City Center NYC (January 1947) photo by William Gottlieb
|Born||Lawrence Cecil Adler
February 10, 1914
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
|Died||August 6, 2001
|Occupation||Composer; actor; musician|
|Spouse(s)||Eileen Walser (1952–1957) (divorced) 3 children
Sally Cline (1959–1963) (divorced) 1 child
Lawrence "Larry" Cecil Adler (February 10, 1914 – August 6, 2001) was an American musician, one of the world's most skilled harmonica players. Ralph Vaughan Williams, Malcolm Arnold, Darius Milhaud and Arthur Benjamin composed for him. During his later career he collaborated with Sting, Elton John, Kate Bush and Cerys Matthews.
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. (actually a generic term for instruments that include the harmonica.) 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".
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.".
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, 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.
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". After the blacklisting and an unsuccessful libel suit decided in 1950, he moved to the United Kingdom in 1951 and settled in London, where he remained the rest of his life. Another source indicates he stayed in London from 1949.
The 1953 film Genevieve brought him an Oscar nomination for his work on the soundtrack, and great wealth. 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.
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. 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.
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 (12-Feb-1948) playing himself; Music for Millions (8-Dec-1944) playing Larry; The Singing Marine (3-Jul-1937) playing Larry; and The Big Broadcast of 1937 (6-Oct-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 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."
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. 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 in Dublin, Ireland in the late 1960s. Adler was an atheist. His brother, Jerry Adler (1918–2010) was also an harmonica player.
He died in St Thomas' Hospital, London, at 87, on 7 August 2001. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, where his ashes remain.
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."