Tommy Reilly (harmonica player)

Last updated
Tommy Reilly
Birth nameThomas Rundle Reilly
Born(1919-08-21)August 21, 1919
Guelph, Ontario, Canada
DiedSeptember 25, 2000(2000-09-25) (aged 81)
Frensham, Surrey, England
GenresJazz, classical, popular
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, teacher
Instruments Harmonica
Years active1940s–1990s
Associated acts James Moody

Thomas Rundle Reilly MBE (August 21, 1919 – September 25, 2000) 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, a popular radio and TV performer, and a studio musician-composer.


Early life

Born in Guelph, Ontario, he studied violin at eight and began playing harmonica at aged eleven as a member of his father's band.[ citation needed ]

In 1935 the family moved to London. At the outbreak of the Second World War he was a student at the Leipzig Conservatory. He was arrested and interned for the duration of the war in prisoner of war camps. However it was there that he developed his virtuosity on the harmonica, basing his ideas of phrasing and interpretation on the playing of Jascha Heifetz. [1]


Returning to London in 1945, Reilly began championing the cause of the harmonica as a serious solo concert instrument. He began parallel careers as a concert soloist and recitalist, a popular BBC radio and TV performer, and a studio musician-composer. He performed with most of the major European orchestras and toured Europe several times with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields. He also played the theme tune and musical breaks to the BBC Radio series The Navy Lark , from 1959-77. [2]

More than 30 concert works were composed for Reilly, including Michael Spivakovsky's Harmonica Concerto of 1951 and fellow Canadian Robert Farnon's Prelude and Dance for Harmonica and Orchestra. Other pieces were composed by Reilly's accompanist James Moody, ( Little Suite for Harmonica and Small Orchestra , 1960) Matyas Seiber (Old Scottish Air for Harmonica, Strings and Harp), Gordon Jacob (Five Pieces for Harmonica and Strings), Fried Walter (Ballade and Tarantella for Harmonica and Orchestra), Karl Heinz-Köper (Concerto for Harmonica and Orchestra), Graham Whettam (Fantasy for Harmonica and Orchestra), Vilém Tauský (Concertino for Harmonica and Orchestra), Francis Ward (Kaleidoscope for Harmonica and Orchestra), Willem Strietman ("O bonne douce France" for Harmonica and Orchestra), Max Saunders (Sonatina for Harmonica and Piano), Sir George Martin (Three American Sketches for Harmonica and Strings, and Adagietto for Harmonica and Strings), Alan Langford (Concertante for Harmonica and Strings), Paul Patterson (Propositions for Harmonica and Strings).

Reilly worked with many composers to get more original music written for the instrument, and his recordings also include original harmonica works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Malcolm Arnold, Arthur Benjamin, and Villa-Lobos. [3]

He was signed to Parlophone in 1951 where his recordings were produced by George Martin. He performed music for the soundtracks of many US and European films and television series, including British comedy The Navy Lark (1959) and the TV theme tune for Dixon of Dock Green. [4] In 1967, Reilly initiated the development of the first Hohner silver harmonica. He and James Moody have recorded many musical scores for the harmonica under the pen names "Dwight Barker" and "Max Martin". [5]


In 1992 he was awarded the MBE for his services to music. [6]


Tommy Reilly died aged 81 in Frensham, Surrey. His granddaughter Georgina Reilly is a Canadian film and television actor. [7] Larry Adler admitted in The Guardian obituary of Tommy that "He never even had a close second".


Related Research Articles

Julian Bream English classical guitarist and lutenist

Julian Alexander Bream CBE was a British classical guitarist and lutenist. Regarded as one of the most distinguished classical guitarists of the 20th century, he played a significant role in improving the public perception of the classical guitar as a respectable instrument. Over the course of a career that spanned more than half a century, Bream helped revive interest in the lute.

Vilém Tauský CBE was a Czech conductor and composer who, from the advent of the Second World War, lived and worked in the UK, one of a significant group of émigré composers and musicians who settled there.

Richard Rodney Bennett English composer and pianist (1936-2012)

Sir Richard Rodney Bennett was an English composer of film, TV and concert music, and also a jazz pianist and occasional vocalist. He was based in New York City from 1979 until his death there in 2012.

Gordon Percival Septimus Jacob CBE was an English composer and teacher. He was a professor at the Royal College of Music in London from 1924 until his retirement in 1966, and published four books and many articles about music. As a composer he was prolific: the list of his works totals more than 700, mostly compositions of his own, but a substantial minority of orchestrations and arrangements of other composers' works. Those whose music he orchestrated range from William Byrd to Edward Elgar to Noël Coward.

Arnold Atkinson Cooke was a British composer.

Sigmund Groven

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.

Violin Concerto No. 2 (Prokofiev)

The Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63, written in 1935 by Sergei Prokofiev, is a work in three movements:

  1. Allegro moderato
  2. Andante assai
  3. Allegro, ben marcato

Neil Cathcart Black OBE was an English oboist. He has held the post of principal oboe in four London orchestras, and taught at the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Jennifer Pike

Jennifer Elizabeth Pike is a British violinist.

Sidney Torch MBE was a British pianist, cinema organist, conductor, orchestral arranger and a composer of light music.

Radamés Gnattali

Radamés Gnattali was a Brazilian composer of both classical and popular music, as well as a conductor, orchestrator, and arranger.

James Moody (1907–1995) was a Belfast-born pianist, arranger and composer best known for his music for classical harmonica, including twenty-two works for harmonica and piano, three works for harmonica and strings, eight works for harmonica and orchestra, and some two dozen other works for instrumental combinations such as harmonica and harp, harmonica and string quartet, and harmonica ensemble. He also arranged a lot of other music for harmonica, for example Irish, Scottish, English, and Norwegian folk melodies.

Frederick Grinke CBE was a Canadian born violinist who had an international career as soloist, chamber musician, and teacher. He was known especially for his performances of 20th-century English music.

Skaila Kanga is a harpist and is Head of Harp Studies at the Royal Academy of Music, London, England. After winning a Junior Exhibition to the Royal Academy of Music for piano, she switched to harp studies at age 17. She studied with Tina Bonifacio, Sir Thomas Beecham's harpist in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Thomas Tycho AM MBE was a multi-talented Hungarian-born Australian pianist, conductor, composer and arranger. He was associated with musical productions on Australian television for many years from its inception in 1956, including such programs as The Mavis Bramston Show. The recorded version of the National Anthem Advance Australia Fair that is now usually used to accompany singers at major sporting and community events is Tommy Tycho's arrangement. He wrote a number of film scores, and his activities bridged both popular and classical styles.

Alan Langford was the pen name of Alan Owen a British radio producer and composer of light music.

Francis Chagrin, was a composer of film scores and popular orchestral music, as well as a conductor. He was also the "organizer and chief moving spirit" who founded the Society for the Promotion of New Music.

Graham Whettam was an English post-romantic composer.

John Sebastian (classical harmonica 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.

Yasuo Watani

Yasuo Watani is a Japanese chromatic harmonica player. He was born in Kyoto, Japan and had his first harmonica lessons with Tadao Kobayashi in 1966. After graduating from Doshisha University in 1984 with a degree in Economics, he studied the chromatic harmonica with Helmuth Herold at the Hohner-Konservatorium Trossingen in Germany from 1984 to 1988. He also learned the harmonica from the Canadian harmonica soloist Tommy Reilly. Watani was invited to stay on as a Lecturer at the Hohner-Konservatorium and taught from 1988 to 2002. Since 2005, he is a Music Professor for harmonica at Senzoku-Gakuen College of Music, Japan. He has been invited to judge at many harmonica competitions and festivals, including World Harmonica Festival and Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival.


  1. "Tommy Reilly biography". Historica Canada . Retrieved 22 August 2016.
  2. White, Robert (27 September 2000). "Tommy Reilly obituary". The Guardian .
  3. "Tommy Reilly obituary". The Daily Telegraph . 29 September 2000.
  4. Age, Feeling My (3 March 2012). "Dixon Of Dock Green Theme Tune". Retrieved 21 July 2020.
  5. "Tommy Reilly Production Music Recordings".
  6. "Raised harmonica playing to 'highbrow' levels".
  7. "Georgina Reilly - Cast - Murdoch Mysteries".