I saw them Live at The Cow Palace in San Francisco. It was crazy to be in that wild audience of prepubescent girls all standing on their chairs screaming so loud you couldn't even hear the music. My God, what a cultural experience! But I grew with them and I changed with them as the times changed. From the innocence of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" to the sly coded lyrics of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" (only those who were really hip, we thought, knew what that really meant!). Life is funny. They say it all goes round and round. So in the end I have to tell you a story: I was singing at Ronnie Scott's Club in London.
Paul McCartney's MPL offices are 2 blocks away from Ronnie's at #1 Soho Square. Occasionally he would drop into the club to check out who was playing there. One night when I was performing there, my visiting friends who were in the audience; pianist extraordinaire, Amina Figarova
and bassist, Ruth Davies
, whispered to me," Paul McCartney is here!" I said, "Help! I wish you hadn't told me that!" As you can imagine, I was a bit intimidated!
The club's audience is dark from the stage... but, when I got onstage I looked out and there sitting against the back wall under the only light was Paul. Yes, I could see him very clearly. In fact he was the only person in the audience that I could see! But there he was, digging my music and clapping along! I had such fun singing to him. Remembering how I had once sat in the audience and listened to him and the Beatles, I just had to shake my head! On the way home I dropped off my CD at his office as thank you gift for staying for my show, and congratulations to him, his wife and newborn baby (born that very day). Do you want to know a secret? Life may indeed be a long and winding road, but sometimes it all just comes back full circle. It certainly can be a fun ride if you're patient!
As far as the Beatles impacting my music itself, I don't believe I had any interest when they first exploded in the United States. I was with Don Patterson
, and Billy James at the time, ("burnin'"). The entrance of The Beatles into America took place at a time when my personal focus was completely absorbed by the culture that surrounded me. At that time I was very active in Harlem at places like Small's Paradise, Count Basies, etc., as well as performing throughout the States in what was known as the "Chitlin Circuit" with leaders like Willis Jackson, Jimmy Smith
, Jack McDuff
, etc., etc. What was effecting me more than anything was the nature of different cultures. Although I was completely dedicated to jazz alone, I was there to study the people more than the music, it seemed that the playing in context was always second nature to me, as it is to this day.
By 1968, I began to notice for the first time the interest that George Harrison, as well as John Lennon held on eastern spiritualism. Once I began to turn my attention on listening to what they had to say, a broader view on music as a tool, (not a craft) began to amplify my intentions. It started to become more obvious how successfully they used the message in their lyrics. Although quite different, what they achieved was similar, (in a broader social context) to what John Coltrane
achieved with A Love Supreme.
I was discovering The Beatles in college around the time I first heard Miles Davis
, John Coltrane
, and many "jazz" artists for the first time. I was amazed at how they could use influences of ragtime on something like "When I'm 64," world music influences from India on "Within You, Without You," then do something totally avant-garde like "No. 9," and have it all work. The Beatles taught me that being a great artist, jazz or otherwise, has more to do with concept than technique.
When I was a little kid (aged 5 to 8 or so) I would spend hours listening to the same classical records all over again, trying to remember every single note I heard and singing imaginary lyrics to instrumental tunes. I would never get tired of a Karayan recording of Beethoven's Eroica symphony the old pick-up played repeatedly all day long.
A year or two later, I discovered the Beatles and began collecting their records. I was blown away by their psychedelic pyrotechnics on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
. Like other major artists of the 20th century (Satie, the Italian Futurists, Joyce, Chaplin...) they understood the music hall's potential for disjunctive, collage-like techniques and did a lot to undermine distinctions between the high and the low or, rather, render them irrelevant. The festive avant-gardism of some pieces I wrote for the Wrong Object and other recent bands still owe a lot to that approach.
"Revolution 9" urged me to explore new sonic territories and it was my first introduction to musical concretism. Without The Beatles' "White Album," Zappa and a few other pop mavericks, I would probably not have had the patience to listen to Pierre Henry or Edgar Varese, who has exerted as much influence on my solos as any jazz or rock guitarist. At the time, McCartney and Lennon were increasingly drawn to experimental art and launched the short- lived Apple subsidiary Zapple label, which intended to release electronic music alongside spoken word performances by Beat poets, Lord Buckley and Lenny Bruce.
Perhaps more than anything, the Abbey Road
Medley encouraged me to explore the significance of modular and narrative approaches in musical compositions that were poised between closed and open forms. Many years later, I realized that I was spending more time working out the transitions than the compositional units themselves.
The Beatles were one of the most musically diverse bands that ever existed. Their albums, especially the "White Album," comprised or introduced a variety of genres including rock, heavy metal, blues, folk, psychedelic, cabaret and even country. I too compose using many textures, instruments and by mixing genres. Listening to The Beatles inspired me to meld different sounds and styles together.
The Beatles are one of few groups in music history that made several songs that will live on forever. What I like about The Beatles are that their songs have such melodic and harmonic qualities. It means that they can be re- arranged and played in any style of music and as a result, many jazz musicians have done great renditions of songs from The Beatles repertoire.