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.
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.