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How Jazz May Have Influenced The Beatles

By Published: September 30, 2009

Melody: Tin Pan Alley

The influence of Tin Pan Alley harmonically on The Beatles has been discussed above. Aspects of Beatles melody are also traceable to this era, that is earlier (pre-Parker) jazz, and at least in part, at times explicitly. McCartney certainly occasionally borrowed small pieces of melody, consciously or otherwise, from '20s and '30s numbers. His "insertion" of these brief pieces of melody without question assist in creating the general beauty of this (his) music. The sources are there, however.

By way of example, the end of the verse of McCartney's "And I Love Her," from the A Hard Day's Night album, appears to employ small pieces of melody from two earlier tunes, "Little Coquette" (written by Guy Lombardo, but recorded in a more interesting fashion by Paul Whiteman
Paul Whiteman
1890 - 1967
—Whiteman was, of course, the bandleader who commissioned Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue" in 1924) and the Gershwin classic "Liza (Till The Clouds Roll Away)." "And I Love Her" is a masterpiece, but the notes of the concluding words (of the verse and "A" section)..." and I love her" echo the melody of the last three notes of "Little Coquette." The latter words also appear at the end of the verse's structure, as in "And I Love Her." (Incidentally, the tune seems to have been a major spring board for McCartney, across TWO of his bands, as the opening notes are also the opening notes of the trombone-driven section of Paul and Linda McCartney's humorous "Uncle Albert And Admiral Halsey," of 1971). "Little Coquette" is a standard, and McCartney would certainly have heard it from his father, who led a dance band in the 1920s anyway—the song may have been in his fathers' repertoire.

Little Coquette (Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians):

It's an echo, but of course in a new field of musical greenery. The 1960s have transplanted the 1920s.

Also in connection with "And I Love Her," Gershwin's "Liza" appears to have provided McCartney (and probably many other writers) with some song-writing lessons. Gershwin concludes the "arc" of the A section's melody by placing two sets of descending groups of three notes over the IV chord, and then the iii chord, before carrying neatly through to the I again. [In the key of G major, for example —and this is very easy to demonstrate on a guitar - the two chords are C major and B minor, and the neatly falling three notes for each chord are G, E and C, and F#, D and B, respectively].

The tune is here very attractive indeed, showing Gershwin's genius; it looks so obvious—at least after the event. To make the final part of the tune you just run your fingers down the chord's root position triads!

Well, on the words "you'd love her too" (which could be one of the most charming combination of words and music in music), the same thing is happening. The same three notes are referenced, descending down the root triad on the IV chord, as the tune beautifully winds its way back to the start. Well learned, Paul. And well used too.

Indeed, the same melody occurs in the same position in the Sinatra classic "In The Wee Small Hours of The Morning;" on the words..." you miss her most...," in..." [is when] you miss her most [of all]." This therefore presents a second possible source of "McCartney's" piece of melody. He would have known both tunes, of course. In the 1970s this piece of melody appeared in "Killing Me Softly With His Song," on the third and fourth bars preceding the chorus. (Stravinsky did, after all, say that Gershwin was the most gifted melodist since Tchaikovsky).

Further indications of Gershwin's influence on McCartney is in the brilliant "Here, There And Everywhere," which appeared on Revolver. The same idea from "Liza," actually (again). This time it is in the middle section, and on the words "everywhere" on the G minor chord in the middle of that section: the notes to "everywhere" simply run down the triad of the chord in root position, as before. Also, in the song's middle section, the triplet on the first use of the word "everywhere" is another example of the triplet from "Moonglow," referred to in connection with "She Loves You" above.

Jerome Kern, several writer's pick for best melodist of all the Tin Pan Alley writers (Gershwin included), was also an influence: here McCartney sings part of Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight" before breaking onto the White Album's "I Will" (in 1968):

The clip indicates that McCartney may have written the tune by playing the Kern tune and then inserting into it a new key change as he went, as he does in the clip above. There is also a McCartney demo of a very jazz-like tune McCartney wrote for the singer Cilla Black, "Step Inside Love." The tune leans heavily on the breezy sound and music of "How High The Moon," the famous template for all things bop; the song that was re-written by bebopper Little Benny Harris to become the Charlie Parker anthem "Ornithology." ("Ornithology," of course, begins with the ten note lick written by Parker himself and featured on the early Jay McShann
Jay McShann
Jay McShann
1909 - 2006
track "The Jumpin' Blues" (1941)).

Footage of McCartney recording the song with Cilla Black and a McCartney/Beatles demo:

Step Inside Love

The original McCartney demo is very jazz-like.

An early example of clear jazz influence is a song from the pre-Hamburg days. By McCartney, and later released on the band's fourth album Beatles For Sale (EMI, 1964), is the attractive tune "I'll Follow The Sun." The tune has clear jazz influences both melodically and harmonically (even down to the "response" over a typical Tin Pan Alley I vi ii V chord progression, when the tune leads back to the start of the next verse. This is on the words..." but tomorrow may rain so, I'll follow the sun"). There is a recording of the song (apparently) played by The Beatles in about 1960, over a rough rock and roll backing:

Despite the Chuck Berry-like introduction, little more than this recording is all you need to see the central place jazz had on the writing of the embryonic Beatles. The melody is pure jazz: it is easy, for example, to hear a clarinetist playing it. It should also be noted that another UK chart hero of the time (the very early sixties) was English "trad" jazz clarinetist Acker Bilk ("Stranger On The Shore," etc). (Note that the middle section on this version is different to the finally released version). Other early examples are the above mentioned instrumental "Cat Call," played by the band at the cavern, and also of course "When I'm 64," which was apparently written by McCartney when he was sixteen. The use of a clarinet on the recorded version—from Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (EMI, 1967)—is surely a clue to the origins of the tune.

Lennon, by contrast, seems to have taken hooks, rather than melody, from earlier jazz records. An example is from Fats Waller's famous "Crazy 'Bout My Baby," where Fats groans a hooky figure on one syllable, i.e. mellismatically, on one beat: the triplet is the sixth, fifth and third notes, in the major scale. The word is "me" in..." and my baby is crazy about me" in the third played middle section—it is at 2:00 exactly, of the version presented below. Lennon used this hook on an early record or two. To the casual listener, it is a kind of signature of the early Beatles records of Beatlemania.

Crazy 'Bout My Baby:

A larger possible melodic copy is via Bunny Berigan
Bunny Berigan
Bunny Berigan
1908 - 1942
: the opening six notes of "A Hard Day's Night" ("It's been a hard day's night ...") follow the same melodic pattern as the opening four notes of a light "I vi ii V" song, "Until Today," performed in a movie by Berigan. Note also that, in both songs, the title of each respective tune constitute the words of the opening phrase. "A Hard Day's Night" is, of course, on a rock beat, and is altogether more aggressive. It is unknown to most whether Lennon (who wrote this song) knew of the Berigan tune, but it must be possible.

"Until Today:"

With "A Hard Day's Night," it may also be possible to see a link from the Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
1920 - 2012
Quartet to The Beatles. The opening notes of the Beatle song are not unlike the opening of the famous "Take Five," from the album Time Out (Columbia, 1959). The musical purpose of the opening in both tunes is the same, to set up a pounding rhythmical statement, and there is even a sonic similarity.

"Take Five" also has a notable use of chromatic lines: this is in the opening of the main theme, and is also in the middle section. It is hard to overlook the similarity (of either chromatic area) to the final two (rising sequentially) chromatic melodic runs at the end of the main verse of "A Hard Day's Night." Chromatic parts of melody lines are rare in popular music. In any event, John Lennon's use is striking and inventive—but it seems that he may have taken note of Brubeck's hit, even if subconsciously. If Lennon took some jazz tunes as a model, which appears strongly likely given all the evidence, then "Take Five" is perhaps the ultimate (and most logical) record to aspire to. It was a phenomenal hit, and is probably known by literally every person with, let's say, a television. There was surely a reason why senior musical figures such as Leonard Bernstein were so fanatical about The Beatles in 1964, beyond simply the fact of interesting music. There was an element of familiarity.

A second point about "Take Five," this time on harmony (see above) is that the middle section has the same chords as the middle section in "I Want To Hold Your Hand!" If you see "Take Five" as being in A minor, then the first chords of the middle section, D minor and G, are used to take the tune to the relative major, C major, before back to the original key of A minor, via the predictable E7 chord. With The Beatles' single being in G major, the same middle section chords take the tune to C major again, this time C major being a key a fourth higher than the original key of the tune. Either way, the same chords effect the same (relative) key change, given that one tune is in a minor key and the other in a major key. Did The Beatles consciously "work out" the chords of "Take Five" and thus learn this technique of melodic and structural variation? As they were inventive and inquisitive writers, it is to be supposed that they may well have done so. Maybe they even played the tune in Hamburg, given the magnitude of the tune around the world at the time.

At the other extreme, there are possibly mere hints of a resemblance, but a resemblance nevertheless, in the 1965 single "Ticket To Ride." Lennon writes a riff, or figure, that is rhythmically intricate, yet seems to occupy the same "melodic space" of the Fifties hit "Star Eyes," covered by Charlie Parker in his later days. The four notes of the riff are (assuming the same key) the same four notes as the first part of the melody of "Star Eyes" (this part of "Star Eyes" also has a dominant note, used just once). The unfolding tune of the latter song, with its twists and turns, comes even more to suggest a musical connection to the figure. Yet, "Ticket To Ride" also has bold "classical" (not jazz) sweeps in the melody, and has been much "orchestrated" on "symphonic Beatles" albums.

Whether Lennon was actually subconsciously (or otherwise) thinking of "Star Eyes" when he wrote the riff to "Ticket To Ride" is of course a question for the Muses, but, in any event, both Lennon and McCartney knew much swing-era and post-swing chart music. A clear example of a look at perhaps Count Basie is the give- away flip-side to "Let It Be," entitled "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)." "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)" was written in 1967, and apparently conceived by Lennon. It is, at the beginning, a mock latin night club track, McCartney singing the "lyrics" (the title only), again showing the strong latin influence on the Beatles. But then the tune becomes a mock Basie or Benny Goodman Quartet record, with clarinet and vibes on a swing piano backing. It is not intended to be a serious composition, but it certainly shows music that The Beatles were big fans of.

The Beatles also employed the blues and the blues are a bedrock of jazz. The follow up single to "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was "Can't Buy Me Love," in early 1964. The latter was almost immediately covered by Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
1917 - 1996
. There is a passing similarity to George Gershwin's "Lady Be Good" (a Gershwin take on the blues) in the verse, where the first note of the verse, in each tune, is the dominant note, and the second note to appear, in both tunes, is the flattened dominant, a very "bluesy" effect. In the one song, it is on the words "Tell me that you [whole step down] want [no diamond rings...]," and, in the other, "Oh [whole step down] sweet [and lovely, lady be good...]."

No wonder the older jazz stars liked The Beatles—they were speaking the same language.

In their guitar solos, The Beatles were also speaking the language of the blues: Harrison's solo in "Can't Buy Me Love" at repeatedly and exactly duplicates the Muddy Waters guitar lick from "Like A Rollin' Stone" (1948). It was so much "in the literature" that they did it again in the solo for "I Feel Fine," the next year.

The words of the French publication "Tu Sais... Jazz" (see above) should again be noted: "[Both The Beatles and The Stones] knew and liked the old jazz and blues."

It can also be seen that the general melodic shape of the verse (the "A" section of the song) of "A Hard Day's Night" is blues-like: the verse is twelve bars (exactly like twelve bar blues) and the final note of the verse is the flattened third, the "blue" note. It's essentially a blues. Another example is from the same album: "You Can't do That" is, in its verse, a blues. The melody is faintly reminiscent of Charlie Parker's approach, or at least his feel, as for example on the famous "Parker's Mood," where Parker does not avoid entirely the lower parts of the chord. A further song by Lennon on the album, I'll Cry Instead, also has blues twists in the melody, moving between major and minor thirds; this is on the opening phrase and also on the words..." but I can't, so I'll cry..."

In summary, so far as the influence of jazz on Beatles melody is concerned, it would seem that Lennon acquired hooks to replicate in his melodies and for coloration, whereas McCartney took small pieces of melody and inserted them into his own melodic fabrics.

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