Noel Freidline, who directs Columbia Museum of Art’s Jazz on Main series, returns Friday, Feb. 23, as part of his own Fab Four’s (combo) tribute to The Beatles.
Accomplished as an arranger as well as performer, Freidline said interpreting Beatles’ music as jazz was not hard at all.
“I have always felt one of the key indicators of a composition’s strength is its ability to be put into different genres,” Freidline said. “Some music is definitely tied to a specific arrangement, or a specific genre. Other songs can go anywhere.”
He noted Hoagie Carmichael‘s “Georgia“ as a great example. “It lives in jazz, blues, R&B, country and Western, etc. The vast majority of the Beatles music is just that way. The music is so strong, so identifiable and sing-able, as are the harmonies, you can put the vast majority of the Beatles’ music into just about any genre and it will still stand up.”
Another advantage of working with the Beatles’ music is how well-known the music is, according to Freidline.
“The more popular and well-known a song is, the farther you can take it away from its original setting and it will still remain relevant. The Beatles’ music is so well-known and so popular, I can turn a major song into minor, arrange a ballad into an up-tempo swing, I can re-harmonize, stretch, compress, and move it all over the place, and the audience will still hear a song they know well in what I’m doing. It actually gives us a great deal of freedom.”
Freidline first encountered the Beatles’ music “when I was eight or nine years old. I grew up in a small town in Kansas. We lived in the country on a dirt road. This was the mid-1970s. My brothers were much older than I am, and the nearest kid my age lived about a mile away. There was no Internet or cable TV, so I had to find ways to entertain myself.”
One of his favorite things to do was to go through his parents’ and brothers’ album collections and explore their music. “My brother had a box set of Beatles’ LPs – from their earliest years through their last album, ‘Let It Be.’ I was amazed how many songs I recognized from the radio and TV. I was also amazed by the songs that I did not recognize that immediately caught my attention. I have been a big fan since.”
No wonder one of the first Beatles’ songs Freidline decided to arrange was the Paul McCartney classic, “Let It Be.”
“I decided to put it in a minor key instead of its usual major, for the verses, and then back to major for the chorus. I got an incredibly positive response every time we performed that arrangement. Then an opportunity came along to start programming themes and shows at an amazing jazz venue in Hilton Head, SC, the Jazz Corner. I put together an all-Beatles show and performed it down there with my band. It went so well, I knew we were on to something.”
Freidline acknowledged, “We are far from the first musicians to do jazz arrangements of the Beatles’ music. In fact,The Beatles’ music has been covered by giants in the world of jazz, almost from the day the Beatles music became popular.”
He said, “It does seem that the music of the Beatles is more popular today than it has ever been. I think time has given us a great perspective on the huge catalog of music they created. We honestly don’t know what is really historical until we get 15 or 20 years away from it. The Beatles music has definitely stood the test of time and has proven to be worthy of the praise that has been heaped upon it, in my opinion.”
Happy Hour and the galleries open at Columbia Museum of Art at 7 pm Friday evening; the concert begins at 7:30 pm. For more information, go to ColumbiaMuseum.org/jazz-main.