Max and Susan Geldray at their home in Palm Springs, California. They were married in 1962, shortly after Max immigrated to the United States. Max kept working (part-time, as a substance abuse counselor) and playing his harmonica until early in 2002, when a series of illnesses slowed him down. He died on October 2, 2004, at the age of 88.
Max Geldray, Europe's and possibly the world's first jazz harmonica player, has died peacefully at his home in Palm Springs, California.
He was born in 1916 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. His father played the piano by ear and, at a very young age, Max followed his example.
Max loved to listen to jazz on the radio and Louis Armstrong became his idol. At age sixteen, he heard a chromatic harmonica on the radio.
Trying one at the local music shop, he was soon playing jazz on it and, a year later, formed a harmonica quartet with three other boys. He broadcast from Radio Hilversum and, in 1936, was invited to play as a soloist at Windsor Castle for the British Royal Family. In France he became a featured player with the very popular Ray Ventura Orchestra which appeared in two films one of which was "Tourbillon de Paris". When the German Army invaded France in May 1940, Max escaped to England and served, throughout the war, in the Princess Irene Brigade of the Dutch Army in Britain. He was injured during the Normany landings and, forty years later, received four medals from Holland for his service. As soon as Amsterdam was liberated, Max went to find his parents only to be told by neigbours that his parents and his twelve-year-old sister, Xaviere, had been sent to German death camps. They were never heard from again.
Max decided to settle in England and obtained British citizenship. He was soon broadcasting for the BBC and, in 1950, teamed up with little known comedians Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan and Michael Bentine for a radio show called "Crazy People". The show became the popular 1950's "The Goon Show" and Max Geldray became a household name.
After the show's nine-year run, Max went on a world tour returning via California. He was so impressed with California's sunshine and easy way of life that he returned there permanently. Soon after his arrival, he met a lady who became Mrs Susan Geldray and he became a loving stepfather to Susan's three children, Judy, Timmy and Holly and some years later, father to their son Philip. In his later years, Max became a counselor at the Betty Ford Detoxification Center at the Eisenhower Hospital in Rancho Mirage. He was also a favorite performer every year for ten years at the popular "Jazz Without Booze" concerts that included some of Hollywood's best talents. Max always carried his harmonica in his pocket and loved to play wherever he found other jazz musicians. He is survived by his wife Susan, his son Philip, stepdaughters Judy and Holly and several grandchildren.
--Angela Morley, October 2, 2004
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