if there is anything to do with melody in this music, because there should be a shape there that gets you intrigued, and it has to be asymmetrical. A really good melody stands out as a perfect thing, and it couldnít be bettered. If it canít be bettered, then itís a good melody.