Jerry Adler


Jerry Adler 1918-2010

Jerry Adler, renowned professional musician who made the harmonica a serious instrument over a 70-year career died March 13 at his home in Sarasota, FL. He was 91.

Most recently, he performed on cruise ships around the world from 1972 until his retirement in 1995. Jerry worked on ships of the Pacific Far East Line, Royal Viking, Holland America, Cunard, Crystal Harmony, Royal Caribbean, and others. He also performed as soloist with orchestras in Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Abilene.

His career began in 1933 when he was 15. After winning a Baltimore Sun harmonica contest, he got an audition with band leader Paul Whiteman in New York. His early teenage career led to headline appearances at The Palace and other theaters in New York, The Palladium in London, and a Command Performance for the King and Queen of England. Jerry’s career paralleled his older brother, Larry’s, but Jerry’s forte was in popular music while Larry’s was classical.

Returning to America and California, Jerry quickly became the “first call” harmonica player in the film and recording businesses. He appeared in and/or played in dozens of movies in the ‘40’s, ‘50’s, and ‘60’s. He most often remained off-screen in movies like “High Noon,” “Shane,” “You Can’t take it With You,” “Mary Poppins,” and “My Fair Lady.” Jerry taught Jimmy Stewart how to hold the harmonica in “Pot of Gold”, and Van Johnson in “Romance of Rosy Ridge,” while performing the off-stage music. Jerry can be seen in a close-up playing solo during a campfire sequence in the Kirk Douglas film, “The Juggler.”

Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Jerry enlisted in the US Army Air Forces and was assigned to an entertainment unit in Santa Ana, California. Soon, he, along with most of his unit, was reassigned to the new Moss Hart Broadway show “Winged Victory,” a patriotic and star-filled tribute to the war effort. After a year on Broadway and making a film of the show, Jerry felt he needed to get into the action and volunteered to go overseas with a small entertainment unit nicknamed “The Winged Pigeons.” The unit toured most of the battle-won Pacific islands, sometimes still under combat conditions.

After the war, Jerry returned to resume his career in films, recording, and concert performances. He married Sylvia Gandel in 1947; they soon were joined by son Michael, now of Germantown, MD, and daughter Susan (Lantis), now of Capitola CA. Sylvia later joined Jerry on many of his cruises, and died of cancer in 1990. In 1991, Jerry married Jean Ruppa of Milwaukee, who died in 2009. His autobiography, “Living from Hand to Mouth,” was published in 2005.