This recording of a performance by Larry Adler at the first World Harmonica Championship in 1987 just became available on YouTube. Adler is accompanied by a pianist (at whose expense…


This recording of a performance by Larry Adler at the first World Harmonica Championship in 1987 just became available on YouTube. Adler is accompanied by a pianist (at whose expense he makes a joke at the beginning of the performance; Adler’s reputation for narcissism was well-deserved). It’s as close to naked as most concert virtuosi get, and it’s well worth hearing.

Larry Adler-City Center NYC 1947-photo William Gottlieb

Larry Adler-City Center NYC 1947-photo William Gottlieb

The performance–recorded about 40 years after this photo of Adler was taken–shows off Adler’s considerable strengths and weaknesses as a musician. In the former category, there’s his sound. Adler had a ravishing tone, and he was able to pull off a very wide range of tones and timbres on the chromatic harmonica. On the other hand, there’s his improvising. As Toots Thielemans said to me when I interviewed him in 1979, Adler was no jazz musician. Adler doesn’t seem to have a real concept of the improvised line; his solo here consists mainly of short, repeating phrases, harmonically unadventurous, that serve largely as a platform for his manipulations of tone. One might as well play to one’s strengths, I suppose, especially when the strengths are considerable. Did I mention that Adler has a ravishing tone? Does he ever.

Youtube doesn’t make this video available for embedding. You can play the YouTube video here.

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