Bill Marx gave only fleeting consideration to...


Bill Marx gave only fleeting consideration to naming his show, “The Return of Son of Harpo.” As son of the non-talking, harp-playing Marx brother, he holds legitimate claim to such a billing, but the genial musician and his associate, harpist Carol McLaughlin, chose instead “From the Harp to Harpo.”

The duo has given this light revue of music for harp, including several compositions by Harpo, in various locations in the Southwest, from Santa Fe, N.M., to San Luis Obispo. San Diegans can catch their act at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Words and Music book store in Hillcrest. According to Marx, he and McLaughlin are polishing the program, which they started doing 18 months ago on the Los Angeles benefit circuit, to take on tour nationally next year.

“We put this show together because Carol and I love to entertain people,” Bill Marx explained. “I’m a composer, and live performance allows me to be the ambivert I really am.” In addition to the music, Marx includes in the performance rare slides of his father from his own private collection of “Harpo as people have not seen him.” McLaughlin has included her slides of harp memorabilia. Although McLaughlin usually performs as a classical soloist with symphony orchestras, she also has won the Salvi International Jazz Harp competition.


“For some reason, people are still interested in Harpo and his music,” said Bill Marx. “Even though most people think of him as a comedian, he loved playing the harp. He would practice harp as much as three hours a day.”

Since Harpo did not read music, he depended on his son to transcribe the pieces he composed on his instrument. In the early 1960s, father and son made two recordings of Harpo’s music.

“I had a close, professional relationship with my father. I was his arranger. I transcribed his music exactly as he played it. So when Carol plays his music, if you close your eyes, it’s really Harpo playing,” said Bill Marx.

Bill Marx recalled that while his father encouraged his musical endeavors as a child, he never pushed him. “I was humming Beethoven melodies at the age of 2 1/2, but I started and stopped piano lessons more often that a commuter starts and stops in rush-hour traffic on the freeway. He was a most genuine person--the ultimate rebuttal to ‘Mommy Dearest’. He died without an enemy in the world.”

After studying at Juilliard in the mid-1950s, Bill Marx became a professional pianist and composer. While much of his work has been in the lucrative area of composing for films--he has just completed the musical score for an upcoming movie with Madonna--his first love is serious composition. He has written concertos for violin, alto saxophone, flute and piano.

“I’ve had two commissions this year,” Marx said, “and this January, Carol (McLaughlin) will premiere my Double Harp Concerto with the Santa Fe, N.M., Symphony. I really prefer live music-making. When we used to make a recording, they would put everyone in the same room, and either the group got the magic, or it didn’t. Nowadays, they record everybody individually on a separate track. That takes all the fun out of playing.”


Bill Marx still likes the circus and vaudeville aspect of live performance. “I want to root for the guy not to fall off the high wire.”