How Jazz May Have Influenced The Beatles

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count

A publication from the French general knowledge "Tu Sais..." book series ("You Know..."), entitled "Tu Sais... Jazz," contains a final chapter on rock bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. It states that both the Beatles and the Stones "knew and loved old jazz and blues." From Paul McCartney's long familiarization with George Gershwin and other jazz composers to Brian Jones' affection for "trad" jazz—Mick Jagger once described him as "an old Traddy"—jazz in various ways was an integral part of the UK's rock explosion of the 1960s. The Beatles were the foremost example of this, and they were also probably the band that relied the most on jazz. By 1968, Playboy magazine appeared to think the Beatles were jazz artists! In any event, they were indivisible from the jazz greats in the general zeitgeist:

And, like another musician of broad appeal, composer Johannes Brahms, The Beatles began their serious professional musical career playing in Hamburg bars for sailors and other clientele. Crowds, varying in age range and tastes, such as these require a broad range of music to be presented to them. The Beatles were adept at this role, having grown up exposed to a great deal of older music. Some people appear to believe that the band wrote solely from the influence of rock and roll records. This is surely not at all so. The Beatles' influences were from a spread of music, from various eras and styles. They may have been fortunate in that the only source of popular radio in the '50s in the UK was BBC radio—the BBC had a classical station and a "light (music)" station. Keith Richards has said how the latter taught him music: he said that the playlists were complete variety. A Chuck Berry track might be followed by Mantovani, then by a blues, by Peggy Lee, etc. This is how the composer of "Satisfaction" could also write "Ruby Tuesday" and "As Tears Go By."

The Beatles' home city of Liverpool also provided an extra source of music for the Beatles (as has been frequently observed in Beatle biographies), the latest R&B and other records brought by sailors.

However, the real development for Paul McCartney (by way of example) began with his father teaching him songs from the 1920s, a time when McCartney Senior himself had led a band. Jim McCartney was, according to his son, always playing Gershwin's "I'll Build A Stairway To Paradise" on the family piano. "I'll Build A Stairway To Paradise" is an early and very hooky melody of Gershwin's, and is available as part of the piano music "The Gershwin Songbook," a medley of tunes. Pianist and composer William Bolcom recorded a fine example in the 1970s: Piano Music By George Gershwin (Nonesuch, 1973).

The McCartney family piano room, Liverpool (piano at right)

Direct evidence of the influence of jazz itself, and of jazz era hits, is, firstly and most clearly from cover tunes that the Beatles have played. For example, on his tour of the then Soviet Union in the late '80s, McCartney performed Duke Ellington's "I Don't Get Around Much Anymore." The sung version of the number was a major hit of the 1940s.

John Lennon was also an aficionado of jazz and his early recordings show a liking for earlier jazz: one of his favorite performance pieces in Hamburg, soon recorded by the band in June, 1961 under Bert Kampfaert's direction, was the 1920s jazz hit "Ain't She Sweet:"

There is even a version sung by the three surviving Beatles in the '90s, at the time of the release of their Anthology series:

"Ain't She Sweet," being from the '20s, is also somewhat related to skiffle, the form of music played by Lennon's first group, the famous Quarrymen, whom McCartney joined in July 1957. Skiffle was homemade music fashioned with guitars and broomstick basses, maybe even washboards, and is really just another name for '20s jug band music. There is a connection to ('20s) jazz beyond the washboards: skiffle was revived in the UK in the 1950s by varying trad jazz bands such as the Barber Jazz Band (led by Chris Barber, who also had a big hit with Sidney Bechet's "Petite Fleur," in 1959). On the day "that John met Paul" (July 6, 1957) the Quarrymen played a song called "Putting On The Style," a '20s song written by an American and former operetta singer, which was a hit in the 1950s for a guitarist and singer who played with Barber, Lonnie Donegan.

Later, in 1967, Barber and his band recorded a Lennon-McCartney jazz style number entitled "Cat Call" that The Beatles used to play at the Cavern in Liverpool. So, here is evidence that The Beatles had actually written and played specific jazz numbers from the Cavern days. In fact, the first tunes written by McCartney, at least, were all, in a sense, essentially jazz or music-hall/show music ("When I'm Sixty Four," and "I'll Follow The Sun").

The Quarrymen with "Putting On The Style," July 6, 1957:

Latin music, always strongly linked with jazz, also played an important part in The Beatles' early gigs (you can hear the influence all the way through to recordings of their late sixties rehearsals—one was eventually released on the Anthology Series in 1995. In 1962, Peggy Lee, for many the premier female jazz singer, released a superb latin version of "Till There Was You;" her style of recording the song went straight into The Beatles' repertoire, and then onto their second album. The song appeared on her album Latin Ala Lee! (Capitol, 1962).


The earliest officially released collection of The Beatles, their first album Please Please Me (EMI, 1963), drew primarily on the Everly Brothers' sound (for example the Everly's song "Cathy's Clown"), the "Brill Building" Goffin-King world, and also included two latin, or latin-esque, tracks (the Lennon-McCartney song "Ask Me Why," and "A Taste Of Honey"). There was also, of course, a strong rock and roll influence (the bass-line of "I Saw Her Standing There" is identical to that on a 1962 release by Chuck Berry), while "Love Me Do" stemmed largely from the innovative James Ray-style of R&B. This was the best popular chart music of the time, and it was part of The Beatles' approach to writing, in particular that of John Lennon. Jazz may therefore not seem a strong influence on the album. However, there were two ways in which jazz did have an influence on the album. One was via the occasional latin touch, the other the Ray Charles connection. The Brill world encompassed at times the Ray Charles, R&B style; for example, Goffin and King's R&B mock up/rock up "Chains" (which is the fourth track on the first side of Please Please Me).

Ray Charles, of course, was at least "half-jazz." Ray Charles is and always was closely allied to the jazz world. He began by echoing the Nat King Cole Trio, he taught Quincy Jones his first modern jazz chords, and so on. The Beatles were, indeed, like metal to a magnet so far as Ray Charles was concerned. The band heavily based their live act in Hamburg on Ray Charles numbers. They always sang "Hallelujah I Love Her So," "I Got A Woman" and half hour rave up/audience-participation versions of "What I'd Say." Charles is a natural bridge into jazz "proper" for those not already familiar with jazz (although, of course, The Beatles were very familiar with jazz).

A look at the numbers played in Hamburg below will illustrate the breadth of styles the Beatles played there. Charles can be visualized as the centre of the spectrum, with jazz splayed out, if you will, to the left and rock and roll out to the right. [A more oblique link to jazz also arises with the cover of the song on the album written by Burt Bacharach, the Shirelle's "Baby It's You." Bacharach studied under the French composer Milhaud, who was the creator of the famous "Le Creation du Monde" in 1924, one of the first major classical works to be modeled on and influenced by jazz. Milhaud is reported to have advised Bacharach to let the melody clearly shine. Whether this is a classical princept or something Milhaud may have picked up from the new jazz itself is perhaps open to discussion.]

The Beatles played in Hamburg, on and off, from 1960 through to the end of 1962. It was thus their main stage environment. Their stage act came to feature many jazz songs and songs popularized by famous jazz masters, as well as popular latin (and therefore, at that time, inevitably "jazzy") numbers. They had to entertain, to "mach schau" ("make show"), and that would include presenting, virtually on demand, the whole range of popular music of the time and of the previous forty years. It has been reported that the band was eager to seek out new records of all kinds, and confirmatory comments can be seen immediately below. A relaxed tune like "Moonglow" or "Falling In Love Again" will provide a welcome break to frenetic Chuck Berry. In turn, playing these older numbers will influence the nascent writer too.

George Harrison is quoted in the book The Beatles—Inside The One And Only Only Lonely Hearts' Club Band (Allen & Unwin, 1998), an oral history of the band, as saying "We had to play eight hours a night and we started building a big repertoire... we did everything. We used to play 'Moonglow' and lots of other old songs, whatever we could come up with in order to try not to repeat too many."

"Moonglow" is a main example of the mainstream swing era: both Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw recorded it in small group settings—Goodman's version is one of the best known records of the era, and was recently featured in the movie "The Aviator," about Howard Hughes. There is a part of the melody of The Beatles' third single "She Loves You" that may have been inspired by "Moonglow" (see below). It can also not be ignored that the chorus of the famous "All My Loving" has the same first two distinctive chords as the "Moonglow" main melody.

Ringo Starr's predecessor as drummer in the band, Pete Best, said of these leather-clad days and the general Liverpool band reaction against the neat, show-biz "soft-shoe shuffle" image of popular music in the UK at the time..." we were always looking for something different. We were listening to any records we could find... and it was then that people started really going through the new releases, looking for what was different—the blues and jazz type thing. Everyone was trying to get different material, to be different from everyone else."

In other words, the band played a great range of music, not just Chuck Berry or even the broader-flavored Ray Charles. They played show tunes like "September In The Rain" and "I Remember You" (recorded by Charlie Parker on his last significant small group sessions), Marlene Dietrich's 1930 hit "Falling In Love Again," and sentimental classics like "Red Sails In The Sunset." The line between Broadway and jazz is of course very transparent. There were the latin hits like "Besame Mucho" and "Mister Moonlight." There were also novelty songs, (some jazz), such as "Lend Me Your Comb," and Fats Waller's "Your Feet's Too Big."

Examples of these songs can be heard on the recording made by Teddy "Kingsize" Taylor at The Beatles' gig at the Star Club in December, 1962, and later released as the double album The Beatles Live At The Star Club (Lingasong, 1977)—Ringo is on drums by this stage, of course. Half of the album "set" is jazz and latin or novelty songs, and the other half of the set is rock and roll and songs from the Brill writers (there are a Goffin-King song and a Mann-Weil song, as well as an Everly Brothers number).

"Your Feet's Too Big:"

The main source of tunes for jazz (apart from music composed by jazz artists themselves) had always been New York's Tin Pan Alley and its gallery of song-writers such as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and so on. An example of a '20s Tin Pan Alley tune is the Lennon specialty, "Ain't She Sweet" (above). The connection (even in the choice of key (E major), to their second single (and first "number one") "Please Please Me" is obvious. The music is different—the Beatles song contains far more colors and also has a large classical music influence (in particular, possibly Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Charles Ives and Castelnuovo-Tedesco —not discussed here)—but the overall feel is the same: it is a beat-driven musical vehicle with rich melody. "Ain't She Sweet" may be perhaps the clearest and simplest indicator of how show music/jazz drove the Beatles engine. And it was sung by Lennon, often not even usually associated by some people with jazz at all. "Please Please Me" thus has a lineage to jazz after all, despite the lack of any real jazz flavor in the album of the same name itself.

There was also a latin craze at the beginning of the sixties—for example, Stan Getz and his brilliant bossa nova recordings. Of the latin numbers, "Besame Mucho" has a great jazz pedigree: Artie Shaw inventively recorded it with his Gramercy Five in the early '50s. Paul McCartney is said to have wanted to record the song for The Beatles' first album, but producer George Martin apparently vetoed it as too showbiz! But The Beatles couldn't have written their music without the knowledge and feeling of this music. McCartney persisted, and the Meredith Willson Broadway classic "Till There Was You" made it onto their second album—With The Beatles (EMI, 1963)—and very successfully too. Indeed, Ray Charles performed it at the 1995 MTV Europe Awards in Monte Carlo, as if to confirm the jazz credibility of the song. Of course, played as a slower number (than The Beatles' version) it is a jazz staple anyway.

Fortunately for the Beatles, the Peggy Lee version of the song constituted an exotic updated fusion of jazz and latin music. It was released in 1962, thus during The Beatles' last year as Hamburg performers. This intoxicating version was a big influence on The Beatles. The inflections and feel added immeasurably to The Beatles themselves. There is a bootleg of The Beatles live at The Cavern Club in Liverpool during the week their second album was released (i.e. in November, 1963), and Lennon can be heard introducing the number..." here's a number by Peggy Lee... Paul singin,' 'Till There Was You.'" And so, in the hands of The Beatles, the number became fused with rock music also.

"Till There Was You" (Peggy Lee):

McCartney is also said to have wanted to record, on their first or second album, the 1930 song "Falling In Love Again" by Marlene Dietrich, but Martin again opposed the suggestion.

The world of jazz and show business was so familiar to The Beatles that Lennon was able to call Lee "Peggy Leg" on stage in front of Liverpudlian teenagers. Of course, the [British] charts were different at that time. There were many crooner-style records in the charts, and for the next two or three years also. There was a stronger showbiz influence in the popular charts than in America: the English singer Cilla Black, for example, (who came to prominence at the same time as the Beatles—she later recorded a hit version of Bacharach's "Alfie") was more a show singer than a Goffin-King "girl group" style of performer. She was also from Liverpool, and recorded an early extra-Beatles McCartney song, "The Love Of The Loved," a faintly Motown number. In the next few years, she would record and have big hits with two McCartney show/jazz tunes "It's For You" and "Step Inside Love."

Latin Interlude

The influence of latin music on the Beatles was big, as foreshadowed above. Lennon's "Ask Me Why" from The Beatles first album is a latin number. Jazz, for the most part, has always known some kind of latin influence—Jelly Roll Morton used to speak of the "Spanish tinge" in his music—and The Beatles were also clearly devotees of the groove. At one early point, the (pre-Ringo) four even adopted stage names: McCartney was "Paul Ramon," as if to point up his latin-leanings.

"Besame Mucho" is a Mexican tune, and Latin-American guitar styles were also a large influence: the solo and other licks by George Harrison on the 1963 recorded version of "Till There Was You" is identical to guitar parts played by a backing player to a different song at the Peruvian "Cusqena" music fest presented on New York local network television in 2008. Although the quality of reproduction is not great, the clip is instructive: apart from the guitar licks, the music toward the end of the clip is reminiscent of another Beatles latin-style cover "Mister Moonlight" (sung by John Lennon), much performed in Hamburg and recorded on their fourth album Beatles For Sale (EMI, 1964):

In addition to "Ask Me Why," as noted above the first album also included "A Taste Of Honey," a song whose latin connection was amplified by the later popular '60s recording by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. The record is an early Beatles classic.

From the point of view of composition, there is an instructive comment of McCartney: he has said that he really liked the minor to major key change in "Besame Mucho." With "Things We Said Today," from the A Hard Days Night album (EMI, 1964), he shows how much: the middle section begins with an abrupt minor to major key shift, which is very exciting—on the out of print live album The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl (EMI, 1977), the excitement level of the audience markedly goes up a notch when this part of the song is reached.

From an arranging standpoint, McCartney is said to have been completely enamored of Lee's version of "Till There Was You."

The Beatles also felt the influence of Neapolitan song: Elvis Presley had released "It's Now Or Never," i.e. the 1902-composed "O Sole Mio," in 1960, and McCartney sang the song on stage in the Hamburg clubs. This "world" music element of influence on The Beatles is potentially stronger than people may imagine: it was recently claimed on Italian television that no less a song than McCartney's "Yesterday" was copied closely from a Neapolitan song from around 1900.

The Beatles devoured all the records they could find in Hamburg, of any variety. It was a hobby of theirs to find rare records: after all, that's how you learn to write music.

In leaning at times towards latin music, The Beatles were no different from their jazz predecessors—even rock and roller Fats Domino recorded an intriguing latin version of "The Sheik Of Araby" in 1962 (see below).

So this had been the daily world inhabited by The Beatles shortly before their first album.

Harmony: Tin Pan Alley And The Beatles' First Hits

So by 1963, The Beatles' influences included rock and roll, Brill, R&B, emergent Motown, latin and world music, jazz and classical music, in short, anything that sounded good and was musically interesting. For example, their second single "Please Please Me" contains in its opening notes melodic similarities to some classical pieces. In its first notes, there are melodic similarities to no less than four relevant composers (listed above), probably familiar to the writers—Lennon is said to have listened to a lot of classical music when he was about 20, and George Harrison said in a fan interview newspaper in America in 1964 that he listened to a lot of Andre Segovia (one of whose well known records of the time was the guitar concerto by the above-mentioned Castelnuovo-Tedesco). It also appears to have been inspired, in terms of general musical sound, by Roy Orbison.

However, as stated above by reference to "Ain't She Sweet," the song is also firmly in the fine tradition of Tin Pan Alley. Tin Pan Alley was, up to the 1960s, the prime provider of jazz's staple vehicles for improvisation. The Beatles, as wanna-be hit writers, were at one with Tin Pan Alley and its past jazz-fueling products. It has been said that the first Tin Pan Alley "requirement" of a song was that the listener should be hooked in the first ten seconds, which then sells the song: "Please Please Me" has that very catchy figure at the start, so this requirement is certainly fulfilled. First impressions have a major impact. The Beatles knew this. Another "Alley" influence is the title itself: Lennon is believed to have modeled the title on the early Bing Crosby hit "Please": Crosby sang for the opening, "Please, lend your little ear to my pleas..." Try singing the Crosby song with a Lennon accent—even the melody, though unrelated to "Please Please Me," has a Lennon-esque lilt. The overall feel (after it was sped up on producer George Martin's suggestion) being similar to "Ain't She Sweet" has already been noted. And, of course, the session that yielded the latter record was, as noted above, presided over by the producer and jazz-kitsch meister Bert Kampfaert.

"Please Please Me" also, in its melody, opens in a manner similar to the opening of Fats Waller's "Honey Hush." Waller also knew how to hook a listener "in the first ten seconds." The latter song is also discussed in other contexts below.

With The Beatles' third single "From Me To You," the template was firmly extended to include jazz elements in the song's harmony. In their writing of harmony (chord changes) the band was now beginning to reach further back into jazz and the "Great American Song Book," the font of tunes covered "all day and night" by jazz artists from the beginnings of jazz. It is as if The Beatles realized they needed a more expansive musical model: the rock and roll and even the Brill Building music, with its brief and direct chord changes (see below), didn't provide enough of a palate to paint with. Paul McCartney has been quoted as saying that you write a song by finding a good chord progression first. Obviously, he is not talking three chord blues progressions here: there are many great chord progressions in jazz "standards."

With "From Me To You," there is firstly a jazz-like lilting hook: it is not dissimilar, though certainly not the same as, the main hook of Benny Carter's "When Lights Are Low," a very catchy tune indeed.

"From Me To You" is a powerful example of a more sophisticated use of harmony, of "finding a good chord progression." In contrast to the simpler chords of the first album's original Beatle songs, the harmony now reaches into the territory of George Gershwin and Irving Berlin, two master writers of jazz "standards." This is noticeable in the middle section, where there is a key change: the song, as recorded, is in C and the middle section begins with a smooth G minor to C7 move, which musicians will recognize as opening the piece up to the new key of F major. McCartney himself referred to this move, in this song, in a mid '60s interview. He said, it opens up "a whole new world." Indeed it does: it is a new key. This move was also repeated to brilliant effect in reaching the middle section of "I Want To Hold Your Hand," two singles later. This "whole new world" (in the middle section) thus helped sweep The Beatles into America and fully around the world.

Now, this method of changing key is one of the two main ways to change key as taught in music schools everywhere (it is the "ii, V, I progression"). It is all over the songs of the "Great American Songbook." A great example is the very deft move to the home key of Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is The Ocean (How Blue Is The Sky)?," where the piece moves from the tonal area of (if the sing is performed in, say, D), B minor, by a "side- ways" slide "down" to the chord of E minor, then the chord A7 and so on to the chord and home key of D major.

In the words of The Who's Pete Townsend—quoted in the 1970s—"The Beatles brought song-writing to rock and roll." By "song-writing," he means "Tin Pan Alley"—i.e. jazz-"Great American Songbook" writing.

Before "I Want To Hold Your Hand," however, this general smoother, jazz style of writing was magnificently brought to effect on "She Loves You," The Beatles' fourth single, where the jazz world really comes to the fore: the song appears to have many jazz influences. Firstly, on the words "with a love like that," the C minor chord behind the melody is followed by the dominant D chord (the song is in G major). This chord progression is in George Gershwin's "Embraceable You": on the words "my sweet embrace... able... you," at the conclusion of the tune (the "chorus," in "'30s speak"). It is also in Gershwin's "The Man I Love;" this, perhaps his best tune, concludes its main section with the same progression also; the IV chord is minor and the the next chord is the fifth, the dominant flattened major seventh, before you head back to the I chord; it is on the words "and though it sounds absurd, I know we both won't say a word."

Gershwin, of course, composed jazz tunes, or, in the words of distinguished broadcaster and musician Karl Haas, [Gershwin's]..." (m)any memorable tunes, conceived in the manner of jazz, had established Gershwin's fame as a popular composer... In fact, his musical comedies were filled with true hit tunes, such as 'Fascinatin' Rhythm' and 'S Wonderful..." Inside Music (Doubleday, 1984). The songs of "The Great American Songbook," whether written for shows or not, are indivisible from jazz.

Gershwin was clearly a very strong source of inspiration for The Beatles, from the very first time McCartney heard "Stairway To Paradise" as a child. Indeed, McCartney senior apparently even used to train his two sons by playing a note and require that the two instantly fill in the other notes of the chord, vocally. In any event, to be trained in Gershwin is a good beginning for a writer.

Another possible clue to part of the chords in "She Loves You" is in Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm." "She Loves You" (justifiably described by The Beatles' producer George Martin as "a tremendous tune") is notable for a particularly springy part where the first two chords of the verse (G and its relative minor E minor) are followed not by the usual A minor and (dominant) D7 (as was common in doo-wop, for example, and as in the classic "These Foolish Things"), but by B minor and then D7. This gives power and strong support to the tune. Now, Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm" (also a significant inspiration and vehicle for Charlie Parker in shaping bebop twenty years earlier) does exactly the same thing; on the words "who could wish for anything more," (which finish off the verse section), the same two chords project you back to the tonic chord. It is, of course, conjecture whether these chords in "I Got Rhythm" lay subconsciously beneath Lennon and/or McCartney's choice of those chords, but, as with the two consecutive chords of "Embraceable You" and "The Man I Love" above, the same musical job is accomplished. The coincidence of two possible (and very clear) Gershwin-sourced examples in the same tune can't be ignored.

Lennon (frequently more blues-oriented) reportedly used to sing "Don't Blame Me," a "torch" song introduced by Frank Sinatra on his radio show in the early '50s as "a blues song"—it was also famously played by Charlie Parker on his masterpiece series of recordings, with Miles Davis, of 1947-48.

Even the melody of "She Loves You" seems to vaguely echo Gershwin's sublime "Someone To Watch Over Me;" both songs begin with an ascending diatonic scale, a deliberative rise from the tonic note into the body of the piece. A second element of the melody of "She Loves You" may arise from "Moonglow" or even from modern jazz recordings. This is discussed below.

It is undeniable that the sound template for The Beatles came most immediately from the brilliant and bright rock sound of the American "girl groups" such as The Shirelles ("Boys," "Baby It's You," "Chains" and "Twist And Shout" were all recorded by the group). A further excellent example is a song by a group called The Donays, "Devil In His Heart," recorded by The Beatles as "Devil In Her Heart" on their second album (also, of course, in 1963). But The Beatles added composition, of the kind used in jazz tunes, to the sound. The Donays song can be used as an example: the song is infectious but has direct and simple chord progressions. The "devil" is in the detail of how the melody is twisted by the writers around the chords. The Beatles, however, took a more complex and longer-stretched harmonic approach: a tune such as Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" travels quite a way before it makes it back to its beginning. This is a "long" tune—it has no quick route through, as does "Devil In Her Heart." And so The Beatles wrote longer chord progressions, as in "She Loves You." This is surely part of what George Martin meant when he rhapsodized about the song.

In 1964, it was even possible to locate a "tag" in a Beatles-written song—a tag is the "sign-off" brief repeated final phrase of the tune used to wrap up a typical jazz AABA format song, in a balanced way (for example, where the original Broadway "verse," if any, is omitted). Lennon wrote a song called "Bad To Me," generally considered the best unrecorded (by the Beatles) Lennon-McCartney song. The tune has a neat tag, in typical swing fashion. It was recorded by another artist, but The Beatles' demo is on Youtube:

There may also even be an indirect jazz influence on the general Beatles' early sound itself, at least their "country" sound. The famous Sun Sessions first single that Elvis Presley recorded had as its flipside "Blue Moon Of Kentucky"—the guitar sound is very much like the 1964 Beatles country records such as those on Beatles For Sale: the guitarist on the Elvis record was Scotty Moore, who is said to have listened to Charlie Christian. He certainly grew up in jazz as well as country.

Returning to harmony, a rich example of certain (and probably conscious) harmonic appropriation is the opening track from The Beatles' late '63 second album, With The Beatles (EMI, 1963). The song is the faintly Motown-styled rocker "It Won't Be Long." It has a great, original riff, probably a Lennon invention (he sings the song) and which was clearly varied by McCartney later to write "Helter Skelter," from the "White Album" (EMI, 1968). However, the release section of the tune runs over the same chords that Duke Ellington used for the main section of his 1928 masterpiece "Black Beauty."

In his book Duke Ellington: Restless Genius of Jazz, the well known author and jazz writer James Lincoln Collier supposes that Ellington may have written "Black Beauty" by letting the lower fingers of his hand fall down chromatically to lower notes on, say, a Bb major chord (root triad) on the keyboard, while keeping his top digit on the same note (if in Bb, the third, D), thus coming up with the simple and pleasing descending chord progression Bb major, F+, Bb9 and G flattened seventh (G7). Comparing each part of both tunes, seems as though Lennon (assuming this part of the tune was also written by him, and not McCartney) might have thought this a good idea too.

"Black Beauty" is a very well known piece of "early Ellingtonia," and would certainly have been on albums that Lennon found (he probably knew it as a child anyway). It is the first of Ellington's clearly recognizable "songs." Indeed, it is a tremendously interesting tune, one of the earliest clear and modern, sharply-etched tunes in popular music history. It stands out from the crowd in the 1920s, and probably has more in common with Burt Bacharach's tunes than the standard '20s music (as, indeed, do the the songs of the time by Gershwin).

Black Beauty:

To see the point on a guitar, simply strum only the top three strings (the G, B and E strings), and drop the two fingers on the G and B strings down a fret, then down another, then leave the G and B strings open. You have now reached a G flattened seventh chord. Ellington's piece then (essentially) moves along on top of Eb and F+ to return to Bb. Lennon's moves from G7 also to Eb and then F, repeating these last two chords before returning to Bb (of course, the Beatle song is actually in the key of E, not Bb). Played on a guitar, its chords even sound quite like Lennon sonically. In any event, the chordal similarity is so precise that it can't not be mentioned.

The investigation of "It Won't Be Long" gets even more interesting when it is noticed that in the verse of the song, an angular and sudden melodic change from a tune written by a friend of Gershwin, Nathaniel Shilkret ("Make Believe"), is inserted. This is on the words..." everybody has fun." The underlying chord is an abrupt C major, before the return to the tonic key chord of E major. At this point, Gershwin's tune's chord change and melody above it is identical to The Beatles tune. "Make Believe" is available on a CD compilation of piano roll recordings that Gershwin made of his earlier compositions and other songs, such as "Make Believe" that he was paid to hawk in his very early days.

It may be that, in the rush to write new songs for the next album, Lennon might have had more in common with renowned magpie Noel Gallagher (of Oasis) than may have been previously thought. But don't forget that, if so, it shows Lennon was very well-listened. How else do you learn to write great tunes?

Moving to recording artists and composers prominent in the 1930s , the Beatles were obviously big fans of Fats Waller. Waller's "Honey Hush" (from 1939) is, in its entirety (less one extra key change in the middle section—see below), a model or template for The Beatles' biggest single, "I Want to Hold Your Hand": the whole feel of this late Waller composition is indeed "all Beatles." It could be said that The Beatles' sound, over 1963 to 1965, was Fats Waller on top of electric instruments and a rock beat (or, compositionally, "Cole Porter tunes over a Buddy Holly sound"!). If there is one pre-Beatles tune you could reference that would describe The Beatles, in sound and in composition, to a person who had never heard them, it would, or could, be "Honey Hush:"

The melody of "Honey Hush" has an unmistakable "Beatles" flavor, not dissimilar to the chorus, for example, of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" or the verse of "Penny Lane," two of The Beatles most important records (note that the trumpet at the beginning of Mahler's 5th Symphony is also very close to the first notes of "Penny Lane").

An interesting aspect of "Honey Hush" is the middle section: Waller almost literally strides out, harmonically-speaking, with a clear, massive sounding "ii V I" change (F minor to Bb major to Eb major) to the new key of Eb (the song is in C major). It is a neat lesson for anyone working out the song on, say a guitar, of the power of a big key shift to a new region, just as the Beatles did so clearly in "From Me To You" and, very importantly, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." The tune then changes key to G major, before abruptly jumping sideways and up, to A7, before continuing with the main verse. Assuming his likely familiarity with the tune, this sideways jump of a whole tone may even have stuck in McCartney's mind for "Penny Lane," as the signature feature of "Penny Lane" (perhaps his brightest composition) is the downwards key change (down a whole tone) for the chorus.

It is also extremely interesting that Waller begins singing the middle section's melody over the chords making the key change, the F minor and the Bb major chords (the ii and the V). This is relatively unusual in popular music: songs are either essentially through-composed, such as "Stardust," or the melody of the middle section begins once the new tonal area has been fully reached (save for perhaps a brief syncopated "appoggiatura," as in, for example, "Ain't She Sweet"). Examples include "Embraceable You," most of Waller's other famous compositions, and of course many, many others. It is rare for the new key to be preceded by words sung on the strong beat of the preceding two or more ("transitional" bars). Yet, it occurs in "Honey Hush" and in a brilliant song from the '60s, McCartney's "Yesterday." "Yesterday" sees the words "Why she," beginning the song's famous middle section ("Why she... had to go," etc) being sung on, again, the ii V chords (E minor 7 and A7) setting up the song's key change to the middle section (beginning in the key of D minor). In this context, "Honey Hush" and "Yesterday" are two trains running on parallel, close tracks. They do not have many well known companions in this. The Beatles also wrote this way with "From Me To You," in 1963, and "I Want To Hold Your Hand" two singles later. So, it may be no exaggeration to advance the suggestion that "Honey Hush" (and Fats Waller and so jazz) could be single-handedly responsible for showing the Beatles the way to their rocking-yet-swinging revolution.

"Honey Hush" may thus have influenced The Beatles both melodically and harmonically—it seems a "given" that they would have known the record. They seem to have known virtually all his others, actually performing some for a living in Hamburg.

A stand-out feature of their Hamburg shows was a rousing version of Waller's (aforementioned) "Your Feet's Too Big," "Up in Harlem, at a table for two, there were four of us, me, your big feet and you..." The number is of course on the Star Club album. The tune was presumably great for audience participation too.

Waller also arose when The Beatles made their 1962 demos for the Decca label, when they were trying for a record deal. The band recorded several swing era/crooner tunes in addition to Goffin-King, latin and other numbers recorded, including "The Sheik of Araby," a classic show tune. Waller's popular cover is perhaps the most definitive—Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman also made a brilliant version with the Benny Goodman Sextet. Interestingly enough, Fats Domino recorded a latin-tinged version in 1960.

George Harrison was the nominated singer on the record on The Beatles' demo version. Presumably both Lennon and McCartney thought it a bit corny for them to sing formally. Here is The Beatles' version of "The Sheik Of Araby:"

Another interesting track recorded on these 1962 sessions was a rocked-up version of the classic "September In The Rain."

September In The Rain:

Show tunes and jazz were everywhere for the Beatles.

Modern Jazz

A second aspect of "She Loves You" to highlight is the notes on the syllables..." [I saw her] yes-ter-day-y-ay," in the verse. Here there is a possible bebop influence. Dizzy Gillespie fans may recognize the resemblance, melodically and rhythmically, to the last part of the phrase "ooh bop she bam-a-klook-a- mop," from the novelty bop classic "Ooh Bop She Bam," on the "bam-a-klook-a-mop" part. [The "klook" or "kloog," by the way, is a reference to one of bebop's originators, the drummer Kenny "Klook" Clarke].

The melodist of "She Loves You" at this point (whoever it was, Lennon or McCartney) places this triplet hook in "higher" parts of the chord (the lower voice begins on the third, the higher on the fifth), but the resemblance is there. Gillespie's hit was very well known, and despite the slight novelty flavor, is a basic part of jazz literature.

Yet, it is equally possible that the idea came the thirties hit "Moonglow," referred to above by George Harrison as one of the "old songs" the band quickly added to their repertoire to meet the demands of the many hours on stage in Hamburg. The third phrase of "Moonglow" (as in, for example, the very well-known Benny Goodman Quartet version) ends with a triplet flourish of the notes (in the key of G major) B-D-B—these are the same notes (triplet) of the lower voice in "She Loves You" on..." day-y-ay" (above). The higher voice, as noted above, begins on the dominant note: D-F#-D.

There is also a repetition of the hook (beginning on the third note) by Stan Getz in his solo on the famous sax and guitar quintet recording, with the Johnny Smith Quintet, from 1952, of "Moonlight On Vermont."

Modern jazz may have suggested, or reinforced the suggestion from "Moonglow," of an interesting triplet for The Beatles' melody. It is also interesting to note that the Gillespie figure is built on the relatively earth-bound tonic note, and the "Moonglow" and Getz examples are built on the third note in the chord. Yet, The Beatles (in the higher of their two melodic lines) take it to the top, basing the triplet on the dominant note. The latter is the most colorful use of the figure by a long way, this bright effect being obtained by placing the figure high in the chord. This use of melody in the higher areas of the chord was a Charlie Parker innovation. Certainly, it appears that bebop, as well as older jazz, helped build The Beatles (there are further examples below).

In any event, The Beatles appear to have absorbed licks from jazz, and then pumped them out in their songs. Here, a piece of jazz decoration (or melodic variation)—or riff, in the case of Gillespie's record—wound up in a big, formative Beatles hit.

There are, of course, further example of bop's (general) influence on The Beatles. In the film "A Hard Day's Night" (United Artists, 1964) there is a scene where McCartney slowly and carefully plays over a distinctively Thelonious Monk passage on the piano while the others talk. So here is commercially-released cinematic evidence of McCartney researching Monk, and how his music worked.

Is there an actual Monk footprint in a later Beatles tune? Well, "Yesterday" changes key, from concert F major to the relative minor D minor, almost immediately the tune starts, on the words "[Yesterday] love was such an easy game to play;" this is not a usual thing in any music, rock or classical. Monk also did this, for example simply beginning a tune with abrupt and blunt chromatically descending major chords. This could, to some, seem relatively tuneless, but the idea certainly conveys the impression of an early key change, a key change almost as soon as the tune begins.

McCartney may therefore have Monk (very active in the early sixties) to thank for the idea of an immediate key switch, as in "Yesterday." (Then again, perhaps the mysterious Neapolitan song mentioned above was the source!). McCartney did it again with "Michelle," released later the same year. ["Yesterday" was from Help (EMI, 1965) and "Michelle" from Rubber Soul (EMI, 1965)].

Immediate key changes in The Beatles' songs have also been discussed by American classical composer Ned Rorem (called by some "the father of American song") in an interesting contemporary (1967) article on The Beatles, (re-published in his book Setting The Tone, of 1983). Of "Michelle," Rorem writes the song..." changes key on the very second measure (which is also the second word )..." ["Michelle ma belle." This is similar to "Yesterday;" the latter changes key on the third bar, but "Yesterday" is in the "quicker" time signature of 2/4 so it appears to happen as quickly as in "Michelle"].

Rorem continues..." in itself this is 'allowed'—Poulenc [the twentieth century French composer] often did it... the point is that he chose to do it on just the second measure and that the choice worked...," presumably implying that McCartney wrote the immediate key change naturally, by choice and/or feeling. But the Monk exposure does suggest itself as a possible source of the concept, an unusual one as acknowledged by Rorem singling out Poulenc as a rare example of a composer who engaged in the practice. McCartney is, after all, seen absorbing Monk's unconventional approaches in "A Hard Day's Night"—just as Rorem describes how he himself, as a teenager, absorbed Billie Holiday's mannerisms and Count Basie's approach to the piano, when he discusses the way jazz influenced him. He says, (in an article written in 1981) how he was inevitably influenced by jazz simply by "growing up" with it..." I was as influenced by pre-war jazz as by 'serious' music." Not the tune itself but Billie Holliday's way with a tune taught me how to knead a vocal phrase, just as Count Basie's piano playing still shapes my piano composing."

Thus we see a leading classical composer (and one famous, in particular, as an "art song" writer) explaining how jazz's influence worked on him. This assists in understanding how jazz may, in turn, have influenced other composers, such as Lennon and McCartney. Jazz is a very strong and vibrant form of music, from Basie's piano lines to Lee Morgan's fluidity. (Morgan himself appears shortly). And so jazz has to influence people with ears, whatever their field of music.

Aside from McCartney, there is evidence that Lennon listened to much modern jazz. In 1966, he gave an interview to the journalist Maureen Cleeve of the London "Evening Standard" newspaper. Cleeve noted that his room included a "large" collection of "modern jazz." This is surely not surprising: immediately before The Beatles' came on the scene, the most advanced and "forward-looking" music was indeed "modern" jazz. From The Beatles' own "growth-ring" album of Rubber Soul and its successor Revolver, they themselves took over as the most advanced music of the day. But before that, it was newer jazz. There was great innovation from jazz artists in the late '50s and early to mid '60s. Coltrane, Morgan, Monk (already mentioned) and others were all in the ascendant. So, compositional influences were going to come from contemporaneous music, they would certainly come from modern jazz (as well as from the recently developed Motown, of course—McCartney was a big fan of the innovative Motown studio bassist, James Lee Jamerson).

There would seem to be specific examples in the Beatles' tunes. For example, in 1965 Lennon wrote "Day Tripper," another number one (with it's flip-side "We Can Work It Out"). After the standard blues changes at the start of the verse (over the powerful riff on the E and A chords), Lennon, instead of moving to the perhaps expected B major to round things off, moves to an F# major chord, on the words..." [She's a] day tripper, Sunday driver, yeah." This is the change that trumpeter Lee Morgan makes on "The Sidewinder," from his 1962 album of the same name. Instead of the usual V chord, there is a II (that is, a major) chord. After his F# chord, Lennon of course eventually does wind back to the tonic E major via various chords including the dominant B major.

The similarity to the Morgan classic is such that it seems most possible that it is where this hooky (harmonic) aspect of "Day Tripper" came from. It is a very distinctive chord shift, trying for something different in the blues format.

Of course, Lennon may have thought of it anyway, especially being the imaginative person that he was, but it is in "The Sidewinder." "The Sidewinder" is very well known, and Lennon had a "large... modern jazz" collection—presumably mainly "Blue Note" (Morgan's label), as "Blue Note" by then had the monopoly on modern jazz releases.

"The Sidewinder (Lee Morgan):

Before this, in 1964 Lennon sang lead on the Larry Williams rock and roll song "Slow Down;" the Beatles version sounds more like "The Sidewinder" than anything else—it is a twelve bar blues played in a similar funky piano style. The Williams original, by comparison, is a '50s rock and roll sound (Williams was groomed as successor to Little Richard by their mutual label, Specialty Records, when the latter "retired").

In addition to harmony, modern jazz (in particular bebop) may have influenced The Beatles in another way as well. The melody of "Yesterday," (the tune is discussed to an extent above with regard to harmony), can sound a little like a Parker line: consider what happens if you don't sound the last syllable of each of the four phrases of the verse of the song:

"Yester— Love was such an easy game to— Now I need to hide a -I believe in yester -"

Sung without the missing syllables, it will begin to sound like the short snappy phrases of Parker rushing around the more traditional chord progression. In addition, the rock era saw male vocals become established in a pitch area higher than the classic jazz baritone Sinatra style crooner voice. This can be seen as the male vocal equivalent of a higher pitched alto voice such as Parker's, necessary to play (or sing) the higher intervals of the chord—the moment when he "came alive" (in his own words) in the chicken shack in 1939 playing over the higher intervals of a chord with guitarist Biddy Fleet. A currently successful European conductor once asked if "Yesterday" was sung falsetto:"That's falsetto, isn't it?" "Yesterday" is not falsetto, but to a classical musician used to lower male singing, the higher area of the chord sing on many rock/pop records may sound, relatively, falsetto.

Thus, Parker could be said to have re-designed melody, putting it into the area of the higher reaches of the chord. In this way, he didn't just change jazz, he changed music. Instead of the "written for baritone" songs like "Embraceable You" or "Stardust," tunes were in general now faster, lighter, like "Yesterday" and most rock chart music of the sixties (Elvis apart)—male vocals were now (and have remained) more highly pitched. Although it is not possible in actual melodic terms to join a direct line between Charlie Parker and heavy metal singers, there is probably even a connection there. Some of Parker's reedy playing on the slow ballads of 1948 (for example the peerless "Out Of Nowhere") can even sound, sonically, a little like Eric Clapton's '60s guitar blues lines. There is, of course, that well-known quote from the sixties: "If Charlie Parker were alive today, he'd think he was living in a room full of mirrors." Everybody now sounded like Parker in some way. The melodic arc of "Yesterday" surely echoes Charlie Parker (This is subject to any notable similarity between "Yesterday" and the Neapolitan song that has been alleged: if confirmed, Parker may not be the sole explanation for the tune's melody! In any event, popular music changed after Charlie Parker. The Beatles were among those who absorbed this change in approach).

Later, there were signs of Parker even in children's television themes: the "Sesame Street Theme" is very Parker-like, as are the themes to the cartoons "The Flinstones" and "Top Cat"—there was even a popular sports (cricket) television advertising jingle, first heard in the late 1970s, that directly copied a brief part of Parker's "Moose The Mooch," as a useful hook. It is probably no surprise, therefore, that The Beatles placed the "'Moonglow'—'Ooh Bop She Bam'" hook as high in the chord as it could go in "She Loves You" (that is, the top melody line)—their final teacher in this may well have been the "Bird," whether they knew it or not.

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—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 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: 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 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. 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.

Riff Interlude

Beatles riffs (mostly written by Lennon), as in "It Won't Be Long," the fill in "She Loves You," and up to and including the muscular riff of "Day Tripper," appear to derive from rock and roll/R&B stylists like Larry Williams: William's classic "Bony Moronie" has a great model riff, as does his "Slow Down"—The Beatles covered three of Williams hits ("Slow Down," "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" and "Bad Boy"). Yet a riff like the riff in "Bony Moronie" harks back to thirties jazz: it is, for example, similar to the riff in the big Artie Shaw hit "Back Bay Shuffle," of 1939. The latter record is a made-for-jukebox number: the climbing riffs of the saxophones sound exciting and uplifting today. Shaw co-wrote the number, which was probably a reply to the classic Count Basie riffs such as in the timeless "One O'Clock Jump" (1937):

The riff in "Bony Moronie" begins on the tonic and climbs to the same note an octave higher before descending back again; so does the riff from "Backbay Shuffle." The two riffs have the same broad shape. The later one is simply over a different beat, duple time whereas the earlier is over 6/8 time. So octave-wide electrifying sax riffs blasted from juke boxes in 1939, and similar riffs, but this time literally electric, did so in 1965, with "Day Tripper." So, whether via Larry Williams or directly, the jazz riffs of the 1930s came through in John Lennon's writing.

Beyond Jazz?

With Revolver, and certainly from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles started to step away from direct jazz influence as they moved beyond their primary influences, in really forging a whole, a classical world of their own. The music was now extremely cohesive, and original, for example "Strawberry Fields," "With A Little Help From My friends," "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," and "A Day In The Life" (even if the second phrase of the verse, when syncopated, has a slight reference to a swing music sax section). New non-jazz influences had already arisen in 1965, with the folk influence of Bob Dylan, the experiments of the Byrds and in 1966 with Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds (Capitol, 1966). Soul had shown its influence on Rubber Soul and Revolver. More modern songwriters like Burt Bacharach and Michelle Legrand can perhaps also be heard in songs like "Fool On The Hill." Other leading artists of the 1960s were thus contributing their own influence on The Beatles, even where that influence was itself sourced in jazz (like Brian Wilson).

Yet, jazz still appeared at times. In addition to the obvious "You Know My Name, Look Up The Number," there is the solo scat of McCartney in "Rocky Raccoon"—from The White Album (EMI, 1968); it sounds like a flying Parker solo. Part of the melody of "Bungalow Bill" echoes a '30s swing tune. Also in 1968, McCartney is believed to have pitched an unrecorded cocktail-style song to Frank Sinatra.

After The Beatles, signs of a close affinity to jazz tunes and jazz composers continued to appear. For example, when recording Cole Porter's "True Love" on his album 33 1/3 (Dark Horse, 1976), George Harrison varied some of the chords, explaining at the time... "but he (Cole Porter) got the chords wrong!" Harrison effectively recomposed some of the song, and it is an effective presentation.

As McCartney said of the American artists and the early Beatles, "We just copied what they did." For his part, Lennon said "It sounds different in a British (and male) voice"—he was referring to the 'girl groups.'" And of course the Beatles referenced jazz as much as they did the '60s "girl groups."

And now jazz plays the Beatles. See, for example, albums such as Blue Note Plays The Beatles (Blue Note, 2003), or Erroll Garner's jazz-rhythmed version of "Yesterday" (where the descending bass note between the words ..."all my troubles seemed so far away" and "now I need a place to hideaway" is brought midway between the two phrases instead of being left to just before the second of these phrases, as the Beatles recorded it). And almost immediately, some writers began to adapt The Beatles "back into" jazz and related popular music. For example, blues guitarist Freddie King released his first album since 1961— Bonanza Of Instrumentals (Federal, 1965)—with a track called "Remington Ride" which has the same chord progression as Lennon's "I'll Cry Instead" from a Hard Day's Night. Burt Bacharach wrote "What The World Needs Now," which essentially has the same chorus hook as "Can't Buy Me Love," from the same album. Sinatra recorded "Yesterday," and Ray Charles recorded "Yesterday" and "Eleanor Rigby." There are also jazz-arranged piano books of Beatles tunes. Another French book, on the history of jazz tunes, ended with a chapter on the Beatles and a large photograph of John Lennon, "jazz composer."

So it is in these ways, at least, that jazz influenced The Beatles.

Post a comment


Shop Amazon


All About Jazz needs your support

All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, shelter in place and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary effort that will help musicians now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the bottom right video ad). Thank you.

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.