By Valerie J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times
May 7, 2011
David Mason, a classical musician best known for his distinctive piccolo trumpet solo on the Beatles' recording of "Penny Lane," has died. He was 85.
Mason died April 29 after a brief battle with leukemia, according to the All Music online database.
The Beatles' Paul McCartney was looking to embellish "Penny Lane" when he saw Mason on television playing the trumpet on Bach's "Brandenburg" Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Mason often recalled.
The next morning, producer George Martin recruited Mason to record with the Fab Four.
"I did not even know who the Beatles were when I was asked to do a recording session with them," Mason told England's Bath Chronicle in 2003. "For me it was just another job."
He came to the 1967 session with nine trumpets and "by a process of elimination" settled on the B-flat piccolo trumpet for the high-pitched solo, he later said.
No music was written ahead of time. Instead, McCartney sang what he wanted to hear, Martin wrote out the notes and Mason played them.
"The actual recording was done quite quickly," Mason said in the 1989 book "The Beatles Recording Sessions." "They were jolly high notes, quite taxing, but with the tapes rolling we did two takes as overdubs on top of the existing song."
While some books reported that his contributions to "Penny Lane" were speeded up post-recording, Mason insisted that was not the case. He offered as proof his ability to "still play those same notes on the instrument along with the record," he said in the book.
For the recording session, he was paid a one-time fee of about $45.
He also contributed to several other Beatles' songs recorded in 1967: "A Day in the Life," "Magical Mystery Tour" and "All You Need Is Love."
Born in London in 1926, Mason studied at London's Royal College of Music and was a trumpet professor at the school for 30 years.
He eventually was principal trumpet for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the New Philharmonia Orchestra, Covent Garden Opera and the English Chamber Orchestra.
"I've spent a lifetime playing with top orchestras," he said in the recording sessions book, "yet I'm most famous for playing on 'Penny Lane'!"
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