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Harry Gold

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  • Years Active: 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

Bass saxophonist Harry Gold was a driving force behind Britain's postwar Dixieland revival, spreading the gospel of traditional jazz for more than 70 years. Born Harry Goldberg on February 26, 1907, in Dublin, Ireland, he grew up in London's East End. In 1919 he attended an Original Dixieland Jazz Band date at the Hammersmith Palais, and decided then and there to become a professional musician himself. At 14 Gold dropped out of school to work in his father's tailoring business, and with his earnings purchased an alto saxophone, later studying at the London College of Music. With violinist Joe Loss, he co-founded the Magnetic Dance Band, later forming the Florentine Dance Band with guitarist Ivor Mairants. By late 1923 Gold was able to quit his day job to pursue jazz full-time, and during a three-year stint with the Metronomes he established himself as a gifted arranger, exhibiting an understanding of form and structure uncommon among Dixieland musicians. While attending a gig headlined by American musician Fred Elizalde, Gold was so impressed by bass saxophonist Adrian Rollini that he immediately adopted the instrument for his own, buying Rollini's battered spare. Although the bass saxophone was almost as big as the 5'2" Gold, he loved its bold, spacious sound, and it remained his instrument of choice for the remainder of his career.

With Mairants and trumpeter Les Lambert, Gold next surfaced in a vocal trio, the Cubs, that backed American bandleader Roy Fox. In 1936 he and Mairants quit following a salary dispute, and the experience made Gold an active member of the Musicians' Union, which he convinced to include jazz players alongside its traditional orchestral and theatrical constituency. Health issues conspired to keep Gold out of World War II, and from 1939 to 1942 he played with bandleader Oscar Rabin. Together they hatched a band within a band, Harry Gold's Pieces of Eight, a Dixieland outfit that served as its nominal leader's primary vehicle for the majority of his lifetime. In the waning years of WWII, he also served with Bert Ambrose's dance band, and landed work as an arranger for the BBC. After adding Gold's brother Laurie on saxophone, the Pieces of Eight made their recorded debut in late 1945, and early the following year became a fixture of the BBC light music program Music While You Work. In 1946, they were slated to make their television debut on the Alexandra Palace network, but were cut from broadcast after censors vetoed a duet pairing black trombonist Geoff Love and white singer Jane Lee. A performance at the 1947 Jazz Jamboree nevertheless launched the Pieces of Eight to belated national prominence, and a year later they accompanied the singer and composer Hoagy Carmichael on his well-received tour of the U.K.

With the traditional jazz boom of the 1950s, Gold's Pieces of Eight enjoyed their commercial pinnacle. His arranging career was also flourishing, but he constantly butted heads with employers over fair negotiations, eventually to the detriment of his reputation and career. In 1955 Gold handed control of the Pieces of Eight to brother Laurie, concentrating on his work as a staff arranger at EMI Records. He also joined a classical saxophone quartet. In 1977, EMI forced the 70-year-old Gold into retirement, and he returned to performing full-time, joining cornetist Richard Sudhalter's big-band tribute, the Paul Whiteman Tribute Orchestra. He also formed a new incarnation of the Pieces of Eight, touring regularly and enjoying a particularly faithful following in Eastern Europe. After dissolving the project for good in 1991 amid considerable acrimony, he regularly appeared at his London local, the Yorkshire Grey, and toured with renewed zeal following the death of wife Peggy, in 1998 playing several dates in the U.S. Gold published his autobiography Gold, Doubloons and Pieces of Eight in 2000 and continued performing until the months leading up to his death on November 13, 2005. He was 98.

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