Highlighting the jazzy elements of Paul McCartney’s “Michelle”

Hey Improvisers,

Paul McCartney grew up playing the music of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and Irving Berlin on the piano during family sing-alongs. He has spoken about how much he loved the lyrics and chord progressions of these 1920s-40s popular songs, and how much they influenced his own songwriting. So it’s perhaps not too surprising that McCartney would occasionally compose songs that sounded like they were composed in an earlier era, instead of the rock era of the 1960s.

1965’s “Michelle” is a great example of this. Paul apparently began composing it a little earlier, as a teenager, and it eventually made its way into The Beatles’ repertoire and became a classic.

If you play jazz piano, you can have a lot of fun by highlighting the jazzy elements that are already in the tune. You can start by taking McCartney’s 2-beat bass line even further into the world of early jazz by playing a full stride pattern with your left hand. Then, while you’re improvising a nice jazz solo, your left hand can burst into a cool walking bass line underneath.

I’ve made a video to show you these and other jazzy possibilities that you can use while playing this beautiful tune. Walking 10ths sound great too!

Michelle: Journey Through The Real Book #229

Try the techniques I’ve used, and then come up with some of your own as well!


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