Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


ADLER, Larry

(b Lawrence Cecil Adler, 10 February 1914, Baltimore MD; d 7 August 2001) Mouth organist, composer. He studied piano, discovered harmonica and was a vaudeville trouper while still a teenager. He preferred the term 'mouth organ' and played a chromatic as opposed to the blues harpist's diatonic instrument. He played Ravel's Bolero and Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue; he appeared in Ziegfeld's Smiles '31, St Martin's Lane '38, Music For Millions '44 etc. He appeared in film Many Happy Returns '34 playing with Duke Ellington (on the soundtrack only, because Guy Lombardo starred in the film). He was a big hit in London '34 and made his first records there (e.g. 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes'/'The Continental'); played and broadcast with Ambrose and Henry Hall, and was henceforth better known in the British Empire than in the USA. He recorded in the UK '35-8, in Paris with Django Reinhardt '38. He toured with tap dancer Paul Draper (b 25 October 1929; d 20 September 1996: studied with Balanchine and took tap into the concert hall and the theatre). Adler supported Progressive candidate Henry Wallace for President '48 and was blacklisted by witch-hunters; he thereafter lived mostly in London. He had entertained US troops during WWII with Jack Benny, and after blacklisting played for British troops instead. Touring Israel with Draper after a visit to South Korea he was picketed by the Israeli Communist Party.He probably thought that if he had offended everybody he must have been doing something right.

He appeared on TV in the USA with Dizzy Gillespie '59; he also played duets with Sonny Terry, Lord Mountbatten, Malcolm MacDonald (Australian Commissioner-General) etc. He was also a journalist from '41, writing dispatches for the Chicago Post from Africa; he later replaced Humphrey Lyttelton as restaurant critic for Harpers And Queen until the magazine was involved in a libel suit, and in London's What's On until it folded. His remark on radio that having a vasectomy means never having to say you're sorry got into the Penguin Book Of Quotations.

He tried to establish the mouth organ as a serious instrument. Music was especially composed for him '36 by Cyril Scott, then Arthur Benjamin, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Darius Milhaud, Malcolm Arnold etc. His own film scores included Genevieve '53 (he took a percentage because he liked the script and made more than the actors, the score nominated for an Oscar with someone else's name on it), High Wind In Jamaica and King And Country '64, and The Great Chase (an anthology of film comedy). He won a Grand Prix du Disque for 'Le Grisbi', a tune from the French film Touchez pas au Grisbi. Albums in the USA were on the London and Audio Fidelity labels; also Discovery '67 on RCA with Morton Gould (first recordings of obscure songs by Gershwin, Cole Porter etc). He published Jokes And How To Tell Them '63; his autobiography It Ain't Necessarily So '84 was packed with good stories. The album Live At The Ballroom '86 had him with pianists Ellis Larkins, Vincent Youmans, George Gershwin and Sergei Rachmaninoff (the last three by means of a Knabe/Ampico reproducing piano); he played on a Glory Of Gershwin tribute album '94 on Mercury,

His brother Jerry (Hilliard Gerald) Adler (b 30 October 1918, Baltimore; d 13 March 2010, Ellenton FL) was also a mouth organist, heard in soundtracks of films Shane, High Noon, Mary Poppins and several others. He tutored actors who pretended to play harmonica on screen, while Jerry would be playing in the soundtracks. LIke his brother Larry, he liked to play Gershwin. Jerry published an autobiography Living From Hand To Mouth in 2005.