The Beatles and Jazz (and maybe even a new tape)

“Jazz is just a lot of old blokes drinking beer at the bar, smoking pipes and not listening to the music.” John Lennon allegedly declared his opinion at a press conference, disparaging the genre that held the title as the most popular alternative to classical prior to The Beatles taking pop music to its throne. Even though The Beatles didn’t particularly like jazz, the jazz world owes a lot to them, a fact that is reflected by the group’s representation in the Altman-Koss archives. Not only did their records and performances have such widespread influence on the music word as to have shaped the course of music in general, but many of the most commonly played jazz tunes are actually covers of old Beatles songs. Flashback to 8th grade big band in junior high school, when I was just dipping my toe in jazz performance and our director throws “Can’t Buy Me Love” into our set…

A few of the Beatles entries are duplicates of their full-length films, such as tape 207 (containing the full “Let It Be” 1970 album documentary), tape 258 (all of “A Hard Day’s Night”) and tape 307 (The Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965, the documentary). Honestly, I had expected all of the Beatles contributions to be media that could easily be found online or in other libraries – they were, of course, one of the most popular groups in recent history and extremely well-documented. So I was surprised when I came across tape 256 and found something that didn’t seem to come up anywhere.

The video, called “The Early Beatles,” is a compilation of their performances and interviews from 1962-1965. Released by Granada Television on IBA network as a Christmas special in 1984, director Johnny Hamp wanted to do a special on The Beatles focusing on this particular period, early on in their career. Searching through both Granada’s and IBA’s archives, I could find nothing on the video; only a reference on an unrelated site, along with this statement: “We understand that Granada executives are also toying with the idea of an official videocassette release, providing the usual plethora of legal obstacles can be surmounted.” It seems as though they never did overcome those legal obstacles.

The actual footage ranges in quality and content, from old recordings of their performances where the glare off the guitar actually creates a blind spot for the camera, to well-produced clips of them arriving at a concert and shoveling through screaming fans to get to the stage. And the fans really are screaming; a needle-drop anywhere in the video has a decent chance of giving you an earful of it.

Personally, I’ve seen loads of Beatles performance footage throughout my life, so what really interested me were the various interviews. There are a few and they all differ in structure; one, right around 1:02:05, isn’t even an interview, really, but a clip of The Beatles being told several jokes in quick succession. The one at 1:11:18 is much more of a formal interview, with close-ups of the members’ faces as they share their thoughts on their upcoming United States tour (and famous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show).

I’m curious about how rare the material shown here actually is; I’ve started asking some professor’s and colleagues for their input, and will get back with any updates!

Update: I consulted Giacomo Fiore, an expert on The Beatles at UC Santa Cruz, and he quickly got back to me with this information:

” As I suspected, this is an old Granada TV special from the early 1980s, which has not been widely circulated due to copyright claims from Apple Corps (the Beatles’s company, not the computer one). It’s not impossibly rare, but it gets routinely pulled from YouTube, and much of the footage is exclusive to Granada TV (I’ve read somewhere that they have about 4 hours of unedited stuff from various sessions, including more Cavern Club recordings).

So, a good find, and one that may be worth archiving for your own purposes.”

Thanks, Giacomo!

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