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Larry Adler

Larry Adler was an internationally renowned harmonica virtuoso whose jazz and European classical interpretations brought unprecedented amount of attention and acclaim to the humble mouth organ. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants (the family name was changed from Zelakovitch), Lawrence Cecil Adler was born on February 10, 1914 in Baltimore. His first performing idol was Al Jolson; he also admired comedian George Jessel and worked as a sidekick for Eddie Cantor, whom he resembled. Adler's career as a professional mouth organist began when, at the age of 14, he won a statewide harmonica competition with an abbreviated rendition of Beethoven's Minuet in G. He then surprised his family by moving to New York City without parental permission.

After briefly serving as an intermission performer for Rudy Vallée, he convinced bandleader Paul Ash to help him secure a $100 per week contract with a traveling variety show that entertained audiences between films in Paramount theaters. Adler's direct involvement with cinema began when he synchronized a harmonica solo with the soundtrack of a newly developed animated "sound cartoon." He recorded with vocalist Ruth Etting and appeared with her, Gus Edwards, and tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson at Broadway's Palace Theater in 1929, and in Flo Ziegfeld's Smiles with Fred and Adele Astaire in 1931.

The catalyst for a turning point in Adler's career was Maurice Ravel's Bolero, which he initially presented at the Blackhawk in San Francisco, using a dance band arrangement by Hal Kemp. As a part of a "prologue" to Eddie Cantor's film Roman Scandals, Adler performed Bolero at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Unfamiliar with the time signature of the work as written and convinced that the orchestra was lagging, he improvised wildly while waving his free arm as if "chopping an invisible tree." This extroverted display, which he would later describe as "corny Sturm und Drang," brought down the house and earned him immediate renown. Adler became a high-profile participant in Hollywood social life. In 1934 he appeared in the film Many Happy Returns with Ray Milland, Burns & Allen, and Duke Ellington, and was filmed in heavy "Chinese" makeup for a sequence in Busby Berkeley's The Singing Marine. Adler performed duets with George Gershwin, whose "Rhapsody in Blue" would become one of the staples in his repertoire, which also included mouth organ adaptations of violin concerti by Antonio Vivaldi and J.S. Bach as well as works composed expressly for him and his instrument by Malcolm Arnold, Arthur Benjamin, Jean Berger, Darius Milhaud, Cyril Scott, Graham Whettam, and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Adler's adventures as a jazz musician included making records with Gypsy swing guitarist Django Reinhardt in 1938. He later wrote: "If I work with an Ellington, a Django, a Bill Evans, a Dizzy Gillespie, I play at the top of my form or even beyond it. I know that I could not duplicate the solos I recorded with Django Reinhardt, because there is no longer a Django to inspire me." During World War II, Adler performed worldwide, often appearing with comedian Jack Benny and at one point obtaining an emergency ration of mouth organs from the newly liberated Hohner factory at Trossingen in the Black Forest. An outspoken opponent of "any dogma that puts the mind in blinkers and forbids the free discussion of ideas," Adler was blacklisted during Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch hunts, and his Academy Award-nominated score for the film Genevieve was credited to studio orchestra conductor Muir Mathieson. In dramatic contrast to this indignity, Adler was the first person from the U.S.A. to receive the coveted Grand Prix du Disque for his recording of "Le Grisbi," a melody used in the French gangster film Touchez-pas au Grisbi, starring Jean Gabin. He performed and recorded with some of the world's top conductors, and claimed that the "musical high point" of his life occurred at the Royal Albert Hall in 1952 when he played before the London Symphony Orchestra under the leadership of Sir Malcolm Sargent.

Adler spent most of the second half of his life in the U.K.; was featured with violinist Itzhak Perlman in a telecast duet performance of "Summertime" in 1981; collaborated with Sting on Ten Summoner's Tales; accompanied vocalist Kate Bush in a version of "The Man I Love" in 1994 on his last great project, the all-star tribute album The Glory of Gershwin; and passed away in London on August 7, 2001, at the age of 87. Larry Adler's autobiography, It Ain't Necessarily So, is filled with historic insights and the sort of humorous gut-level honesty that characterized his personality. ~ arwulf arwulf
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Live In Australia

1. Porgy And Bess (Live)

2. Interlude: Larry Makes It At Last! (Live)

3. Our Love Is Here To Stay (Live)

4. My Funny Valentine (Live)

5. Interlude: Duke Ellington And Guy Lombardo (Live)

6. Sophisticated Lady (Live)

7. Interlude: Billie Holiday (Live)

8. Begin The Beguine (Live)

9. Interlude: Introduction To ‘Bess, You Is My Woman Now’ (Live)

10. Bess, You Is My Woman Now (Live)

11. Interlude: Hollywood And The Blacklist (Live)

12. Genevieve (Live)

13. Interlude: Maurice Ravel (Live)

14. Boléro (Live)

15. Interlude: The World Discovers Larry Adler! (Live)

16. Minuet In G Major (Live)

17. Interlude: Ingrid Bergman (Live)

18. Clair De Lune (Live)

19. Interlude: June Allyson And Margaret O’Brien (Live)

20. Wedding Dance (Live)

21. Interlude: George And Ira Gershwin (Live)

22. Rhapsody In Blue (Live)

23. Interlude: Ingrid Bergman And Larry Adler (Live)

24. Gettysburg Address And Battle Hymn Of The Republic (Live)

x

Track List: Harmonica Harmonies Vol. 2

1. They All Laughed

2. Caravan

3. Rhapsody In Blue

4. My Melancholy Baby

5. How High The Moon

6. Genevieve

7. Begin The Begeine

8. Medley: Porgy & Bess/ Summertime/ It Ain't Necessarily So/ Bessy Is My Woman Now/ There's A Boat Dat's Leaving

9. Embraceable You

10. Sharm El Sheik/ Ave Maria

11. The Girl Friend

12. Love For Sale

13. Le Grisbi

14. This Can't Be Love

15. Summertime

16. There's A Boat Dat's Leaving Soon For New York

17. Sophisticated Lady

18. The Entertainer

19. 3/4 Blues

20. Genevieve

x

Track List: The Virtuoso Of The Mouth Organ

1. St Louis Blues

2. Blues In The Night

3. Begin The Beguine

4. That Old Black Magic

5. Hand-To-Mouth Boogie

6. Stardust

7. I Got Rhythm

8. Lover Come Backj To Me

9. My Melancholy Baby

10. Body And Soul

11. Duke Ellington Medley: Solitude/It Don't Mean A Thing/Mood Indigo

12. Sophisticated Lady

13. George Gershwin Medley: The Man I Love/I Ghot Rhythm/Rhapsody In Blue

14. Rhapsody In Blue (Parts 1 & 2)

15. Hora Staccato

16. Clare De Lune

17. Ritual Fire Dance

18. Caprice Viennois

19. Minuet In G

20. Selections From The Film: Follow The Fleet(Part 1): Let's Face The Music And Danc

21. Selections From The Film: Follow The Fleet(Part 2): I'm Putting All My Eggs In O

22. I Won't Dance/Lovely To Look At

23. The Continental

24. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

25. You Hit The Spot/The Touch Of Your Lips

x

Track List: Harmonica Virtuoso (Digitally Remastered)

1. Roumanian Fantasy

2. Roumanian Rhapsody

3. Rhapsody In Blue

4. Carmen Fantasy

5. Ravel's Bolero

6. Spanish Dance (Beguine)

7. Jamaican Rumba

x

Track List: Larry Adler Harmonica Virtuoso - Eric Robinson Conducting The Pro Arte Ochestra (Digitally Remastered)

1. Roumanian Fantasy

2. Roumanian Rhapsody

3. Rhapsody In Blue

4. Carmen Fantasy

5. Ravel's Bolero

6. Spanish Dance (Beguine)

7. Jamaican Rumba

x

Track List: The Golden Era Of Larry Adler Vol. 1

1. The Continental

2. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

3. I Won’t Dance

4. Why I Was Born

5. They All Laughed

6. Caravan

7. Rhapsody In Blue

8. Stormy Weather

9. I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm / Slumming On Park Avenue

10. I've Got You Under My Skin

11. Night And Day / Tiger Bag

12. Body And Soul

13. Lover Come Back To Me

14. My Melancholy Baby

15. I Got Rhythm

x

Track List: The Piano Roll Recordings

1. Our Love Is Here To Stay

2. My Funny Valentine

3. How High The Moon

4. Begin The Beguine

5. I Can’t Get Started

6. Rhapsody In Blue

7. Minuet From L'Arlesienne

8. Blues In The Night

9. As Time Goes By

10. Little Girl Blue

11. Mountain Greenery

12. When Day Is Done

13. Summertime

14. The Man I Love

15. It Ain’t Necessarily So

16. I Got Rhythm

17. Tea For Two

x

Track List: The Glory Of Gershwin

1. Summertime (feat. Peter Gabriel)

2. Nice Work If You Can Get It (feat. Sting)

3. They Can't Take That Away From Me (feat. Lisa Stansfield)

5. I've Got A Crush On You (feat. Carly Simon)

6. But Not For Me (feat. Elvis Costello)

7. It Ain't Necessarily So (feat. Cher)

8. The Man I Love (feat. Kate Bush)

10. Embraceable You (feat. Oleta Adams)

11. My Man's Gone Now (feat. Sinéad O'Connor)

12. I Got Rhythm (feat. Robert Palmer)

13. Somebody Loves Me (feat. Meat Loaf)

14. I'll Build A Stairway To Paradise (feat. Issy Van Randwyck)

15. Summertime (feat. Courtney Pine)

Comments

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LOVE Larry Adler! What a great shame I never got to see or hear him perform live. Would that there was a contemporary mouth harpist that was following in his footsteps. To hear classical music on the harmonica is an incredible thrill.

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