It's hard to consider the music of The Beatles without an appreciation of producer George Martin, who died this last week.
In an effort to get behind the scenes with the loveable mop tops, I discovered autobiographies by Martin and by Geoff Emerick, EMI recording assistant engineer to Martin.
Last week I wrote about recent efforts by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to inspire cross-collaboration between popular and classical musicians. The turning point when classical string arrangements for rock compositions advanced from cheesy Mantovani-style string arrangements of familiar Top 40 songs to full orchestral recordings with the actual rock stars participating, resulting in timeless releases such as Days of Future past featuring "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues and the live recording of "Conquistador" by Procol Harum, both charting in 1967.
Paul McCartney, who has since penned his own symphonies, wrote a remembrance describing George Martin's suggestion to add strings to McCartney's 1965 solo recording of "Yesterday."
"I'm so sad to hear the news of the passing of dear George Martin, writes Paul on his Facebook page. "I have so many wonderful memories of this great man that will be with me forever… It's hard to choose favourite memories of my time with George, there are so many but one that comes to mind was the time I brought the song 'Yesterday' to a recording session and the guys in the band suggested that I sang it solo and accompany myself on guitar. After I had done this George Martin said to me, 'Paul I have an idea of putting a string quartet on the record'. I said, 'Oh no George, we are a rock and roll band and I don't think it's a good idea'. With the gentle bedside manner of a great producer he said to me, "Let us try it and if it doesn't work we won't use it and we'll go with your solo version". I agreed to this and went round to his house the next day to work on the arrangement.
"He took my chords that I showed him and spread the notes out across the piano, putting the cello in the low octave and the first violin in a high octave and gave me my first lesson in how strings were voiced for a quartet. When we recorded the string quartet at Abbey Road, it was so thrilling to know his idea was so correct that I went round telling people about it for weeks. His idea obviously worked because the song subsequently became one of the most recorded songs ever with versions by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye and thousands more."
Martin also famously asked an orchestra of classical musicians to improvise the climactic conclusion from "A Day in the Life" to which some replied they couldn't play something that wasn't written. "What I did there was to write ... the lowest possible note for each of the instruments in the orchestra, remembers Martin in his autobiography "All You Need is Ears."
"At the end of the 24 bars, I wrote the highest note ... near a chord of E major. Then I put a squiggly line right through the 24 bars, with reference points to tell them roughly what note they should have reached during each bar ... Of course, they all looked at me as though I were completely mad."
Regional bands making waves
There are a variety of first-rate regional bands making waves and causing people to break out in fits of excitement, outrageous dance moves and public displays of affection and joy.
One such outfit is the 12-piece Chopteeth AfroFunk Big Band, a jumble of likeminded jazz and funk players exercising their musical muscles playing Afrobeat, what they call a spicy hip-shakin' stew of modern jazz, Yoruba tribal music and burning, James Brown-inspired rhythms, reminiscent of the late Nigerian icon Fela Kuti.
Chopteeth performs their original compositions along with African dance classics sung and chanted in no less than six African languages. Chopteeth AfroFunk Big Band plays tonight at the Hamilton in Washington, D.C., (8:30 p.m. show). The dancefloor down front of the band will be open!
Jacksonville, Florida, has always been a hotbed for great bands, including Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet, the Allman Brothers Band, soul music icon Ray Charles, and, more recently the Tedeschi Trucks Band and J.J. Grey & Mofro, who performs tonight at Rams Head Live in Baltimore (8 p.m.).
Grey and company seem to envelope all the best roots rock qualities that the warm Florida sun engenders — gritty rock, Southern soul, gospel and blues. Don't miss them, along with an opening appearance by Austin singer/songwriter David Ramirez, who released one of my favorite albums of last year, his intimate and moving self-portrait titled FABLES.
Michael Buckley is writer, producer and host of "The Sunday Brunch" each week from 7 to 10 a.m. on 103.1 WRNR-FM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.