There is an art to playing melody so that it soars, so that the performer, the notes, and what we sense of the composer’s mood and intentions are all one, as if the performer was subtly lifting the melody upwards so that we could admire it as we had never been able to before.
There’s the equally subtle art of melodic embellishment: improvising around and through that melody to make it shine more brightly without obscuring it.
Bobby Hackett, who not only knew these arts but embodied them, said after hearing Louis Armstrong, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come so alive?”
And Goethe wrote of “thou holy art,” though he never made it to a jazz festival.
Here is a gloriously eloquent example of melody-making by a group of masters: Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Connie Jones, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, performing at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 29, 2014. The text they chose is Hoagy Carmichael’s plaintive NEW ORLEANS:
What marvels. It takes lifetimes to learn how to do this, and then a quiet determination to be able to do it in public, courageously and with love.
And — as a postscript — if you’ve never heard the FAREWELL BLUES to which Tim refers (it preceded this performance) it would be cruel to deny you this rocking, melodic pleasure:
May your happiness increase!