'Heard melodies are sweet
Those unheard are sweeter'—John Keats
The need to be creative runs through all art forms and jazz music is no exception.
Each great work of art brings with it an element of self-discovery, a certain kind of uncertainty where the artist/creator expresses his or her deepest feelings about life. In other words, the individual creator discovers himself through his creations. Thus in inner drive of the creative mind must be spontaneous or induced ,in the sense in which Coleridge uses it (Biographia Literaria) – in a more than usual state of mind, where the inspired moment is a species of creative intuition. We do of course have creative tuition in the great pantheon of jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, Charlie Parker , Duke Ellington et al. But are the young jazz musicians of today developing their own individual voice enough or are they allowing mastery to replace creativity? They have today published mountains of books on how to play jazz—books on comping, on the melodic minor and many theory books. We also have over a hundred Jamey Aebersold –'Play-a-long theory books. Young jazz players use these books with the thought that they will arrive at improvisational fluidity. This jazz pedagogy is in essence a uniform system bent on providing young jazz players with the necessary tools for mastering harmonic substitutions, scales, licks or rhythmic phrasing. While this system is a well-tested method for jazz improvisation, however, we must acknowledge at the same time the need for a certain kind of uncertainty as a precondition for creativity. We must stress as well in this jazz pedagogy the central place of one's own individual voice, that ability to stand above the 'mastery' of the rules of jazz improvisation game and cultivate one's own originality. Those great jazz musicians mentioned above all managed to balance their individuality with the dictates of a vast tradition that they had inherited.
In considering two of these great models of creative individuality in jazz music, I have selected John Coltrane and Keith Jarrett for this purpose.
In 1950's, Coltrane embodied the sonority of Dexter Gordon with the bop vocabulary of Charlie Parker as in his celebrated 'Blue Train'. However, he refused to stay within the logic of his predecessors' playing and in turn tried to decipher what made their creative spirit work. Coltrane developed a new method of melodic phrasing free from the constrains of the rhythmic section –a new potential then with his 'sheets of sounds' technique. Then came his side-step movements and 'giant steps' sequencing with scale fragments of 1-2-3-5 and so on which baffled his contemporises. In the 1960's an acceleration of creativity came in the form of his new quartet; McCoy Tyner, piano, Jimmy Garrison, bass and Elvin Jones, drums. Coltrane' style was maturing ,more individual, where the music became more formidable-- with the new element in the compositions—the intensity of the solos lasting at least twenty minutes in that series of recordings on the Atlantic and Impulse labels from 'My Favourite Things' to that probing religious spirit in 'A Love Supreme'. Most of us would agree that this new intensity of playing could not be attainable without the recruitment of this group.
The later and last recordings of Coltrane, while some like in 1965, 'First Meditations' continued a kind of extension of 'A Love Supreme', others such as 'Ascension', 'Interstellar Space' altered the traditional jazz format. Now the rhythmic section was dropped, harmony and form disappeared and in their place the simple sonority of another world of the sacred. The great recording 'Expression' (1967) gave us the sublime example of the artist's self-discovery in Coltrane's saxophone as the total 'expression' of his soul There was no hint of any religious connotation at all –nothing except that this record was the record of his life.
Like Coltrane, Keith Jarrett formed an exceptional trio in Gary Peacock on bass and the irrepressible Jack DeJohnette on drums in the 80's to record standards. However it was in the collective interaction of this trio where we have this creative tuition of the players. From the outset, Jarrett presented a musical array of spontaneous scenes by guiding, accumulating and fragmenting the melody with a lyricism which was the result of an untiring fertile imagination.
'Standards Volume 1'(83)was a model of this. In the first tract, Jarrett explored the minor nuances of 'The Meaning of the Blues' poised over Peacocks' pedal notes and Dejohnette's propelling accents .Jarrett' extension of a simple melodic fragment in a kind of contrapuntal coda is quite remarkable. On 'All the things You Are' we can hear the subtlety of 'playing over bar-lines' only to be intensified by the jabbing left- hand chords . Peacock's limped slurred bass –lines were wonderfully enriched by the discreet use of Jarrett' left hand add to the diversity of DeJohnette' cymbals work altering between ¾ and 4/4 time. Again on 'It Never Entered My Mind', Jarrett's melodic construction was sustained by the rich tableau of the bass sound and the varied rhythmic formulas from drums ,with the feeling of no restrictions in this musical scene and there was a 'bird-song,' coda like that of the French composer Messiaen at the end. In 'The Maquerade is Over', Jarrett exposed his strong be-bop lines without the traditional rigid strictures that it implied in the way of turning the theme around in ¾ without you ever noticing it. In the last tract (the longest on the record)'God Bless the Child' we have Jarrett's desire to expand one longer more hypnotic theme by intense repetitive patterns. The 'chant'- like melodic lines with the gospel chord sequence suggested that Jarrett is the choir. Then Peacock's preacher-like lines embodied the 'spiritual' format with alternating funk-like and march-like accents from the drums All in all, Keith Jarrett is outstanding in cultivating his own individual voice and putting his individual stamp on everything he plays.
These two model examples should guide the young jazz students of today in developing their own individual voice in a tradition which they have all inherited.