A Lifelong Addiction to Music

Joe Harnell's musical career began on a high note.

Six decades later, the Sherman Oaks pianist and composer is still performing. Friday night he brings his music to Santa Monica for a concert.

Harnell will perform a program that includes some of his own compositions as well as those of great American composers such as Cole Porter and Ira Gershwin. Singer Janna Brown will join him for several numbers.

"I get such a kick out of performing and playing the piano," said Harnell, who recently celebrated his 70th birthday. "I have a feeling that (my music) has some value and is not dulling the brain and putting people to sleep."

Harnell began taking piano lessons at age 6. By age 14, the New York native was playing at parties with his father's jazz group.

"We had music in the house since the time I could remember," he said. "I really got hooked (on music) as a teen-ager. It was my first major addiction in life and I couldn't get enough of it."

He continued his musical studies in high school and earned a bachelor's degree in music at the University of Miami.

Harnell was in the Army Air Corps during World War II and toured with Glenn Miller's military band, playing gigs in both the United States and Europe.

Resuming his professional career after the war, he worked as a musical director for many celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Lena Horne and Peggy Lee.

His work, however, was not just behind the scenes. He went on to arrange and record 18 albums, including the hit song "Fly Me to the Moon," which won four Grammy awards in 1964.

Moving to Los Angeles in the early 1970s, Harnell began composing a series of film and television scores. Some of his more than 400 hours of original work has been heard on such television shows as "Santa Barbara," "The Bionic Woman" and "Alien Nation," as well as numerous TV commercials.

"I never thought of myself as a composer," Harnell said. "As it turns out in my bag of music tricks, I became a songwriter and a pianist."

Although Harnell has scaled back his work schedule, he continues to compose music, give occasional concerts and teach film scoring at USC.

"I made a good living, but the pace was very stressful," he said. "I am doing things I like to do. I want to enjoy my remaining years."

Joe Harnell will perform at 8 p.m. Friday at a private residence in a concert sponsored by Parlor Performances, 601 17th St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $20 and include the show and dessert reception. Reservations are required. Information: (310) 471-3979.

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