I don't have any musical ancestors but in looking for news articles written by my mum's cousin, journalist Allan FLEMING, I found an amusing interview he had done in 1939 with the famous harmonica player, Larry Adler.
HIS BACH Is As GOOD AS HIS SMILE
By ALLAN FLEMING
LARRY ADLER, the quiet, dark haired young man who has made the mouth organ — or rather, harmonica — a classical instrument, needed a sense of humour when he first set out to prove a harmonica was equal to Beet hoven, because some said 'Phooey' and some said, 'Really, what an extraordinary ideah."
But his genius proved it. And his sense of humour is as quiet and entertaining as you could wish. Before he left the theatre to go to his hotel he put on a smart, loose-fitting brown coat. 'I bought it in Sydney,' he explained, 'because I was told that it was a real Australian jacket. But it looks as if I'm the only one who wears a real Australian Jacket.'
Gaol — Nearly! We were walking toward the Bellevue. 'Let's cross over here on to the shady side,' he said at an intersection. And he began to make a course for the corner diagonally opposite. I explained that it would be safer, in case a policeman disagreed with our tactics, to cross in two stages. ' 'Oh!' he said. And that reminded him . . . A girl who wrote to him when he was in Melbourne claimed that first he had nearly put her in gaol, and then he had 'gotten' her out of gaol. He was playing at the Tivoli Theatre, and the girl had been to see the show with a friend. On the way out of the theatre the girl was demonstrating to her friend just how Larry Adler managed to conduct an orchestra and play the harmonica as well. 'He did it this way.' she said, and, in spite of the interest she was exciting in the street, she began to move her hands and arms to make her explanation clear. The explanation was very absorbing, and she didn't notice the traffic lights against her. The red sign showed, but she began to cross the street without noticing it. Half way across she saw an obstruction and looked up to see a gargantuan policeman looming over her. 'And what do you think you're doing?' said the Policeman. 'What do you think?' the girl asked, rather sharply. 'I was trying to explain to my friend how Larry Adler played.' 'And what do you know about it?' said the policeman, still looming. 'Well, I'll show you,' she said. 'He plays with his hands this way.' And the girl began to move on while the policeman ceased to loom and began whetting his appetite for an argument. They walked to the tram stop, discussing their points of view, and when the tram came the policeman, now a good friend, helped the two young women on to the tram, touched his helmet, and said, 'I hope to meet you again.' 'Of course, I don't know whether the story is true.' Larry Adler said, with a smile. 'But that is what she said in the letter.'
Policeman's Weakness That wasn't the end of the policeman stories. There was an incident in England that he could vouch for because he was concerned in it personally. He was driving along a country road when a big car in front of him swerved. He ran straight into a baby car that suddenly swam into his ken. Up came a policeman, flourishing a notebook and hungering for details. 'Could you let me see your licence?' he asked ominously. "Yes. Here it is." "Adler, hey?" "Yes." "You're not the Larry Adler who plays the mouth organ?" "Yes". "Well, fancy that. My boy plays a mouth organ. He gets all your records and he plays them so perfectly that you would think, if you heard him, that you were listening to yourself.' 'Well, you don't say so.' 'Yes, it's a fact.' Larry Adler took a harmonica from the pocket of his car. 'Give this to your son as a present. It's a good one.' 'Well, now, that's grand. Thank you very much. On you go. sir!' said the policeman, beaming. And that was the end of that.
Barman's Dream By now we were at the Bellevue, sitting in the tree-shaded garden enjoying the breeze. Swaying back and forth perilously on the two back legs of his seat, with his thin, sensitive fingers flicking his chin or bending and unbending, Larry Adler began to talk of other letters he had received since he came to Australia. Some of them, he admitted, were amusing. A young Melbourne man had written to him on these lines: 'I am better looking than Robert Taylor. . . .' Then there was what Mr. Adler described as a coy, parenthetic note. . . 'If I am to believe others.' The letter proceeded: 'I can act much better than Taylor, because I have that certain extra added something. I have acted in stock com panies, and although the veterans with me have been acting for years and years I out- shine many of them. 'I don't know whether I would like you or your playing, because I haven't bothered to listen to you on the radio. Before long I'll probably meet you somewhere and we can have a talk about things.' But as Mr. Adler does not drink, and as the man was a barman, the meeting appears to be a long way off. A man in Sydney had the idea that Mr. Adler used a mouth organ once and then threw it to the audience. He wrote to say that on Tuesday afternoon he would be in the second row wearing a red blazer, and would Mr. Adler please throw one of the mouth organs to him.
Got 'The Bird' Most artists get 'the bird' at some stage in their career. Mr. Adler cheerfully told the story of the time he got it at Stockton, in England. "The town, was in the heart of the mining district. There had been no work there for years. They chose to open a huge cinema there. They needed the cinema as much as I need another leg. And I was to play at the opening! "I went on to the stage in a white tie and tails. I started to play 'Rhapsody in Blue.' Firstly, they didn't want 'Rhapsody in Blue,' and secondly, they didn't want anyone in tails. 'After about 15 bars I got a definite rasp berry from the gallery. It was the first time I had ever heard that particular kind of music. 'Still, it turned out all right in the end. . .' Another incident in England was his bet of £20 with two famous musicians that he could stand by the queue outside a theatre, play the mouth organ, and not be recognised. He went along to the theatre on a Saturday night. Alas, there were other musicians on the Job already. He quietly slipped them a pound note to induce them to go away. Then he walked up and down playing 'My Wild Irish Rose.' No one paid any attention for a while, then five pennies were thrown. They hadn't recognised him. and he was well on the way to winning the bet. But he made a mistake— he didn't pick up the pennies. That made the queue interested, and the game was up. He would have lost his £20, only his two friends decided that consider- ing the circumstances they would call it square.
Taxis and Fogs There was a sequel to that story. He had been dressed for the part in ragged clothes, and had a dirty face and tousled hair standing on end. A magazine which made a practice of publishing humorously-contrasted pictures side by side seized the idea, It published a picture of tousle headed, 'Larry Adler, King of Mouth Organists,' side by side with that of a tousled, ugly-looking Zulu chieftain 'M'Bongo M'Bongo, King of the Zulus.' 'The likeness,' said Mr. Adler, 'was too good to be comfortable.' His first notable experience in England, however, concerned taxi-drivers. He had come across on the ship With Mr. C. B. Cochrane, famous producer, and his. wife. In-between games of shove ha'penny on the way over ('I was never any good at it,' Mr. Adler admits) Mr. Cochrane tried to dispel the legend of London as a city of fogs. The day they arrived London was having its thickest fog for years. Mr. Adler went to his hotel in Park Lane, and in the evening called a taxi to take him to Mr. Cochrane's. They travelled for a long time, and the fare was 9/6. He arrived at Mr. Cochrane's. 'Did you walk?' he was asked. 'No. Why walk? I've been travelling for hours.' 'But this place is just at the back of your hotel,' they told him. 'Apparently.' said Mr. Adler, 'the taxi driver recognised a strange accent, and thought he might as well get some back payment on the war debt.'
A Gramophone? Sometimes an artist hears criticism in a roundabout way. Mr. Adler's wife, sitting in the audience, has heard people whisper: 'Of course you know that he's not really playing at all. 'It's a record backstage.' Sometimes, on the other hand, appreciation or doubt can be read on the faces of the listeners. One of his special performances was before the King of Sweden at Monte Carlo. It went like this: He played one of the most difficult of classics. The audience applauded gingerly. He played 'Caprice Viennois.' The audience applauded politely. He played 'Cheek to Cheek.' The audience applauded sincerely. He played. 'The Music Goes Round and Round.' The audience cheered. Tennis Partner THE fact that Mr. Adler went to see the fight in Brisbane on Friday night is an indication of his interest in boxing. He has often worn the gloves himself. Since he came to Australia he has been playing tennis. When he was leaving Melbourne a friend brought a lady along to the train. 'I would like you to meet this lady.' said his friend. 'Her husband could give you some good practice. This is Mrs. Jack Crawford. . .' Well! 'Jack Crawford was away while I was In Sydney.' Mr. Adler explained, "and I had a coach. But the coach confided to my wife that I seemed to have a style of my own and he couldn't do anything about it. He thought he'd better leave me alone. 'And it seems that that's the way it is with the mouth organ.'
The mouth organ, the tin whistle, and the kazoo were toys in the years B.A. (Before Adler). Now the mouth organ has left the tin whistle and the kazoo lamenting. It can rise to Bach as easily as it can stay with "Pollywolly Doodle All the Day."
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by Amy Johnson Crow at "No Story Too Small"