On this, the anniversary of the birthday of Beatles' guitarist, George Harrison, February 24th, 1943, I would like to celebrate his life, and his work, by sharing with everyone my lead sheet to a medley of two of his compositions. They were recorded during early 1993 for a very special project conceived of and produced by, my dear friend and frequent colleague, Mike Mainieri. The CD ended up being titled
COME TOGETHER"(A Guitar Tribute to The Beatles) and was released by Mike's own NYC Records. The recording also featured performances by some of my favorite guitarists including: John Abercrombie; Ralph Towner; Allan Holdsworth; "Toots" Thielemans; and Adrian Belew, each interpreting one of his favorite Beatles tunes. For the CD booklet, we were asked to write a brief reflection on the Beatles and, at that point in time, I wrote the following:
"In recent years, my wife Nancy has often played the "SERGEANT PEPPER" CD at home while working, and her interest served to rekindle mine, especially for George Harrison's "Within You Without You." As the Beatles arrived on the scene in the early '60s, my sister Laurie was the first in our household to go nuts for them, and she was the only one amongst her girlfriends to be totally wild for George. So, a two-song medley seemed fitting, and "Blue Jay Way" from "MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR" appealed to my bizarre musical sensibilities. In that spirit, this performance is dedicated to my beautiful wife Nancy and my wonderful sister Laurie.....I love you both!"
Initially, I had hoped to record my contribution with my own group, but when Mike told me that he would like to record John Abercrombie's tune on the same day, and that John would be using Marc Johnson on acoustic bass and Peter Erskine on drums, I jumped at the chance to record with these great musicians. I asked Mike if I could have Nana Vasconcelos join us for the track, because my arrangement seemed to cry out for his special musical presence. Mike agreed, and we were all set. I remember arriving at the studio and hearing John, Marc and Peter complete the performance of his beautiful interpretation of "And I Love Her." Once John had finished some last minute touches(an additional acoustic guitar), I went in the studio, at RPM, and set-up my equipment. While doing this, I was handing out my lead sheet to Marc and Peter, and discussing the concept of the arrangement with them. We knew that we would have to record without Nana because he was unavailable that day and would overdub at a later date.
Amongst the many reasons I chose "Within You Without You" was that the melody can stand totally alone, by itself, in single notes and speak beautifully to me above anything! For me, this particular criteria holds true for any standard I would choose to interpret. It must have this quality, and "Blue Jay Way" represents this as well. I always struck by the beauty of the one passage where the lyrics say:
"Please don't be long
Please don't you be very long
Please don't be long
for I may be asleep"
And, in the end, this passage is interpreted in chords as you can now view at letter [E].
After having received the initial phone call from Mike Mainieri, and having thought about my choice of tunes, I set about the task of making my interpretation become an arrangement. And, being able to perform this with acoustic bass and especially with a great player like Marc Johnson, other possibilities seemed to open-up right before my eyes. It was because of Marc's presence that I decided that we would begin the piece by featuring Marc's acoustic bass playing the melodic section which actually appears in the middle and then ends "Within You Without You." So, what you hear first, at [I], which sets the tOne For All that is to come, is Marc's very rhythmically free interpretation of these lyrics:
"Try to realize it's all within yourself
no one else can make you change
and to see you're really only very small
and life flows on within you and without you....."
"When you've seen beyond yourself
then you may find, peace of mind, is waiting there.
And the time will come when you see we're all one,
and life flows on within you and without you."
My original intent was that Nana's
berimbau would give us that very earthy and metallic feeling that George Harrison's sitar and tamboura supplied for the Beatles version. Seems like quite a stretch to go from India to Brazil, but, if we are to heed George's lyrics and believe, for a moment, that "we are all one," then this is not so difficult to accept.
When we arrive at [I2] and tempo is to begin, I had to have Marc approximate one very basic berimbau rhythmic pattern with his bass so that we would be 'feeling' what Nana was going to eventually add. Had Nana been present with us, live, there would have been no need for Marc to play such a rhythmically busy figure. In keeping with the sitar-induced mood of the original, I tried to employ voicings which, on occasion, used the guitar's open strings and gave everything a very 'ringy' quality. The original key, or tonal center, for George's own version is Db(7). So, I changed the key to G(7) to take advantage of the guitar's special qualities.
The [A] melody, as it is first stated, is always played in single notes and given a slippery-slidey sitar-y kind of feeling by glissing from note to note on the G-string, as much as is possible. From bar 9 on, the melody is phrased in chordal voicings and, if one is now familiar with that which I tried to share in "CONTEMPORARY CHORD KHANCEPTS," then all these chordal colors will make absolute sense.
When we do arrive at [B] and the guitar solo begins, I have changed the harmony to a Phrygian sound by essentially playing Fm7(9) voicings over Marc's G-pedal. Again, when you couple this with the usage of the occasional open G-string, it is my way of bringing in the India-element to the music. Then, at the conclusion of the solo section, I give a 'cue' and we go back and play what is [A2]. In doing this, we are actually using this entire G7 area as a V-chord because we headed towards playing "Blue Jay Way" in a C major area. Which, by the way, was George Harrison's original key and this worked fine for an instrumental version. After taking the 2nd-ending and arriving at [B2], we head towards [C] which is a transitional section and moves the tonal center to 'C.' Here I take advantage of this moment and reharmonize the melody which accompanies the lyrics which state:
"We were talking
about the space between us all"
And, there's one last small little touch of this melodic fragment which I had Marc play on bass just three bars before we arrived at letter [D] and "Blue Jay Way" truly begins.
The original Beatles version of this tune from "MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR" has a very murky, almost funereal dirge-like feeling to it and this is heightened by Harrison's usage of the diminished chord sounds. If he was trying to capture the feeling of there being a "fog upon L.A." he did a great job, because the track can sound like you're trying to find your way through pea soup!!! Anyway, I tried to allude to those sounds by using these qualities which exist within any C7(13b9) voicing and this is countered by the more 'cheerful' sounds of lushly voiced major7(9) chords. As I stated earlier, melodically speaking where this tune is concerned, [E] represents my favorite section. And for the portion where George says: "For I may be asleep," I discovered a way of expressing it by playing, and holding down C-Eb(w/ my 1st finger) on my E & G-strings and then allowing the B-D to ring against those two notes while being played on my B & D-strings. Then, this is done again by playing A-C(again w/ my 1st finger) on my E & G-strings and then allowing G-Bb to ring against those notes while being played on my B & D-strings. The final touch is to play F#-A on my B & D-strings and allowing those notes to ring through while E-G are played with both open-strings!!! It's a nice touch, and keeps us not too far away from the India flavor!!! Excuse me, I need to run out for some Chicken Curry right now!!!
Even though this was supposed to be a "guitar" recording. I saw an opportunity to feature the tremendous drum talents of my dear friend, Peter Erskine, and so [F] and [F2] were created to allow Peter some room to play freely and he did so beautifully. When Eyewitness fans heard this particular track they pointed out that it sounded like Brazilian Eyewitness because of Nana!!! On a 'cue' from Peter, we went back to play [E] again and we were supposed to end the tune w/ a fermata on bar 8. But, on the first take, we just kept going and arrived again at [F] and this time I just loosely improvised over those chords until I then cued [E] again and this time we did end the track as planned.
The truth is that what you now hear on the CD version is really a composite of the only two takes that we did. The first take ended-up being around 12-minutes long which would have been fine with me. But, Mike Mainieri was a bit concerned about that and asked us if we could just do one more and try to be a little less 'wordy.' So, even though we all loved the original, I knew that, at the very least, I could have interpreted the melodic sections better and so I tried to focus on that. In the end, Peter liked his drum solo better on the first take. So, we used Take 2 from the beginning all the way through the first 'hit' of letter [D]. And this is where we made the cut of the multi-track tape. From there on out, you are hearing Take 1 with Peter's original drum solo. Editing like this is hardly uncommon but it does require that a good spirit exists between the players and the producer. Mercifully here we are all good friends and the room is filled with great mutual respect, so compromises of this sort become rather simple.
It would be impossible to continue without paying special attention to the very unique contributions of Nana Vasconcelos. Had he only played berimbau and assorted percussion, that would have been beautiful enough. But, knowing that he is a free enough spirit to use his voice as an instrument and that he has a gorgeous speaking voice I asked him to translate a few of George Harrison's phrases into Portuguese and say them in various open spaces throughout the tune. So, what you now hear, is Nana saying: "We were talking....."; "Please don't be long".........and lastly, "for I may be asleep." Of course, not speaking Portuguese, I can't swear that this is exactly what he said, but I know that it was close. And his feeling for it all was simply wonderful. As my now ex-wife Nancy and I were separated at the time, I even had Nana say her name during [I2] as a small "subliminal message"
to "come back." A noble idea, but such things don't often work in reality!!! Nice try Steve!!!
And so, this is the story of what was really a wonderful, wonderful experience with a one time only special project. I thank Mike Mainieri for including me along with these great, great guitarists/artists; and more than this, I thank Marc Johnson, Peter Erskine, and Nana for sharing their brilliant and special talents with me, with all of us. This is one track I will never ever forget. To George Harrison, who has sadly left us, to his wife(Olivia) and son(Dhani) who remain, I respectfully send you my gratitude and love for the legacy you've left behind with your wonderful songs, your unique guitar playing, and your view of how life could be a better and richer experience for us all. Rest in peace George for you are loved and remembered here on earth by many!