Groven gives new life to movie score classics
The Harmonica and the classics
When choosing the material for this album I have turned to some of the famous harmonica themes from both well-known and more obscure movie scores, adding some of my personal favourites which were not played on harmonica in films, but which I think suit the instrument very well. There are also two of my own original pieces, one brand-new, the other one was written 20 years ago and is still often my opening number when I play concerts. Last but not least I have included a tribute to one of the great personalities of 20th century music, George Gershwin, whose centenary we are celebrating this year, and to my source of inspiration as a musician, Tommy Reilly. The opening and closing songs of this album were not written for the harmonica – but I think they could have been! The theme for one of the most moving films I have seen for a long time, “Il Postino”, was played in the film on the bandoneon, also a “free-reed” instrument and thus a close relation of the harmonica. The album ends with the main theme from the greatest success in film history, “Titanic”. The first few bars were originally played on the Uillean pipes – I use my alto harmonica. “Motlys” (“Against the Light”) is a homage to the serene beauty of my native country, Norway. “Reodor’s Ballad” also has the haunting quality of a Norwegian folk-song, although it was written by a Danish composer, Bent Fabricius-Bjerre, whose huge sixties hit “Alley Cat” made him a millionaire. This piece was part of the score for the charming Norwegian puppet film “Flåklypa Grand Prix” and was played in the film by Tommy Reilly. “Calling You” was sung in the slightly off-beat film “Bagdad Café” by Jevetta Steele, with some tasteful harmonica-playing by the young talented American William Galison, and has been a favourite of mine ever since I saw the film in the mid-eighties. “Tida går” (“Easy Walkin’”) was written especially for this album, in fact it is one of those simple little tunes that you just can’t get out of your head when you go for a lazy walk – at least this is what happened to me – so I had to record to it to get rid of of it! We had a lot of fun recording it, and I can reveal that the walking feet belong to our drummer, Svein Christiansen.
Sigmund Groven and Tommy Reilly
“Firefly” is the piece of music that changed my life. I was nine years old, and my friend and I were listening to the radio a dark, cold Saturday evening in January deep in the countryside of Norway. We were waiting to hear our favourite programme “Children’s Hour”, when I suddenly was stunned by the most fantastic sounds I had ever heard: a record of Tommy Reilly playing “Firefly”. From then on I was a harmonica fan – and particularly a Tommy Reilly fan. He had recorded this Latin-American style “novelty” number by his friend, English composer Donald Phillips, on a visit to Stockholm in 1953, and this is our version of that very same samba – a tribute to Tommy. A giant from the classic Hollywood film composer tradition, Russian-born Dimitri Tiomkin (of “High Noon” fame) had a liking for the colours of the harmonica when played well and came to London in the early sixties to record two of his film scores there with Tommy Reilly (“The Sundowners” and “55 Days at Peking”). Tommy returned the compliment by recording Tiomkin’s theme song for the John Wayne film “The Alamo”, the nostalgic “The Green Leaves of Summer”, gorgeously scored for harmonica and strings by master arranger Wally Stott, and this is the very arrangement we are using on this recording – Tommy kindly unearthed it from his vaults for me.
Old and New Classics
More and more often themes from the great classical composers are used to create the appropriate atmosphere of a film. The beautiful melody used in the French films “Jean de Florette” and “Manon des Sources” was actually taken from “Forza del Destino”, one of the operas of the great Giuseppe Verdi. Played on the harmonica in the film by the wonderful Belgian jazz player Toots Thielemans it is here given a new treatment by distinguished Norwegian arranger Sigurd Jansen. I have always felt that George Gershwin’s music suits the harmonica, and I am happy to include my versions of two of his famous songs from “Porgy and Bess”, “Summertime” and “It ain’t necessarily so”. Back to Hollywood and one of the finest composers from the fifties, sixties and seventies: Henry Mancini. “Moon River” was written for the 1961 Audrey Hepburn film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and the harmonica in the film was played by George Fields. The noted French composer Jean Wiener used the harmonica very effectively for the score of the Jean Gabin thriller “Touchez-pas au Grisbi”. French harmonica player Jean Wetzel played in the film, and later famous harmonica veteran Larry Adler made a hit record of the main theme. “Le Grisbi” has been a favourite solo for harmonica players everywhere – it was a successful piece also for Tommy Reilly who made a great impression with his interpretation in Germany. John Barry is one of the few British composers to have established a high profile status as a film composer in Hollywood. There is a funny story about his harmonica theme for the Jon Voight/Dustin Hoffman 1969 film “Midnight Cowboy”. One day Tommy Reilly had a call from Polydor Hamburg. They played him a record of a new film score and asked him if he could play the harmonica exactly the same as the uncredited player on the American record. The first take was perfect. The producer said: “You are a genius”, and Tommy started to laugh. The producer said: “What are you laughing for?” and Tommy admitted: “That’s me playing on the original record”! In fact Tommy Reilly was touring Australia when John Barry recorded the actual music for the film, so Toots Thielemans did the sound-track, and Tommy did the LP of the the original “motion picture score”. His single, made in Hamburg, climbed the charts in many countries, and this is the vintage arrangement used on that particular single. And finally, “Titanic” in an inspired setting by young Norwegian keyboard player and arranger Bjørn Ole Rasch. All I can say is: I hope yu’ll enjoy listening to my harmonica album as much as we have enjoyed recording it!