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One of the greatest harmonica players in history has died on Saturday 2 October at his home in Palm Springs, he passed away peacefully in his sleep. A service remembering him was held on Thursday 7 October in his hometown.
Max will be remembered as the first jazz harmonica player in the history of the harmonica. He was a true friend to all and will be sadly missed. The fact that so many people are not aware of what he did shows what a humble person he was. Never one to search for attention or limelight but always there for advice or just a friendly chat.
Max van Gelder was born to a Jewish family in Holland in 1919 and was always interested in jazz. He got one of the new Hohner chromatic harmonicas in 1930 and taught himself to play. He formed a harmonica group under the name of Geldray, which toured England with a variety troupe in 1934. A series of successful solo spots and meetings with touring jazz musicians in Belgium led to him becoming a soloist with the Ray Ventura Orchestra in Paris where he also played with Django Reinhardt.
As the war closed in, he left for England just before the German Invasion and joined the Dutch Army in the UK. During the landing at Normandy he was wounded and was later transferred to a hospital in Brussels. When he went home to search for his family he discovered that his entire family had been annihilated in one of the infamous German death camps.
When the war ended, Max rejoined the Ray Ventura band, but after a couple of years he returned to London. Max had played on BBC variety broadcasts during his time in the army, and he got his big break when he was invited to take part in a pilot radio programme called Crazy People. Two year later it had become a big success and was renamed The Goon Show. This programme not only revolutionised radio comedy but it also provided Max with a chance to play harmonica jazz to the nation.
After the end of The Goon Show in 1960, TV was taking over and Max worked increasingly abroad and on the big liners. Eventually he settled in the USA where he married and became an ex- harmonica player in Los Angeles. He moved out to Palm Springs in his later years and when he retired he became a volunteer at the Stroke Clinic where he led a patients? harmonica group called The Blow Hards. This helped with their breathing. He then worked as a counsellor at the Betty Ford Clinic until only a few years ago.
I, for one, will miss his quiet voice saying, "Hello Art, how are you?" Max, wherever you are, keep blowing! - Art Daane
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