David Mason, Trumpeter on the Beatles' 'Penny Lane,' Passes Away at 85
May 7, 2011
David Mason, the man who performed the famous piccolo trumpet solo on the Beatles' 'Penny Lane,' died on April 29. According to AllMusic, the 85-year-old classical musician passed away after a battle with Leukemia.
The London native was awarded the prestigious Beatles gig in 1967 after Paul McCartney saw him performing Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major with the New Philharmonia on the BBC. Nearly a week later, Mason came to the studio to record his rapid solo, which he always swore wasn't sped up as some Beatles historians claimed. Before the session, the musician didn't know who the Beatles were and he was paid around $45 for his work.
"I did not even know who the Beatles were when I was asked to do a recording session with them," Mason said in a 2003 interview, as the Los Angeles Times reports. "For me it was just another job."
According to the group’s producer Sir George Martin, it was Paul McCartney who had the idea of adding a trumpet solo to the song after watching Mason play in a performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. “There’s a guy in them playing this fantastic high trumpet,” Martin recalled the Beatle saying. Mason arrived at the recording session with nine trumpets and,“by a process of elimination”, it was agreed that the B-flat piccolo trumpet, an octave above the normal, was best suited to the task.
“It was a difficult session, for two reasons,” Martin recalled. “First, that little trumpet is a devil to play in tune, because it isn’t really in tune with itself, so that in order to achieve pure notes the player has to ‘lip’ each one. Secondly, we had no music prepared.” Many professionals bridled at such disorganisation. Happily, Martin recorded, “David Mason wasn’t like that at all. Paul would think up the notes he wanted, and I would write them down for David. The result was unique, something which had never been done in rock music before, and it gave Penny Lane a very distinct character.”
Some Beatles historians have claimed that his solo was speeded up on the final recording, but Mason always denied this. “They were jolly high notes, quite taxing, but with the tapes rolling we did two takes as overdubs on top of the existing song.” Once finished, Mason was told that Penny Lane was to form the B-side to Strawberry Fields. He protested: “I much prefer this to Strawberry Fields.” (“Oh, thanks mate,” replied that song’s composer, John Lennon). In the end the songs were released back-to-back as a double A-side.
David Mason was born in London in 1926 and educated at Christ’s Hospital and the Royal College of Music, where he studied with Ernest Hall. For most of the Second World War he was too young for military service and therefore picked up work in orchestras whose trumpeters had been called up. By the time he was called up to serve in the Scots Guards, he was the youngest member of the then National Symphony Orchestra.
After leaving the RCM, Mason became a member, then principal trumpet, of the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, moving on later to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, then the Philharmonia, where he remained for most of the rest of his career. As a much-loved professor for 30 years at the RCM he taught many of today’s leading trumpet players.
Among other performances, Mason was the flugelhorn soloist for the world premiere of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No 9 in 1958. He also contributed to several other Beatles’ songs, including A Day in the Life; Magical Mystery Tour and All You Need Is Love.
He is survived by his wife, Rachel, and by their son and daughter
In addition to his contributions to 'Penny Lane,' Mason also performed on the Beatles' tracks 'A Day in the Life,' 'Magical Mystery Tour' and 'All You Need Is Love,' for which he used the same trumpet. Prior to his work in the New Philharmonia, he was a member of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Mason was also a professor at London's Royal College of Music, where he studied as a young man.