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Jazz Honors The Beatles

Michael Ricci By

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When The Beatles first emerged at the forefront of The British Invasion, few could have predicted the impact they'd have beyond the world of rock and pop. Early albums, and songs like "Love Me Do," "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand," were hardly the grist for something more.

But by the time The Beatles reached the turning point of Rubber Soul (Apple/EMI, 1965), a change was in the air. The Fab Four—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr—began to transcend the simple (but undeniably appealing) pop structures of their early hits, incorporating elements from farther afield. They'd already scored a major hit earlier in the year with the surprisingly sophisticated ballad, "Yesterday," from Help! (Apple/EMI, 1965), but with "Norwegian Wood," the beginnings of an interest in Indian music was made manifest by George Harrison's simple but effective sitar work, while "Michelle" represented another move towards richer songwriting.

From that point forward, The Beatles' may still have been a pop band at heart, but experimentation was also at its core, a heady combination of the lightening speed growth by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison as writers and producer George Martin's sonic innovations. Revolver (Apple/EMI, 1966) led to a string of seminal albums, all groundbreaking in individual ways. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Apple/EMI, 1967), Magical Mystery Tour (Apple/EMI, 1967), The Beatles (Apple/EMI, 1968) and Abbey Road (Apple/EMI, 1969) were all filled with vividly memorable songs, and remarkable, forward-thinking production.

The Beatles' impact on the pop world was already cemented, but it wasn't long before artists in the jazz world realized there was plenty of potential to be found. Over the past 40 years, Beatles tunes have been stretched, twisted and reworked by artists ranging from Buddy Rich, Wes Montgomery, Marian McPartland, Sonny Rollins and Benny Goodman to Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, Cassandra Wilson, Chris Potter, Tony Williams and Jaco Pastorius. Entire albums have been devoted to the music of The Beatles by John Pizzarelli, Mike Mainieri, and Joel Harrison, while the BeatleJazz trio has released four full albums dedicated to the music by the Fab Four.

With the recent, long overdue release of the remastered Beatles collection, AAJ decided to reach out to the jazz world, to find out just how pervasive the group's reach has been. Here are the words of nearly 80 artists, telling how The Beatles affected their music... and, in many cases, their lives.

I remember very well hearing and then seeing the Beatles for the first time, listening to their records and, I confess, getting a Beatle haircut in my Mom's kitchen! Who wasn't affected by the Beatles? I didn't really learn guitar like many others did from that school but sure listened to and loved their music. I also had the rare privilege of of being George Harrison's second guitarist on the only full blown tour he ever did, known as the Dark Horse Tour with Ravi Shankar, sixteen Indian musicians and a host of rock heavyweights in the band. Wow! I hung at George's place at Hendley On Themes, listened to Ravi rehearse there, drank tea and recorded with George.

He was a sweet cat, always nice and complimentary, full of life and humor. Sad he left so soon.

The Beatles enriched us all, so glad we had the Beatles.

Robben Ford

There were ten kids in our family. We played at being the Beatles down in our cellar. We'd wait for our chance to be John, or Paul or the quiet ones wanted to be George, or Ringo with the pots and pans... the first 1/2 hour one person would be Paul and then you'd switch out. How did they influence me musically? Its hard to tell because they were so integrated into our lives for a while there. I always knew I wanted to be a musician, and seeing how they just sang about whatever was happening to them showed me that music is not separate from one's life. Their songs have a perfect combination of simplicity and fearless elaborating, always fresh and unexpected. I just loved 'em. Here's a little clip of Peter Eldridge and I singing "She's Leaving Home" at Birdland.

Kate McGarry

One of the most groundbreaking units in the history of music, their music is arguably the most captivating example of creativity from the 20th century!

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

There never was and will never be another band that I loved as much as The Beatles. I was eight when I bought Rubber Soul, my first album purchase ever. The magisterial excitement of that moment, as I gazed at the four long faces staring back at me from the record bin, handed the clerk $2.97, and dashed home to put it on my record player, will never leave me. The Beatles were the first at many things, including: destroying the division between high and low art, introducing Indian music into the pop realm, combining pop, avant-garde, and classical impulses in meaningful ways. Their humor was joyous, politics righteous, their tunes and harmony were gorgeous, exhilarating, new. Like great jazz players they were always evolving, not satisfied with the status quo. Each new record felt like a blast of fresh air—I'd spin it for days, trying to dress like them, think like them. I stopped listening to them for many years, but it all came back to me when I did the Harrison on Harrison CD of all George Harrison music. I chose him partly because he was an underdog, but they were all absurdly brilliant.

Joel Harrison

In 1966, when I was 8 years old, John Lennon said, "We're more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first—rock and roll or Christianity." I was living in the South when he dropped that devil of a quote and pretty soon Beatles music was banned and people were stomping on their albums and Beatles material. This reaction proved a windfall for me, because my GODfather gathered his daughter's entire Beatles album collection and released the devil's music on me. I promptly put the first record on my player, got on my drum set, and pretended I was Ringo.

When I heard "Revolution," "A Long and Winding Road," and "Let it Be" I realized they were the first examples of pop-fusion music. The Beatles fused melodicism and harmony with the spirit of rock and roll. I was writing songs at an early age, so I incorporated this 'fusion' in my compositions. They paved the way for experimentation in the studio—whether it's Lennon doing a vocal track lying on the floor to create a different sound, they just let it be. When I'm in the studio, I keep that spirit of experimentation. Whatever goes!

I see their body of work mirror the arc of great jazz musicians. Their music changed from song to song and record to record. The Fab Four has inspired me to keep high standards of creativity with every project that I undertake.

John Beasley

I think the Beatles were the most influential band in pop music history. Think about it, their music is known all around the world and to this day their music is still on the radio and TV commercials daily. The main four members were only a band for about 7 years and changed the face of music in that short time. Forty years later they still have a mystique and fan base that will probably never be topped.

If you look at the evolution of what the Beatles sounded like from Please Please Me to Let It Be, their sound completely changed. The one absolutely amazing thing that they did was they took their fans with them on their musical journey. How many bands/musicians can evolve so much in a short time and not only keep their fan base but grow it? To me that is amazing.

So much of their song writing was from an era where songs were truly songs, that's why so many jazz artists have recorded Beatles tunes. Melodies, chord changes, and actual song structure. Because of that their songs will last forever because many of them are not trendy and time period based.

I personally have recorded five Beatles tunes and I am sure I will record more.

"Come Together" on Wood (Artistry Music); "Let 'Em In" on Wood II (Artistry Music); "And I Love Her" on Brombo (King Records, Japan); "Day Tripper," "Yesterday," "Eleanor Rigby" on Hands (King Records, Japan)

To me their body of work is tremendous and there is always something you can do arrangement wise with a great melody. Plus, being a bassist it is awesome to me that Paul McCartney is also a bassist. He also spent a fair amount of time in my home Town of Tucson, AZ. I hope I get to meet him one day!

Brian Bromberg

I've been listening to The Beatles since I was a teenager, not just because their's was the popular music of the day, but because, especially in their earlier works, the sentiment of their lyrics touched so many feelings that I was having at the time. I remember listening to "The Long and Winding Road" over and over again, because it gave me a sense of hope in connecting deeply with another person and finding true love-the lyrics "lead me to your door," touched me to the core. All the things that affected me when I was young seemed to be found in their lyrics of one tune or another. I've always believed that the three keys to a great original song are a memorable melody, a universal story and lyric, and a timeless quality. I don't know anyone who can't remember most of The Beatles' tunes-music and lyrics. That is the most revealing testament to the power, mastery and genius of their enormous body of work.

Currently, their songs are being repackaged for a new generation to discover. The Beatles will forever be relevant because they were able to put their fingers on the pulse of the emotions and consciousness of an entire generation. They awakened in our awareness the need for love, peace, and unity in the world—and echoed those sentiments musically. Their message is timeless. With every lyric and melody, their songs will continue to reach people throughout the world in every country, language and generation, insuring their immortal place in music history and in our hearts.

Lynne Arriale

I think the qualities of the Beatles that most come out in my music are the energy of the live performance and the sense of humour. The Beatles, to me, seemed to live for the live performance as much as they wouldn't admit it. I remember seeing the film Let It Be in a the Tampa theater in 1979 and the place went crazy watching the concert on the roof... and that was a film! The energy was amazing. The general charisma of the band was captivating. The outfits and haircuts, the general setup of the group was something we all wanted to aspire to, no matter what our style of music would be. I liked the uniformity of the presentation, but the outside the lines thinking that went into the music.
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