I recently had cause to think about artists I would have liked to see perform live. My initial response was the usual suspects, I suppose. Jeff Buckley, Nirvana…blah, blah, blah….
Today, I remembered the great Larry Adler.
If you’ve never heard the name before, I would be doing the man a bit of a disservice by merely saying that he was a harmonica player. Though it was his instrument of choice, his skill was beyond that of merely playing – he made it sing. A truly masterful musician whose work is all the more impressive just on the basis that it was entirely self-taught.
The harmonica is an instrument that has always held a special appeal to me, though I’m not really sure I can explain why. I suppose I’ve just always felt that there’s just something both innately cool and romantic about the instrument and the music it’s associated with (which, I suppose, is predominantly rock and blues for most people, though it’s far more versatile than that). There’s just something wonderfully nostalgic about it, which I guess is largely due to some of my childhood experiences as well as how it’s portrayed in the media. Also, how many other instruments can you carry around in your pocket and whip out at a moment’s notice? (Ok, there’s probably a few – musical or otherwise. But none of them have the capacity to be both as beautiful and versatile).
I’ve also always wanted to learn the piano, but the only lessons I’ve ever taken were for the harmonica. It’s a deceptively simple instrument to play – if you can breathe, you can play it…but there’s quite a number of techniques that are difficult to not only produce, but master.
Larry had a long and prolific carreer, one worth learning more about. He appeared in films, contributed to myriad soundtracks and was one of the first musicians to play compositions written for the harmonica – some of which were written for him specifically. He also worked with artists such as Kate Bush and Elton John (I highly recommend watching the Elton John clip). He toured right up until his late 70’s (as far as I’m aware – I do know he toured Australia around 1990-91). He died in 2001 at the age of 87, so I truly regret not taking the opportunity to see him perform live when I had the chance.
About a year and a half ago, I posted a clip of Larry playing a medley of songs, but the video was subsequently removed from YouTube. There is also a wonderful clip of Larry and Itzhak Perlman performing Gershwin‘s Summertime on Parkinson that seems to periodically be posted and removed, but it remains my favourite performance I’ve had the opportunity to witness. Below is a video of Larry playing Summertime in three arrangements, including the Perlman duet as well as a solo performance where he plays the harmonica and piano simultaneously. I also recommend watching and taking a listen to his rendition of Clair De Lune (Debussy). The clip is from the 1944 film Music for Millions.