Larry Adler

Last updated
Larry Adler
Larry Adler, City center, NYC, January 1947 (Gottlieb 00031).jpg
City Center NYC (January 1947) photo by William Gottlieb
Lawrence Cecil Adler

(1914-02-10)February 10, 1914
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
DiedAugust 6, 2001(2001-08-06) (aged 87)
London, England
Occupation Composer; actor; musician
Years active1931–2001
Spouse(s)Eileen Walser (1952–1957) (divorced) 3 children
Sally Cline (1959–1963) (divorced) 1 child
Memorial tablet to Larry Adler, Golders Green Crematorium Memorial tablet to Larry Adler, Golders Green Crematorium.JPG
Memorial tablet to Larry Adler, Golders Green Crematorium

Lawrence Cecil Adler (February 10, 1914 [1] – August 6, 2001) was an American harmonica player. Known for playing major works, he played compositions by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Malcolm Arnold, Darius Milhaud and Arthur Benjamin. During his later career he collaborated with Sting, Elton John, Kate Bush and Cerys Matthews.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Harmonica free reed wind instrument

The harmonica, also known as a French harp or mouth organ, is a free reed wind instrument used worldwide in many musical genres, notably in blues, American folk music, classical music, jazz, country, rock. There are many types of harmonica, including diatonic, chromatic, tremolo, octave, orchestral, and bass versions. A harmonica is played by using the mouth to direct air into or out of one or more holes along a mouthpiece. Behind each hole is a chamber containing at least one reed. A harmonica reed is a flat elongated spring typically made of brass, stainless steel, or bronze, which is secured at one end over a slot that serves as an airway. When the free end is made to vibrate by the player's air, it alternately blocks and unblocks the airway to produce sound.

Ralph Vaughan Williams 20th-century English composer

Ralph Vaughan Williams was an English composer. His works include operas, ballets, chamber music, secular and religious vocal pieces and orchestral compositions including nine symphonies, written over sixty years. Strongly influenced by Tudor music and English folk-song, his output marked a decisive break in British music from its German-dominated style of the 19th century.


Early life

Adler was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Sadie Hack and Louis Adler. They were a Jewish family. He graduated from Baltimore City College high school. [2] He taught himself harmonica, which he called a mouth organ. [3] He played professionally at 14. In 1927, he won a contest sponsored by the Baltimore Sun , playing a Beethoven minuet, and a year later he ran away from home to New York. After being referred by Rudy Vallée, Adler got his first theatre work, and caught the attention of orchestra leader Paul Ash, who placed Adler in a vaudeville act as "a ragged urchin, playing for pennies". [4]

Baltimore Largest city in Maryland

Baltimore is the largest city in the state of Maryland within the United States. Baltimore was established by the Constitution of Maryland as an independent city in 1729. With a population of 602,495 in 2018, Baltimore is the largest such independent city in the United States. As of 2017, the population of the Baltimore metropolitan area was estimated to be just under 2.802 million, making it the 21st largest metropolitan area in the country. Baltimore is located about 40 miles (60 km) northeast of Washington, D.C., making it a principal city in the Washington-Baltimore combined statistical area (CSA), the fourth-largest CSA in the nation, with a calculated 2018 population of 9,797,063.

The Baltimore City College, known colloquially as City, City College, B.C.C. and nicknamed "The Castle on the Hill" is a public magnet high school in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. Established and authorized by resolution in March 1839 by the Baltimore City Council, signed / approved by the 10th Mayor, Sheppard C. Leakin (1838-1840), and opened in October 1839 as "The High School", "City" is the third oldest active public high school in the US. A citywide college preparatory school with a liberal arts focus, The Baltimore City College has selective admissions criteria based on entrance exams and middle school grades. The four-year City College curriculum includes the IB Middle Years Programme and the IB Diploma Programme of the International Baccalaureate curriculums since the mid 1980s.

A mouth organ is any free reed aerophone with one or more air chambers fitted with a free reed. Though it spans many traditions, it is played universally the same way by the musician placing their lips over a chamber or holes in the instrument, and blowing or sucking air to create a sound. Many of the chambers can be played together or each individually.


From there, he was hired by Florenz Ziegfeld and then by Lew Leslie again as an urchin. He broke the typecasting and appeared in a dinner jacket in the 1934 Paramount film Many Happy Returns, and was hired by theatrical producer C. B. Cochran to perform in London. He became a star in the United Kingdom and the Empire, where, it has been written, harmonica sales increased 20-fold and 300,000 people joined fan clubs.". [4]

Lew Leslie was a Broadway writer and producer. Leslie got his start in show business in vaudeville in his early twenties.

Charles B. Cochran English theatre manager

Sir Charles Blake Cochran, generally known as C. B. Cochran, was an English theatrical manager and impresario. He produced some of the most successful musical revues, musicals and plays of the 1920s and 1930s, becoming associated with Noël Coward and his works.

Adler was one of the first harmonica players to perform major works written for the instrument, often written for him: these include Jean Berger's Concerto for Harmonica and Orchestra "Caribbean" (1941), Cyril Scott's Serenade (harmonica and piano, 1936), Vaughan Williams' Romance in D-flat for harmonica, piano and string orchestra; premiered New York, 1952, [5] Milhaud's Suite Anglais (Paris, May 28, 1947), Arthur Benjamin's Harmonica Concerto (1953), and Malcolm Arnold's Harmonica Concerto, Op. 46 (1954, written for The Proms). He recorded all except the Scott Serenade, some more than once. Earlier, Adler had performed transcriptions of pieces for other instruments, such as violin concertos by Bach and Vivaldi – he played his arrangement of Vivaldi's Violin Concerto in A minor with the Sydney Symphony. Other works he played in harmonica arrangements were by Bartók, Beethoven (Minuet in G), Debussy, Falla, Gershwin ( Rhapsody in Blue ), Mozart (slow movement from the Oboe Quartet, K. 470), Poulenc, Ravel ( Boléro ), Stravinsky and Walton.

Jean Berger was a German-born American pianist, composer, and music educator. He composed extensively for choral ensemble and solo voice.

Cyril Scott English composer, writer, and poet

Cyril Meir Scott was an English composer, writer, and poet.

Darius Milhaud French composer and teacher

Darius Milhaud was a French composer, conductor, and teacher. He was a member of Les Six—also known as The Group of Six—and one of the most prolific composers of the 20th century. His compositions are influenced by jazz and Brazilian music and make extensive use of polytonality. Milhaud is considered one of the key modernist composers.

During the 1940s, Adler and the dancer, Paul Draper, formed an act and toured nationally and internationally, performing individually then together in each performance. One popular number was Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm". During the McCarthy era he was accused of being a communist and refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). After being blacklisted and an unsuccessful libel suit decided in 1950, he moved to the United Kingdom in 1951 and settled in London, [6] [7] where he remained the rest of his life. Another source indicates he stayed in London from 1949. [3]

Paul Draper was a noted American tap dancer and choreographer. Born into an artistic, socially prominent New York family, the nephew of Ruth Draper was an innovator in the arts. His passion and unique style led him to international stardom. One signature piece was Sonata for Tap Dancer, danced without musical accompaniment.

"I Got Rhythm" is a piece composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and published in 1930, which became a jazz standard. Its chord progression, known as the "rhythm changes", is the foundation for many other popular jazz tunes such as Charlie Parker's and Dizzy Gillespie's bebop standard "Anthropology ".

McCarthyism Phenomenon in the US of making accusations of subversion or treason without evidence

McCarthyism is the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence. The term refers to U.S. senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) and has its origins in the period in the United States known as the Second Red Scare, lasting from the late 1940s through the 1950s. It was characterized by heightened political repression and a campaign spreading fear of Communist influence on American institutions and of espionage by Soviet agents.

The 1953 film Genevieve brought him an Oscar nomination for his work on the soundtrack, and great wealth. [3] His name was originally removed from the credits in the United States due to blacklisting. His other film scores included A Cry from the Streets (1958), The Hellions (1961), The Hook (1963), King & Country (1964) and A High Wind in Jamaica (1965). He also scored a hit with the theme song of the French Jacques Becker movie Touchez pas au grisbi with Jean Gabin, written by Jean Wiener.

<i>Genevieve</i> (film) 1953 British comedy film directed by Henry Cornelius

Genevieve is a 1953 British comedy film produced and directed by Henry Cornelius and written by William Rose. It stars John Gregson, Dinah Sheridan, Kenneth More and Kay Kendall as two couples comedically involved in a veteran automobile rally.

A soundtrack, also written sound track, can be recorded music accompanying and synchronized to the images of a motion picture, book, television program, or video game; a commercially released soundtrack album of music as featured in the soundtrack of a film, video, or television presentation; or the physical area of a film that contains the synchronized recorded sound.

Hollywood blacklist people banned from American entertainment for suspected Communism

The Hollywood blacklist was the popular term for what was in actuality a broader entertainment industry blacklist put in effect in the mid 20th century in the United States during the early part of the Cold War. The blacklist involved the practice of denying employment to entertainment industry professionals believed to be or to have been Communists or sympathizers. Not just actors, but screenwriters, directors, musicians, and other American entertainment professionals were barred from work by the studios. This was usually done on the basis of their membership, alleged membership in, or even just sympathy with the Communist Party USA, or on the basis of their refusal to assist congressional investigations into the party's activities. Even during the period of its strictest enforcement, from the late 1940s through to the late 1950s, the blacklist was rarely made explicit or verifiable, but it quickly and directly damaged or ended the careers and income of scores of individuals working in the film industry.

During the 1950s Larry Adler performed as a break period in the Goon Show radio show.

In 1959, a reviewer from the Village Voice called Adler "a great artist" after watching his twice-nightly performances at the Village Gate. [8]

In 1994, for his 80th birthday, Adler and George Martin produced an album of George Gershwin songs, The Glory of Gershwin , on which they performed "Rhapsody in Blue." The Glory of Gershwin reached number 2 in the UK albums chart in 1994. [9] Adler was a musician and showman. Concerts to support The Glory of Gershwin showed he was a competent pianist. He opened each performance with Gershwin's "Summertime", playing piano and harmonica simultaneously. The album included Peter Gabriel, Oleta Adams, Elton John, Sting, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, Meat Loaf, Sinéad O'Connor, Robert Palmer, Cher, Kate Bush, Elvis Costello, Courtney Pine, Issy Van Randwyck, Lisa Stansfield and Carly Simon, all of whom sang Gershwin tunes with an orchestra and Adler adding harmonica solos.

Acting, writing and war-time radio

Adler appeared in five movies, including Sidewalks of London (1938), in which he played a harmonica virtuoso named Constantine. His other film appearances were in Three Daring Daughters (February 12, 1948) playing himself; Music for Millions (December 8, 1944) playing Larry; The Singing Marine (July 3, 1937) playing Larry; and The Big Broadcast of 1937 (October 6, 1936). [2] He was a prolific letter writer, his correspondence with Private Eye becoming popular in the United Kingdom. Adler wrote an autobiography—entitled It Ain't Necessarily So—in 1985, and was food critic for Harpers & Queen . He appeared on the Jack Benny radio program [10] several times, entertaining disabled soldiers in the USA during World War II. A further biography, Me and My Big Mouth appeared in 1994 but he told The Free-Reed Journal: "That's a lousy book and I don't like it; it's ghosted . ... [It] has a certain amount of factual material but the author completely missed my style and my voice. That's why I hate the book." [5]

Personal life

Adler married Eileen Walser in 1952; they had two daughters and one son. They divorced in 1957. He married Sally Kline in 1959; they had one daughter, Marmoset. They divorced in 1963. [2] At his death, in addition to his children, he had two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His son Peter Adler fronted the band, Action, and others [11] in Dublin, Ireland in the late 1960s. Adler was an atheist. [12] His brother, Jerry Adler (1918–2010) was also a harmonica player.

He died of cancer [13] [14] in St Thomas' Hospital, London, at 87, on 6 August 2001. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, where his ashes remain.

Related Research Articles

George Gershwin American composer and pianist

George Gershwin was an American composer and pianist whose compositions spanned both popular and classical genres. Among his best-known works are the orchestral compositions Rhapsody in Blue (1924) and An American in Paris (1928), the songs Swanee (1919) and Fascinating Rhythm (1924), the jazz standard I Got Rhythm (1930), and the opera Porgy and Bess (1935) which spawned the hit Summertime.

Isaac Stern American musician

Isaac Stern was an American violinist.

Concerto musical composition usually in three parts

A concerto is a musical composition generally composed of three movements, in which, usually, one solo instrument is accompanied by an orchestra or concert band. It is accepted that its characteristics and definition have changed over time. In the 17th century, sacred works for voices and orchestra were typically called concertos, as reflected by J. S. Bach's usage of the title "concerto" for many of the works that we know as cantatas.

The Four Seasons (Vivaldi) set of four violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi

The Four Seasons is a group of four violin concerti by Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi, each of which gives musical expression to a season of the year. They were written around 1716–1717 and were published in 1725 in Amsterdam, together with eight additional concerti, as Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione.

William Elden Bolcom is an American composer and pianist. He has received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Medal of Arts, a Grammy Award, the Detroit Music Award and was named 2007 Composer of the Year by Musical America. Bolcom taught composition at the University of Michigan from 1973–2008. He is married to mezzo-soprano Joan Morris.

Alto saxophone Type of saxophone

The alto saxophone, also referred to as the alto sax, is a member of the saxophone family of woodwind instruments invented by Belgian instrument designer Adolphe Sax in the 1840s, and patented in 1846. It is pitched in E, and is smaller than the tenor, but larger than the soprano. The alto sax is the most common saxophone and is commonly used in concert bands, chamber music, solo repertoire, military bands, marching bands, and jazz. The fingerings of the different saxophones are all the same so a saxophone player can play any type of saxophone.

Concerto in F is a composition by George Gershwin for solo piano and orchestra which is closer in form to a traditional concerto than the earlier jazz-influenced Rhapsody in Blue. It was written in 1925 on a commission from the conductor and director Walter Damrosch. It is just over half an hour long.

Gil Shaham is an American violinist of Israeli Jewish descent.

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra symphony orchestra based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is an American symphony orchestra based in Baltimore, Maryland. The Baltimore SO has its principal residence at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, where it performs more than 130 concerts a year. In 2005, it began regular performances at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda.

<i>Lestro armonico</i> violin concerto

L'estro armonico, Antonio Vivaldi's Op. 3, is a set of 12 concertos for stringed instruments, first published in Amsterdam in 1711. Vivaldi's Twelve Trio Sonatas, Op. 1, and Twelve Violin Sonatas, Op. 2, only contained sonatas, thus L'estro armonico was his first collection of concertos appearing in print. It was also the first time he chose a foreign publisher, Estienne Roger, instead of an Italian. Each concerto was printed in eight parts: four violins, two violas, cello and continuo. The continuo part was printed as a figured bass for violone and harpsichord.

Sigmund Groven Norwegian traditional musician

Sigmund Groven is a Norwegian classical harmonica player, today considered one of the world's leading classical harmonica players. He plays with a large number of the world's leading musicians and orchestras, and he has made 23 recordings yet in his own name. His repertoire ranges from popular and folk music to his own compositions, from Bach to contemporary music.

Thomas Rundle Reilly MBE was a Canadian-born harmonica player, predominantly based in England. He began studying violin at eight and began playing harmonica at aged eleven as a member of his father's band. In the 1940s, he began parallel careers as a concert soloist and recitalist playing the harmonica.

Vox Records is a budget classical record label. The name is Latin for "voice."

The Concerto for Harmonica and Orchestra, Opus 46, is a concerto featuring a harmonica soloist, written by English composer Malcolm Arnold. The piece was composed in 1954 for the American harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler, and was premiered on August 14, 1954 at the Royal Albert Hall, with accompaniment by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The concerto was one of the first of a number of "serious" pieces composed for the harmonica after the Second World War.

Harmonica concerto

Since the 1940s, a number of concertos have been written for the harmonica, both as a solo instrument as well as in conjunction with other solo instrument(s), and accompanied by string orchestra, chamber orchestra, full orchestra, band, or similar large ensemble. Nearly all harmonica concertos are composed for the chromatic harmonica, with the exception of the 2001 concerto for the 10-hole harmonica by Howard Levy.

<i>Music for Millions</i> 1944 film by Henry Koster

Music for Millions is a 1944 musical comedy film directed by Henry Koster and starring Margaret O'Brien, José Iturbi, Jimmy Durante, June Allyson, Marsha Hunt, Hugh Herbert, Harry Davenport, and Marie Wilson. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 1946.

Hilliard Gerald ("Jerry") Adler was a harmonica player whose performances have been used in numerous film soundtracks.

<i>The Glory of Gershwin</i> 1994 studio album by Larry Adler and others

The Glory of Gershwin is a 1994 tribute album by various singers and performers, Adler's lifelong friends, in celebration of American musician Larry Adler's 80th birthday. Adler himself plays the harmonica on each of the songs, all of which are written by George and Ira Gershwin, except where indicated.

Graham Whettam was an English post-romantic composer.

John Sebastian (classical harmonica player) American musician, composer, harmonia player

John Sebastian was an American musician and composer known as a master of the classical chromatic harmonica. He was the first harmonicist to adopt an all-classical repertoire and, along with Larry Adler and Tommy Reilly, established the harmonica as a serious instrument for classical music. In addition to performing, Sebastian increased the range of classical music available for the harmonica by transcribing numerous existing classical works for the harmonica, composing works of his own, and commissioning or otherwise encouraging other composers to write for the instrument.


  1. Barry Kernfeld, ed. (2002). "Adler, Larry". The new Grove dictionary of jazz. 1 (2nd ed.). New York: Grove's Dictionaries Inc. p. 16. ISBN   1-56159-284-6.
  2. 1 2 3 "Larry Adler". NNDB. Retrieved 2008-04-28.
  3. 1 2 3 "Larry Adler: Mouth organ virtuoso". BBC News. August 7, 2001. Retrieved May 6, 2015.
  4. 1 2 Current Biography 1944, pp. 3–5
  5. 1 2 Doktorski, Henry (October 19, 1997). "A Living Legend: Interview With Larry Adler" . Retrieved May 6, 2015.
  6. Dunning, Jennifer (September 21, 1996). "Paul Draper, Aristocrat of Tap Dancing, Is Dead at 86". New York Times. Retrieved May 5, 2015.
  7. "Adler, Larry". Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2006. Retrieved May 6, 2015.
  8. Wilcock, John (February 25, 1959). "Notebook for Night Owls: Artist at the Gate". The Village Voice. Retrieved May 6, 2015.
  9. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 15. ISBN   1-904994-10-5.
  10. "Jack Benny USO Show Cairo Egypt". Cairo.
  11. "Irish Rock Discography: The Action". Retrieved 2011-11-02.
  12. Ingrams, Richard (August 12, 2001). "Larry Adler: brilliant musician, formidable campaigner". The Observer News Pages. p. 24. I was among friends and family who packed a chapel at Golders Green crematorium on Friday to hear more than two hours of tributes to Adler. In accordance with Adler's wishes—he was an inveterate atheist who refused to recognise the supernatural in any shape or form—there were no religious observances.
  13. III, Harris M. Lentz (16 April 2002). "Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2001: Film, Television, Radio, Theatre, Dance, Music, Cartoons and Pop Culture". McFarland. Retrieved 6 October 2018 via Google Books.
  14. "Musician Larry Adler, 87, Dies". 8 August 2001. Retrieved 6 October 2018 via