Saturday, March 27, 2010

Saturday morning tunes: Jerry and Larry Alder

Earlier this month, harmonica virtuoso Jerry Alder died at 91. From the NYTimes obituary:

Jerry Adler, a harmonica virtuoso whose pure, open sound can be heard on the soundtracks to “Shane,” “High Noon,” “Mary Poppins” and other films, but who labored in the shadow of his more famous harmonica-playing older brother, Larry, died on March 13 in Ellenton, Fla. He was 91 and lived in Sarasota. […]

Unlike Larry, who devoted himself to classical music, Jerry stuck with popular tunes. He was highly sought after as a soloist in films from the 1940s through the 1960s. His credits include the soundtracks for “Shane,” “High Noon,” “The Alamo,” “You Can’t Take It With You,” “Mary Poppins” and “My Fair Lady.”

When stars needed to pick up the instrument for a film role, he showed them how to fake it with conviction, secure in the knowledge that he would be recording the notes offstage. He tutored James Stewart in “Pot o’ Gold” (1941) and Van Johnson in “The Romance of Rosy Ridge” (1947). In the 1953 Kirk Douglas film “The Juggler,” he appeared onscreen taking a solo in a campfire scene.

Hilliard Gerald Adler was born on Oct. 30, 1918, in Baltimore. After establishing a solo career, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was assigned to an entertainment unit in Santa Ana, Calif., which cast him in “Winged Victory,” Moss Hart’s star-packed Broadway morale-booster about pilots in training. He also appeared in the film version, directed by George Cukor, which was released in 1944. […]

Beginning in the 1950s, Mr. Adler found steady work performing on cruise ships, which provided a good living for decades. In the 1980s, when the cruise ships became too onerous, he began performing on the Florida condo circuit. He often appeared with pops orchestras, usually performing the music of George Gershwin.

Here, at a meeting of the SPAH (Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica) in 1995, the two brothers share the stage--just barely--on a phenomenal performance of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." The sound is slightly out of sync, and the film quality is iffy at points, but it's still an amazing thing to witness. According to one of the YouTube commenters, the player piano is running a roll created from a performance by Gershwin himself.

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