I woke up today (and fell out of bed, to quote a line from Lennon and McCartney’s masterpiece, “A Day In The Life”) to find that Beatles producer George Martin had died at the age of 90. Sir George was the guiding light of the Beatles, who shaped their music, bringing out the very best in them, not only producing an unparalleled body of work but also helping John, Paul, George and Ringo to become the most important and influential musical group of the 20th century.
I owe at least part of my career in music to George Martin’s influence. After all, it was his revolutionary use of orchestral instruments in novel ways that made the Fabs recordings have such a profound impact on these ears, recordings so consistently fresh, inspiring, and ultimately timeless. The use of swirling cellos, along with piccolo trumpets, French horns, Cor Anglais, timpani, harp, bass clarinet and string quartet and octet, and a symphony orchestra was unprecedented in popular music; especially in the way Martin used them. Unlike the standard manner of utilizing strings as “sweeteners”, Martin painted soundscapes with the colors of orchestral instruments in a fresh, innovative manner. One could argue that in using so many instruments in his arrangements, and in gently getting the Beatles to expand their vision to include these elements associated with classical music, that he pushed four fairly raucous Liverpool lads’ tunes into the realm of crossover music.
My admittedly small sample of one, my father is a case in point. His record collection was an assortment of Mahler, Bruckner, and Shostakovich symphonies, as well as Orff’s Carmina Burana, which he listened with his amplifier turned up to 11. But somehow, The Beatles’ St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band turned up in his record collection. I remember listening to that recording as a young child and being as frightened by the two orchestral chaotic crescendos in the final piece on the record, A Day In The Life as when my dad put on Shostakovich’s 10th symphony. A Day In The Life, which I consider The Beatles masterpiece and which sounds as fresh today as when it came out almost half a century ago, left me with a feeling of awe and wonder that I similarly felt when at my father took me to see Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey at the age of 10. They both took my breath away. And with a recording that I listened to over and over again, its impact on these ears was profound.
In this age of Spotify, Pandora and the like, where every manner of music is available at the touch of a finger, it’s important to take a moment to consider those who have gone before us, inspiring, at least this cellist, to “think different”, and ultimately create a place in the music world that while having a career built on jazz, blues, rock and roll and the improvisation that they include, rests on a strong foundation of classical music. George Martin was partly responsible for my staying the course and not giving up studying this most difficult of instruments. I will always be so very grateful for his inspiration.