If you have ever come to a Third Wheel performance, it’s pretty obvious that we are all huge fans of The Beatles. There are very few performances where we don’t find a way to squeeze in a cover or two of some of our favorite Beatles songs — Blackbird and Eleanor Rigby are the two that we play most often.
One of the best things about The Beatles’ music is that, just like the music of J.S. Bach, it works really well in any context. That’s not to say that the original performances of the The Beatles aren’t already incredible — but the music itself is so good that it can be performed by other instruments in other styles and still hold its ground.
Bach was a huge proponent, in his day, of his music being played on instruments other than the ones he wrote it for. He really thought that music was music, and wouldn’t have minded at all to hear some of these modern-day interpretations of his music. Check out this great sax quartet performance of his Fugue in G Minor.
It’s amazing how fresh and new something can sound when placed in a new context some 300 years after it was written.
Back to The Beatles. Their song Norwegian Wood was released in 1965, which was hardly 300 years ago, but certain aspects of the recording do place it firmly in the 1960s — such as the use of the sitar. Check out the original recording here:
Ever since I lived in Chicago, Kurt Elling has been one of my favorite jazz singers. I really enjoy the unique tone of his voice, and I think that one of his specialties is infusing new character into a song that was maybe made famous by someone else. He does an incredible job of making every song his own.
I recently came across his recording of The Beatles’ Norwegian Wood, and immediately fell in love with it. When listening, it’s hard to remember that you have ever heard the song before at all, much less to associate it with The Beatles. The song takes on a complete life of its own but at the same time stays true to the vibe and energy that was present in The Beatles’ original recording. The groove on the Kurt Elling recording is so smooth and meditative, and the new harmonies and timbres that he introduces add so much to the song. Have a listen: