When Jazz Meets the Fab Four: Essential Beatles Covers

What connects Ella Fitzgerland, George Benson, Jaco Pastorius and McCoy Tyner? Aside from their serious jazz credentials they have all recorded Beatles covers. Strap in for our guide to some of the best…

The music of The Beatles is so entrenched in popular culture that it’s instantly recognisable, whatever your taste. But whilst these originals are rightfully up there as the best songs of all time, Beatles covers by famous jazz musicians provide a fascinating twist and a fresh way to hear these masterpieces…

Taking the world by storm, The Beatles revolutionised pop music in the 1960s with their unique look, image and, of course, musical sound.

As a group, The Fab Four were completely self-contained, handling everything from playing the instruments and performing all the vocals to, most importantly, writing their own songs.

With the songwriting abilities of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, they seemed to be able to churn out one hit after another, influencing not just pop music at the time, but for generations to come.

Such was the quality of the songs written predominantly by Lennon and McCartney that others began recording them. Not just from the field of pop music, but extending into other genres such as classical music and jazz.

Below is just a small selection of covers of songs written by The Beatles by some of the most important jazz musicians of recent times.

Mark Turner – She Said, She Said

Saxophonist Mark Turner’s 1998 album In This World was already his second for Warner Bros, but perhaps the breakthrough album which brought him to wider jazz conciousness.

Alongside a who’s who of that generation’s leading players – Brad Mehldau on keys, Brian Blade and Jorge Rossy on drums, Larry Grenadier on bass and Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar – they work through a mix of jazz standards and more modern repertoire.

The final track, #12, is a mid-tempo reworking of the Lennon/McCartney song She Said, She Said. Whist the melody gets a relatively faithful interpretation, the sound, rhyhtmic interest and winding solos are totally in-keeping with the modern jazz sound of the record.

McCoy Tyner – She’s Leaving Home

A gentle and relaxed performance, this is a lovely Beatles cover song by legendary jazz pianist McCoy Tyner in a trio with bassist Avery Sharpe and drummer Aaron Scott.

Resisting the urge to stretch the music too far out, Tyner stays close to the melody but still imbues it with passion and a little fire.

In doing so, there is no mistaking the tune, or the pianist.

Diana Krall – And I Love Her

In this version of the Lennon and McCartney song And I Love Her, singer Diana Krall brings her sultry vocals and delicate piano playing to the fore.

Every ounce of feeling is squeezed not just from the lyrics but also from the piano itself, with her textbook touch.

With sympathetic and unobtrusive support from bass and drums, the emphasis is very much on the song and Krall’s interpretation, which is a pure delight.

If you’re looking for Beatles covers which don’t stray too far from the original, this is you you!

Shirley Horn – Yesterday

This incredibly moving performance by vocalist Shirley Horn is perhaps the definitive cover of Yesterday by a jazz artist.

Renowned for accompanying herself on piano while singing, Horn was not in the best of health, and had temporarily stopped playing piano. These duties were handed over to George Mesterhazy, who also provided the arrangement. So in-tune is Mesterhazy with the singer that the performance just sounds so perfect and complete.

The tempo is slow, and the mood perfectly captured in a song that Horn claimed she had not heard until the 1990s, some thirty years or so after it was written. Here, she makes it her own.

Count Basie – All My Loving

Count Basie was certainly quick in spotting an opportunity to capitalise on The Fab Four’s popularity by recording an album of Beatles covers.

No stranger to recording pop music, ‘”‘Basie’s Beatle Bag’ gives the music his textbook swing, with this version of All My Loving a particular highlight.

Tempo is everything, and from his piano intro Freddie Green’s immaculate rhythm guitar and the gentle swing from the orchestra, this is what Count Basie does best.

Brad Mehldau – Your Mother Should Know

The newest entry on this list, this music was taken from a 2020 live solo piano recording and released as “Your Mother Should Know: Brad Mehldau Plays The Beatles”.

The pianist performs interpretations of nine songs by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, plus another by George Harrison.

At just 2:18, the title track draws out the simple beauty of the original song, in a stride-piano-influenced performance.

It may not be the standout track on the album (there’s plenty of competition for that!) but it does underline the enduring appeal of the Beatle’s repertoire.

Jaco Pastorius – Blackbird

This is an astonishing recording of ‘Blackbird’ by bass virtuoso Jaco Pastorius in what is practically a duet with Toots Thielemans on harmonica.

Jaco’s Word of Mouth band is present, but it is his incredible playing combined with the lyricism and restraint of Thielemans that makes this so compelling.

At just 2 minutes 47 seconds, it is over far too quickly and will have you reaching for the repeat button. It remains, though, one of the best Beatles jazz covers in our opinion!

George Benson – The Long and Winding Road

Written by Paul McCartney, ‘The Long and Winding Road’ has been covered by a range of artists, not least the great George Benson.

Complete with an orchestra, it may be a bit too syrupy for some tastes as George Benson focuses on his singing here rather than his virtuoso guitar playing, although his distinctive touch at the fretboard can be heard in a lovely solo towards the end of the track.

Of his singing, Benson has a pleasing voice that is able to float above the orchestra and quietly dominate the performance in a manner that is most engaging.

Joshua Redman – Eleanor Rigby

One of the modern jazz saxophone greats, Joshua Redman (son of tenor titan Dewey) was just four albums into his Warner Bros contract when he released ‘, ‘Timeless Tales (For Changing Times).

The acclaimed disc finds the saxophonist mixing familiar jazz standards with famous pop songs, including none other than Beatles tune Eleanor Rigby.

The young saxophonist presents a version of this Lennon and McCartney classic which shows respect to the song ,while also looking to push a little harder into jazz territory.

The music is indicative of Redman’s playing at the time, with the saxophonist (still playing alto and soprano saxophones on some tracks) sharing a glimpse at the influence of John Coltrane, accompanied by Brad Mehldau, Larry Grenadier, and Brian Blade.

Ella Fitzgerald – Can’t Buy Me Love

No selection of jazz Beatles cover songs would be complete without a track by the “First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald.

A self-confessed Beatles fan, Ella was midway through recording her album Hello Dolly! whenThe Beatles’ ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ was being played on radio stations around the world.

By the time of the final recording session for her album on April 7th, 1964, she was determined to record the song herself and was able to persuade none other than George Martin to write an arrangement for her.

It goes without saying that Ella puts her own stamp on the recording in a hard-swinging big band setting that casts the song in a whole different light.

Thanks for reading!

Whatever your opinion on The Beatles, we hope that at least a couple of these iconic Beatles covers have challenged the way you hear those classic songs!

Looking for more classic covers? Check out our pick of the best jazz songs of all time

7 thoughts on “When Jazz Meets the Fab Four: Essential Beatles Covers”

  1. I am a huge fan of Brad Mehldau’s cover of And I Love Her. The trio version from the Blues and Ballads album. Captures the beauty and stateliness of the original and then takes it somewhere else.

  2. The problem with this is the vast majority of Beatles jazz covers are weak. Three of these songs are truly worth listening to more than once. Yesterday by Shirley Horn is strong, although she kind of blows past the accompaniment after a time. Brad Mehldau’s piano cover of Your Mother Should Know gets to the heart of McCartney’s whimsy. Jaco’s Blackbird is out there, but works because of the level of commitment. Nothing else stands out. Diana Krall’s version of And I Love Her is not bad, although she doesn’t have a lot of tricks up her sleeve, making the song sound like any number of her other tunes. The McCoy Tyner cover of She’s Leaving Home is good, although it’s not consistently interesting. Count Basie’s run through All My Loving is also good (if a bit bombastic) with the musicians’ ferreting out themes and performing a solid arrangement. The others are weaker, despite having talented players. I am at a loss as to why so many Beatles’ covers are bad. Maybe it’s as simple as choosing to cover a song for the wrong reason, rather than because you love it.

  3. Lena Horne (with Gabor Szabo) reimagining In My Life—I listened to it more than 100 times over the years, and it’s still as fresh as ever.


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