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David Mason: Penny Lane

Published: 4/3/2014
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A well-signed graphic of the Penny Lane streetname, seen in Liverpool (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

People might not remember David Mason’s name but his work is hard to forget. Mason’s recordings left an indelible impression on generations of music lovers and inspired countless trumpet players before he died three years ago April 3. He was 85.

Mason is perhaps most famous for his piccolo trumpet solo on the Beatles hit “Penny Lane.” His performance on the track was inspired by Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto, which Paul McCartney saw Mason perform around the same time the Beatles were writing Penny Lane,” according to George Martin, the group’s producer, in his book All You Need is Ears.

"The result was unique, something which had never been done in rock music before," Martin said.

"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."

Mason reportedly was paid just $45 for the recording.

Mason played on several other Beatles songs in 1967, including “A Day in the Life,” “Magical Mystery Tour,” “All You Need Is Love” and “It’s All Too Much,” according to AllMusic.com.

"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."

Mason was born in London and studied at the Royal College of Music under Ernest Hall, the principal trumpet player of the First London Symphony Orchestra.

He was too young to fight in most of World War II and found work in orchestras whose trumpeters had been called up, according to his obituary in The Telegraph of London. He became principal trumpet of the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, and later for the Covent Garden Opera, the Royal Philharmonic and the New Philharmonia. He was a trumpet professor at the Royal College of Music for 30 years.

"I've spent a lifetime playing with top orchestras, yet I'm most famous for playing on 'Penny Lane'!" he said, according to The Beatles Recording Sessions.

Written by James Nghiem

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