Larry Adler

Last updated

Larry Adler
Larry Adler, City center, NYC, January 1947 (Gottlieb 00031).jpg
A photo of Adler in City Center in New York City in January 1947 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(s)Composer, actor, musician
Years active1931–2001
Eileen Walser
(m. 1938;div. 1961)

Sally Cline
(m. 1969;div. 1977)
Relatives Jerry Adler (brother)
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 George Gershwin, 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.


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. He taught himself harmonica, which he called a mouth organ. [2] 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". [3]


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. That same year, he played Rhapsody in Blue for Gershwin who exclaimed "the Goddam thing sounds as if I wrote it for you!" [4] 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. [3]

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 Anglaise (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.

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. [2]

The 1953 film Genevieve brought him an Oscar nomination for his work on the soundtrack, and considerable wealth. [2] 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.

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 wartime 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 (1948) playing himself; Music for Millions (1944) playing Larry; The Singing Marine (1937) playing Larry; and The Big Broadcast of 1937 (1936). 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 US 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 1938; [11] they had two daughters and one son. They divorced in 1961. [11] He married Sally Cline in 1969; they had one daughter. [11] They divorced in 1977. [11] At the time of his death, in addition to his children he also had two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. [12]

His son, Peter Adler, fronted the band Action and others [13] in Dublin, Ireland, in the late 1960s. Adler was an atheist. [14] His brother, Jerry Adler (1918–2010), was also a harmonica player.

Adler was a close friend of Peter Stringfellow, who hosted his birthday parties at his central London club for at least the last ten years of his life.

He was an outspoken critic of Ronald Reagan, primarily because of Reagan's McCarthyist activities when president of the Screen Actors Guild in the 1940s and '50s.

He died of cancer [15] [16] in St Thomas' Hospital, London, aged 87, on 6 August 2001. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, London, where his ashes remain. [17]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Gershwin</span> American composer and pianist (1898–1937)

George Gershwin was an American composer and pianist whose compositions spanned popular, jazz 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 standards "Embraceable You" (1928) and "I Got Rhythm" (1930), and the opera Porgy and Bess (1935), which included the hit "Summertime".

A concerto is, from the late Baroque era, mostly understood as an instrumental composition, written for one or more soloists accompanied by an orchestra or other ensemble. The typical three-movement structure, a slow movement preceded and followed by fast movements, became a standard from the early 18th century.

<i>Rhapsody in Blue</i> 1924 composition by George Gershwin

Rhapsody in Blue is a 1924 musical composition written by George Gershwin for solo piano and jazz band, which combines elements of classical music with jazz-influenced effects. Commissioned by bandleader Paul Whiteman, the work premiered in a concert titled "An Experiment in Modern Music" on February 12, 1924, in Aeolian Hall, New York City. Whiteman's band performed the rhapsody with Gershwin playing the piano. Whiteman's arranger Ferde Grofé orchestrated the rhapsody several times including the 1924 original scoring, the 1926 pit orchestra scoring, and the 1942 symphonic scoring.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ferde Grofé</span> American composer, arranger, pianist and instrumentalist

Ferdinand Rudolph von Grofé, known as Ferde Grofé was an American composer, arranger, pianist and instrumentalist. He is best known for his 1931 five-movement tone poem, Grand Canyon Suite, and for having orchestrated George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue prior to its 1924 premiere.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Bolcom</span> American composer and pianist (born 1938)

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. He taught composition at the University of Michigan from 1973 until 2008. He is married to mezzo-soprano Joan Morris.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alto saxophone</span> Type of saxophone

The alto saxophone is a member of the saxophone family of woodwind instruments. Saxophones were invented by Belgian instrument designer Adolphe Sax in the 1840s and patented in 1846. The alto saxophone is pitched in E, smaller than the B tenor but larger than the B soprano. It is the most common saxophone and is used in popular music, concert bands, chamber music, solo repertoire, military bands, marching bands, pep bands, and jazz.

Concerto in F is a composition by George Gershwin for solo piano and orchestra which is closer in form to a traditional concerto than his 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nathaniel Shilkret</span> American songwriter

Nathaniel Shilkret was an American musician, composer, conductor and musical director.

Gary Graffman is an American classical pianist, teacher and administrator.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Baltimore Symphony Orchestra</span> Symphony orchestra based in Baltimore, Maryland, US

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Earl Wild</span> American jazz musician

Earl Wild was an American pianist known for his transcriptions of jazz and classical music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arthur Benjamin</span> Australian composer, pianist, conductor and teacher

Arthur Leslie Benjamin was an Australian composer, pianist, conductor and teacher. He is best known as the composer of Jamaican Rumba (1938) and of the Storm Clouds Cantata, featured in both versions of the Alfred Hitchcock film The Man who Knew Too Much, in 1934 and 1956.

The Labèque sisters, Katia and Marielle, are an internationally known French piano duo.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wayne Marshall (classical musician)</span> British pianist, organist, and conductor (born 1961)

Wayne Ea Marshall is a British pianist, organist, and conductor.

A Jazz Symphony is a jazz-influenced classical work by avant-garde composer George Antheil.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Harmonica concerto</span>

Since the 1940s, a number of concertos have been written for the harmonica. Nearly all harmonica concertos are composed for the chromatic harmonica. One of the few exceptions is the 2001 concerto for the 10-hole harmonica by Howard Levy.

Hilliard Gerald Adler was an American 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 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 Adler's lifelong friends, George and Ira Gershwin, except where collaborators were involved and are indicated.

David Schiff is an American composer, writer and conductor whose music draws on elements of jazz, rock, and klezmer styles, showing the influence of composers as diverse as Stravinsky, Mahler, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Terry Riley. His music has been performed by major orchestras and festivals around the United States and by soloists David Shifrin, Regina Carter, David Taylor, Marty Ehrlich, David Krakauer, Nadine Asin and Peter Kogan. He is the author of books on the music of Elliott Carter, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. His work has been honored by the League-ISCM National Composers Competition award and the ASCAP-Deems Taylor award for his book on Elliott Carter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Sebastian (classical harmonica player)</span> Musical artist

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. Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). New York: Grove's Dictionaries Inc. p. 16. ISBN   1-56159-284-6.
  2. 1 2 3 "Larry Adler: Mouth organ virtuoso". BBC News. 7 August 2001. Retrieved 6 May 2015.
  3. 1 2 Current Biography 1944, pp. 3–5
  4. Condy, Oliver. "A guide to the best recordings of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue". BBC Music Magazine. Retrieved 18 January 2021.
  5. 1 2 Doktorski, Henry (19 October 1997). "A Living Legend: Interview With Larry Adler" . Retrieved 6 May 2015.
  6. Dunning, Jennifer (21 September 1996). "Paul Draper, Aristocrat of Tap Dancing, Is Dead at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 May 2015.
  7. "Adler, Larry". Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2006. Retrieved 6 May 2015.
  8. Wilcock, John (25 February 1959). "Notebook for Night Owls: Artist at the Gate". The Village Voice. Retrieved 6 May 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". NBC . Cairo. 13 September 1943.
  11. 1 2 3 4 Tyers, Alan. "Larry Adler". The Telegraph. Retrieved 5 September 2021.
  12. "Larry Adler, Political Exile Who Brought the Harmonica to Concert Stage, Dies at 87". The New York Times. 8 August 2001. Retrieved 5 September 2021.
  13. "Irish Rock Discography: The Action". Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  14. Ingrams, Richard (12 August 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.
  15. III, Harris M. Lentz (2002). Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2001: Film, Television, Radio, Theatre, Dance, Music, Cartoons and Pop Culture. McFarland. ISBN   9780786452064 . Retrieved 6 October 2018 via Google Books.
  16. "Musician Larry Adler, 87, Dies". The Washington Post. 8 August 2001. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  17. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More than 14000 Famous Persons, Scott Wilson