ADLER, Larry: The Great Larry Adler
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THE GREAT LARRY ADLER
Vol. 1: OriginalRecordings 1934-1947
\The only two youngmusical geniuses in the world are Yehudi Menuhin and Larry Adler" - WilliamWalton, in the late 1940s
"He was one of theyoungest old men I've ever met" - Sting, 2001
"He could expresshimself equally well in pop, jazz or classical music" - HumphreyLyttleton, 2001
During a career whichspanned 70 years, the larger-than-life Larry Adler rubbed shoulders with kings,presidents and prime ministers. An impenitent rebel and indefatigableselfpublicist, he was also a notorious story-teller and name-dropper. Heclaimed to have had a two-year affair with Ingrid Bergman and numbered amongthe disparate and seemingly endless list of his "friends" the Duke and Duchessof Windsor, Prince Philip, the King of Sweden, Martin Amis, Jack Benny, JimmyCagney, Shura Cherkassky, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe,Bertrand Russell, Virginia Wade and Max Wall. Musically, Larry spanned thedivide between "classical" and "popular." He elevated the harmonica from meretoy to respected concert instrument by playing it with the most famousmusicians of several generations : Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Django Reinhardtand, more recently, Elton John and Sting. Like Benny Goodman before him, he becamean inveterate archetype of "cross-over". Albeit jazz-inclined, he inspired themost unlikely "serious" composers to write works for him, most notably MalcolmArnold, Gordon Jacobs, Milhaud, Rodrigo and Vaughan Williams. An uncompromisingleft-winger, Larry will also go down in history as being one of very fewshowbiz personalities who refused to "name names" to McCarthy's Un-AmericanActivities Committee - and survived.
Born Lawrence CecilAdler in Baltimore, Maryland, on 10th February, 1914, of Yiddishspeaking,orthodox Russian Jewish parents, Larry was an instinctive performer. At the ageof two he was already charming grown-ups with his imitations of Al Jolson, atsix he played piano "after a fashion" and at ten he was Baltimore's youngestcantor. That same year he became the Peabody Conservatory of Music'sshortest-serving student before being expelled as "incorrigible, untalented andentirely lacking in ear" for reputedly substituting "Yes, We Have No Bananas"for the set test piece! Nothing daunted, at 13 the self-taught Larry won theMaryland Harmonica Championship for his performance of a Beethoven minuet and,by the time he was seventeen, despite his virtual lack of formal tuition (hewas unable to read music properly until about 1940), he had achieved a certainfame as a stylish virtuoso of the mouth - organ.
At fourteen Larry ranaway in search of fame and fortune to New York. Through the good offices of NBCOrchestra violinist Nat Brusiloff, he was introduced there to Borrah Minevitch(of Harmonica Rascals fame) but failed his audition. Soon afterwards heappeared - again without success - at Rudy Vallee's club, before Brusiloffsecured him a job playing harmonica in Mickey Mouse film soundtracks. Thiswork, in turn, led to a $100-per-week off-screen touring contract. In 1928 heappeared in Clowns In Clover and by 1930 he was busily engaged asonstage foil (in page-boy attire and sans harmonica) to comedian Eddie Cantorand as session musician to, among others, Ruth Etting. In 1931, at seventeen,he made his first Broadway appearance, in Smiles, a show with music byVincent Youmans which, although a virtual flop, featured Marilyn Miller andFred and Adele Astaire.
Larry stayed onBroadway for Flying Colours (a 1932 revue by Howard Dietz and ArthurSchwartz) and in 1934 made an inauspicious film debut (in Operator 13,an "elaborate period romance with action highlights", for MGM-Cosmopolitan).
Later that year he was spotted at the New York Palace Theatre by the Englishimpresario C. B. Cochran who brought him to London to appear in the VivianEllis musical comedy Streamline. In December, billed "The Mouth OrganVirtuoso from Streamline", he made the first of a series of recordingsfor Columbia (some of which were later reissued on the subsidiary Regal-Zonophonelabel). The earliest of these, with instrumental backing from members of thestudio house band under the direction of the pianist Carroll Gibbons(1903-1954), illustrate Larry's skilfully improvised arrangements and cover awide variety of music, ranging from such film-music items as Con Conrad's "TheContinental", Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" and Cole Porter's"Night And Day" to Ravel's "Bolero", Fritz Kreisler's "Caprice Viennois" andthe "Ritual Fire Dance" from Manuel de Falla's ballet E l amor brujo. Theyalso graph the start of Larry's lifelong love-affair with the music of GeorgeGershwin (when the composer first heard Larry play "Rhapsody In Blue", hereportedly exclaimed "It sounds as if the goddamned thing was written for you.").
By the mid-1930sLarry was fast becoming a transatlantic celebrity. Having appeared in the 1934film Many Happy Returns, he returned to Hollywood's Paramount Studios in1936 for Big Broadcast of 1937 (a musical melange featuring Jack Benny,Burns and Allen, Martha Raye, Shirley Ross, Benny Goodman and Leopold Stokowskiand the Philadelphia Orchestra) and in 1937, for Warner Brothers, he made acameo appearance in the Busby Berkeley choreographed B-rater The SingingMarine. Meanwhile, his European tours involved various return trips toEngland. In London, he played the top night-clubs and the 1937 revue TuneInn was tailored to suit him. For Columbia and also for the British Deccasubsidiary Rex label he recorded a varied repertoire. With backing by JayWilbur's dance orchestra, he recorded both light classics and film material,including Harry Revel's "You Hit The Spot", Ray Noble's "The Touch Of YourLips" and Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin".
During 1938 and 1939Larry toured South Africa and Australia (here he made his first solo appearancein a classical concert with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra) before returning tothe USA. During the 1940s he toured the States with the dancer Paul Draper andwith him entertained American troops in Africa and the Middle East. He alsoappeared in the South Pacific, notably with Jack Benny, and in 1951 entertainedtroops based in Korea. After 1947, however, his overtly anti-Fascist stance hadmade him a prime target for investigation by the Un-American ActivitiesCommittee. From 1949 he was domiciled in Britain where, in 1953, he wrote -albeit at that time and for the next 31 years "anonymously" - the filmscore forthe Oscar-nominated film Genevieve (the "red spectre" of Communism meantthat he was compelled by the Rank Organization to relinquish his US rights onthe film). He also scored The Hellions (Columbia, 1961), The Hook (MGM,1962), King And Country (BHE, 1964) and A High Wind In Jamaica (20thCentury Fox, 1965).
By 1952, when hepremiered Vaughan Williams' Romance at the Royal Albert Hall, London hadbecome his adopted home (he was still on the McCarthy blacklist), althoughthroughout the 1950s he continued to appear in the USA and at various otherinternational venues. In 1963 and 1965 he was a soloist at the EdinburghFestival and in 1967 and 1973 he lent his services to Israel in aid,respectively, of the Six Day and Yom Kippur Wars. In 1988 he was the guest ofthe New York Ballroom Club and in 1989 his 75th birthday was marked by a RoyalAlbert Hall concert with pianist John Ogden and the Wren Orchestra underStanley Black. During the