Thursday, 6 August 2015

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to an old harmonica player called Harry Pitch

Harry, a virtuoso harmonica player who once said : "I have often played jazz in the morning, a television jingle in the afternoon and a classical music concert in the evening" has died at the age of 90.

What you possibly didn't know about Harry, the he :

* was born in North London in 1925 as Harold, son of Anne Tinner and Israel Picz, a Polish immigrant, garment worker with an anglicised name, 'Pitch', created by an immigration official who mistranscribed the original and grew up in an overcrowded basement flat with his six siblings.

* in the 1930's was inspired by the radio broadcasts of the young, virtuoso, American harmonica player, Larry Adler (right) and learnt to play himself in the numerous local Harmonica Bands and at the age of 12 in 1937, won the 'All Britain Harmonica Band Championship' and got to meet the great man himself who presented him with the 'Best Soloist Award' and said to him : "You remind me of me when I was your age."

* left school at 14 in 1939, started work and, much to his parent's displeasure, spent his first wage packet on a harmonica and after being evacuated to Peterborough after the start of the London Blitz in 1940, learned to play the trumpet and read music.

* on his return to London at 17 in 1942, later recalled : "I was already quite a good trumpet player and I started playing with various bands in London on trumpet and in those bands there were people like Ron Goodwin who ultimately became a very famous conductor, but in those days he was just another trumpet player and there was just another trombone player whose name was Geoff Love and he became a very famous orchestral conductor."

* in addition, played in small jazz groups alongside young hopefuls and future stars Ronnie Scott and John Dankworth (left), emulating the playing of Louis Armstrong (right) and Harry James and led a successful Basie style dance band in the the mid-1950s, playing popular standards and arrangements for dances and private functions in North London, gradually introducing the harmonica into his repertoire.

* at the age of 32 in 1957, was helped into his first film by Ron Goodwin and later recalled : "When they made 'Bridge Over the River Kwai' they wanted somebody to play the harmonica for the film. As they marched into captivity they were singing or whistling 'Colonel Bogey' and he wanted one of them playing the mouth organ with it. So they got me to do the soundtrack playing the mouth organ and then Ron Goodwin did it on a record with EMI and it was such a knock out, it went so well that I became, within a very short space of time, the harmonica player for EMI."

* in 1961, benefited when Goodwin, now a successful arranger and recording artist, recommended him for the in Petula Clark's No 1 hit, 'Sailor', prominent in the opening : and closing bars : v=5k9BiDRHANg&t=2m45s and similarly with The Spingfields 'Island of Dreams' in 1962, featuring a pre-solo Dusty Springfield : and

* found success when he added the distinctive harmonica phrase taken from the first few bars of 'Waltzing Matilda' to Frank Ifield's 1962 No 1 hit, 'I remember You' and recalled : "Frank Ifield, when he did his 'I Remember You', he used to yodel in it and Norrey Paramor thought of putting that introduction of a harmonica player 'wow. wow. ya' and that took off. After that everybody, all the singers who were anybody in the singing field, Dusty Springfield, Kiki Dee, Cliff Richard, John Leyton - they all wanted a little bit of harmonica. So I was going from studio to studio just putting on little bits of harmonica"

* in 1962, was in the canteen at EMI's Abbey Road Studios and recalled : "I was just sitting thee having a cup of tea and these two guys, it was Paul and John came in. They sat down. They knew who I was and it was just after I'd done that Frank Ifield thing that they said that they'd heard that and John Lennon asked me, he said : "How did you do that ?" I said : "have you got a harmonica ?" He said : "Yer, this one". I said : "All you do, you put it in your hands like this and 'warrrr..'" Anyway, he asked me how I got a certain effect and he said : "I'll try that." He tried it and it worked and that was that" :

* was able to hear his harmonica signature played by John on the Beatles' first single, 'Love Me Do' and at the same time pursued his career with his band accompanied by the youthful Matt Monro and, before the formation of 'The Kinks', Ray Davies, whose Quartet supported the Pitch Band in Hornsey Town Hall at the 1963 St Valentine’s Carnival Dance while his continued liaison with Goodwin brought invitations to play harmonica on tv commercials for 'Oxo cubes', Nestlé's 'Milky Bar' and 'Strand Cigarettes' :

* in 1964 provided harmonica embellishments for Val Doonican's hit, 'Walk Tall' and made his first big contribution to a film soundtrack in Goodwin’s score for 'Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines' in 1965 when he played the 'cowboy theme' for Stuart Whitman, playing Orvil Newton, which in turn led to soundtrack collaborations with John Barry and James Horner.

* back in the recording studio, provided harmonica for 'Just Loving You' by Anita Harris in 1967 :

* contributed to 'Mr Bloe's Groovin', a studio ensemble single for Dick James DJM Label, which reached No 2 in the summer of 1970 which was bought by the 11 year old Morrissey, who called it an "astonishing record" : and in the same year provided an uncredited mouth-organ solo on Procol Harum's 'Your Own Choice' on their 'Home' album and confirmed his playing in 2008 when he said that he could still 'recognise a number of features of my playing such as trills and grace notes.'

* in 1973 at the age of 48, received an invitation from composer Ronnie Hazlehurst, to join musicians for a new BBC TV comedy series, 'Last of the Summer Wine', looking for a reliable harmonica player who could sight read tricky clues in single, time-critical recording sessions :

* subsequently, as well as playing the opening theme live for most of the show’s 37-year, 295 episode run from 1973 - 2010, the strain of which caused him eventually to briefly give up the instrument, was also a member of the small ensemble providing background music for each episode and had producer Alan Bell say to him : "Nobody can play that tube with the same degree of feeling that you can."

* performed works from the classical repertoire with leading orchestras and in 1974 appeared on the stage in the opera 'La Cubana' by Hans Werner Henze at the Royal Opera House, as a match-seller with a harmonica part so complex that he had the music taped to his trader's tray and in 1976 performed in 'We Come to the River' also by Hans, at Sadler's Wells.

* in 1978 played on George Fenton’s theme tune for the BBC TV private detective series, 'Shoestring' starring Trevor Eve :

* sealed his reputation working with Nelson Riddle, Henry Mancini and Don Sebesky before, in the 1987, he was invited to contribute to the score, composed and recorded by Carl Davis, to accompany a rerelease of Buster Keaton’s 1926 silent film, 'The General' and supplied his distinctive instrument as the main leitmotif running through the film

* occasionally appeared in front of tv cameras himself : as a First World War Tommy playing 'Keep the Home Fires Burning' in a 'Remembrance Day Tribute' and as a ragged busker in an 'East Enders Christmas Special.'

* had, as a young player, held Max Geldray as one of his harmonica idols, whose numbers had been a mainstay of  the 1950s BBC Radio comedy series, 'The Goon Show' and was delighted in 2001 when, at the age of 76, was invited to provide the harmonica solo for a special '50th anniversary Goon Show'  broadcast on BBC Radio 2.

* in 2001, was deeply moved when asked to speak about Larry Adler as a harmonica player and play Gershwin's 'Summer Time' at his funeral and memorial concert and at this time was making appearances as the trumpeter with the 'Thames Valley Jazzmen' (left), playing traditional jazz in the style of early Count Basie and Benny Goodman in programmes which included classics such as 'Basin St. Blues', 'South Rampart St Parade' and 'I’ve Found a New Baby' and then formed, 'Rythym and Reeds' with accordion player Jack Emblow and in 2005 recorded 'Secret Love' :

* remained a long standing trumpet player in the BBO, the 'Bucks, Berks and Oxon Big Band' and was an enthusiastic supporter of the 'National Harmonica League' making regular appearances at their conventions and when not performing enjoyed cruising on the Thames on his boat, 'Harmonica Harry' and announced his retirement from professional playing in 2013 at the age of 88.


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