Earliest Melodica Recording ’64

A Postcard From Canton [Massachusetts] celebrates the accomplishments of one of the town’s most “esteemed citizens” — and industrious tinkerers:

[James Amireaux] Bazin came to examine a simple free-reed instrument when he was 23 years old.  A group of men brought him a broken pitch pipe and asked him to repair it.  Bazin made the repair but also created a new invention, which became a sliding brass pitch pipe that could be adjusted along a series of pitches from c” to d’”.  From this small invention he began making several variations on the theme and eventually moved to reed trumpets, which he invented in 1824.  For many years his trumpet accompanied the choir at the Unitarian Church in Canton Corner and reputedly it could be heard “a mile away.”  In 1831 Bazin invented a harmonica.  In fact, Bazin had only read about the harmonica invented in Germany, so it is likely that indeed this was the first reed harmonica in America.

Melodica Shack‘s “History of the Melodica” page notes that the lap organ developed by James H. Bazin, as well as the melodeon designed by Abraham Prescott of Prescott Organ Company, were “stepping stones” to the modern-day melodica, an instrument said to have been invented by Hohner, according to the company’s own website, in the “1950s.”  Why such vagueness about the date, I wonder.

Hohner Soprano melodica

MelodicaWorld‘s Alan Brinton informs us that the Hohner Soprano, a button-style melodica, “appears to have been first announced in early December, 1958,” while earlier that same year, André Borel, introduced the Clavietta, a keyboard-style melodica.  Is it possible that Borel is the unacknowledged pioneer of the keys-based melodica?  MelodicaWorld‘s Daren Banarsë took the time to search the British LIbrary for UK publications that contain “Clavietta adverts” and found this one published in the 11 February 1960 edition of Stage and Television:

Zero to 180’s dubious quest to identify the earliest recording of a melodica has thus far led to two popular recordings [“Tint of Blue” by The Bee Gees and “Ice Cream and Suckers” by South Africa’s Soweto Stokvel Septette], as well as a serious composition by Steve Reich [“Melodica“] — all from the year 1966.

Fortunately, “Quirky 45s That Bubbled Under” from this past March broke the logjam with the discovery of Stu Phillips and the Hollyridge Strings (celebrated in 2013) as unwitting innovators who, in 1964, might possibly have been the first to commit melodica to tape in an attempt to emulate John Lennon’s harmonica lines on The Fabs’ very first single for EMI’s subsidiary label, Parlophone:

“Love Me Do”     The Hollyridge Strings     1964

A promotional/demonstration copy of the original “Love Me Do” Beatles release on Parlophone (with Paul’s last name misspelled as “McArtney) was sold in 2017 via Discogs for $14,757 — making it “the most expensive 7-inch single ever sold,” as reported on the Gibson Guitars website in 2017.

Note the scandalous “McCartney-Lennon” songwriting credits:

But wait!   This television clip of Ray Conniff from three years earlier playing an Italian-manufactured Clavietta now means 1961 is the year to beat (although it should be noted that the studio version of “Midnight Lace” uses a harmonica for the melody line):

“Midnight Lace”     Ray Conniff Orchestra     1961

According to the person who posted this video clip
The Ray Conniff Orchestra and Chorus TV show “Concert In Stereo” in 1961.

Honorable Mention

1965’s “Bossa Melodica” by Dutch bandleader Gaby Dirne & His Orchestra

The Clavietta, it has been said, is a “keyboard version of the accordina.”

Pat Missin states that US patent no. 2461806 (above rendering) “was granted in 1949 to André Borel of Paris, France” for his “chromatic harmonicon” that was manufactured under the name, accordina.  Borel would later be granted a patent for a “mouth[-]blown free reed instrument with a piano-style keyboard and both blow and draw reeds,” notes Missin.

The legacy of James Amireaux Bazin, meanwhile, includes “lap organs, table organs, a seraphine, and several larger instruments,” according to A Postcard From Canton. “What is amazing is that his earliest instruments were patented, sold reasonably well (although at a loss), and today are in private collections as well as the Museum of Fine Art, the National Museum of American History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Darcy Kuronen, a noted expert on early musical instruments, writes of Bazin:  ‘Each of his surviving examples of his instruments shows a restless desire to improve their operation and versatility, with no one model bearing much resemblance to another.’”

For those who wish to delve further into the history —

James A. Bazin and the Development of Free-Reed Instruments in America,” by Darcy Kuronen, published in Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society, Vol 31, 2005, pp 133-182.

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