Biography by Tony Wilds
Leo Diamond was the chief harmonica soloist, or virtuoso, recording in the "high-fidelity" LP era. Formerly a flute and piccolo player, he won a contest playing harmonica with Edwin Franko Goldman's band in New York City's Central Park. This led to eighteen years with Borrah Minevitch's Harmonica Rascals, after which he formed his own trio, the Harmonaires. This led him to Hollywood, where he appeared in Coney Island, As Thousands Cheer, Seven Days Leave, and Sweet Rosie O'Grady. His harmonica soundtracks include Calamity Jane, "Eddie Cantor Story, Living it Up, and Miss Sadie Thompson.
In 1956 Diamond and conductor Murray Kellner recorded the quintessential harmonica opus, Skin Diver Suite. While Side Two is standard fare, "The Skin Divers" is Diamond's side-long orchestral conception complete with watery sound effects. This was the first of attempt in a career of albums designed to elevate the harmonica from hobo's plaything to refined solo instrument. A short while later Diamond recorded "Off Shore," a popular single which eventually became a standard.
Diamond recorded a handful of remarkable but unexciting albums of harmonica-led, orchestral pop. Perhaps to balance the earthiness of the harmonica, his two favorite idioms were exotica (music inspired by Oceana) and continental (French and Italian) standards. Unfortunately this type of music, or perhaps just the boring arrangements of it on most Leo Diamond albums, only exaggerated the inappropriateness of the harmonica. Gratuitous sound effects, added to strangest effect in Subliminal Sounds, also did little to "harmonize" the instrument with either the material or backing instruments.
The harmonica is like the accordion and organ. People either love it or hate it. Unlike even the other "controversial" instruments, however, the harmonica has had very few exponents of real talent and inspiration. The Harmonicats and Leo Diamond each had a few fine moments, but the harmonica itself was not responsible for any musical magic. Leo Diamond's triumph was being able to record expensively produced, relatively imaginative albums despite his chosen instrument.
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