Leo Diamond and His Harmonica


Short Introduction to Leo Diamond

Leo Diamond (1915-1966) was an American musician, specializing in harmonica. The New York-born Diamond was also proficient in playing flute and piccolo before settling in harmonica as his instrument of choice. Diamond’s biggest hit was 1953’s “Off Shore,” which was a very popular standard; his other hit was 1955’s “Melody Of Love.” The following year Diamond produced one of his greatest works featuring the harmonica, Skin Diver Suite, which he collaborated with conductor Murray Kellner. Diamond died in Los Angeles, California in September 1966.

Early life and career

Leo Diamond was an American professional harmonica soloist, whose name became prominent in the high fidelity, easy listening, “space age pop,” or “exotica” era. He is often considered as the “master of prepared harmonica,” according to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). He was born in New York City, New York, on June 29, 1915. He was also proficient in flute and piccolo, which he used to play before he switched to harmonica. In the city’s Central Park, Diamond won a competition playing harmonica with Edwin Franko Goldman’s band.

He spent 18 years with Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals. After with the band, Diamond established his own group, the Harmonaires (or some sources say he formed a trio called the Solidaires). He later made appearances with his band in Hollywood. Diamond had made records and albums featuring his instrument, backed by an orchestra as was the practice of many easy-listening musicians at the time. Diamond also incorporated other musical fads such as exotica and continental genres, injecting sound effects such as bird calls and jet noises. These resulted into one of the most creative and innovative recordings during exotica’s flourishing period.

Recordings that best represents Diamond’s work

Diamond’s best work can be found on a couple of albums he released on ABC Records: Subliminal Soundsand Exciting Sounds from Romantic Places. These feature Diamond’s tape experiments as well as of course his harmonica playing. Some critics have felt though, that Diamond’s arrangements for the harmonica were rather insipid. Furthermore, these arrangements emphasize harmonica’s unsuitability as a “proper” instrument to harmonize with other instruments or backing material. Not even the variety of sound effetcts can mask the harmonica’s ineffectivity as an “refined” instrument, as many critics claim.

“Skin Diver Suite”

He and conductor Murray Kelner recorded an album together called Skin Diver Suite, which is seen as the quintessential album of harmonica. It features the flip-side-long title track which finds Diamond in his orchestral conception, featuring some side effects that remind you of anything connected with the water. “Skin Diver Suite” (also written by Diamond) was his one of his several attempts to elevate the harmonica’s status as a wanderer’s “tool” to a more refned instrument.

“Off Shore” and “Melody of Love” — Diamond’s only chart singles

Diamond’s most successful single was his self-penned tune “Off Shore,” released on Ambassador label. It went to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1953, and it had since eventually become a standard.

His other single “Melody of Love” (written by Hans Engelmann and Tom Glazer) also became a Top 40 hit, peaking on the Billboard pop chart at #30 in 1955. Diamond also wrote another tune called “The Girls in Brazil.”

Harmonica may always be an instrument that people will love or hate. But unlike other instruments, the harmonica provides few avenues for real talent and imagination. Despite this, at least we can credit Diamond for his willingness to introduce a few bits of musical imagination for this often little-regarded mouth instrument, with which he did recordings that were even expensively-produced.

Diamond passed away in Los Angeles, California on September 15, 1966, at the age of 51.

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