THE SUMMER OF ‘38
Joey never forgot the summer of 1938. How could he? For several weeks, Joey left his home in a crowded brownstone neighborhood in the East Bronx of New York and went south to spend some time with what he called his “adventurous uncles.” For the next 65 plus years, those magical days of that summer long, long ago still resonated in his mind. Perhaps they were a prelude to what became a legendary musical career.
Joey Hittelman was born on August 2, 1924 in New York. His father Philip was a baker and a son of a baker. Joey began his musical career at the insistence of his father Philip, a former vaudeville fiddler- accordionist, who insisted that Joey practice on the piano at least twenty minutes each day. At first, Joey hated the piano, but soon he became enthralled with playing all 88 of its black and white keys.
In his 2001 autobiography, “Counterpoint. The Journey of a Music Man,” Joey wrote of the fond memories of that magical summer when he was thirteen years old:
“I spent that summer with my adventurous uncles in their huge, wood frame house with a wide veranda that accommodated several rocking chairs. I remember going to the bathroom at night in my bare feet and stepping on a cockroach the size of a mouse. It crunched and I still recall the feeling of revulsion. I’m very squeamish for a big masculine-looking fellow.”
“My uncles sent me out in one of their three rolling stores. They were trucks with shelves on either side holding different commodities that farmers needed. We traded with them - sewing equipment for a small ham, a frying pan for a bag of okra. I remember its kind-a-slim look and the smell of it cooking. I still love okra.”
“The other enterprises were two fish markets - little hall squares , they were clean as a whistle and quiet as can be.” The ----- courthouse clock which got my attention every time. The big hand jumped to the next minute and made a loud clunk that echoed around the square. Three to four thousand people lived there and everybody knew everybody. There was a diner that sold wonderful barbecued pork sandwiches. They dipped the whole bun so that it was oozing gravy. I have never eaten anything like it before or since. I enjoyed the strawberry and orange Nehi sodas delivered from the drug store.”
“It was like play land to be around my uncles. They did not know how to fly an airplane, but they bought one a little Piper cub. Eddie, the oldest, learned how to fly - probably not legally - but well enough to take an airplane off from a field with trees on the end of it. He would take farmers up. Sometimes he would take me. That was my first exposure to flying.” said Joey, who would later obtain his pilot’s license and log more than six thousand hours in the air.
“Eddie, Bernie and Murray (the Carnot brothers) were my idols since identification with my father as a hero just didn’t exist. I still cling to people I respect and they become an influence in my life,” Joey concluded.
By now, you may have guessed that the town Joey was speaking about where his uncles lived was Dublin, Georgia. In 1938, they lived on West Drive and in 1940 at 407 North Drive at the northeast end of Stubbs Park, with their Russian-born mother, Esther Carnot.
“My mother’s mother, Esther Carnot, was a tiny woman with a heavy Yiddish accent and no sense of humor,” Joey recalled.
The Carnot Brothers sold fish, seafood, eggs and any kind of meat from their market on South Lawrence Street. The brothers also sold stove and oak wood and just about anything anyone wanted to buy. By the end of 1940, the Carnots moved away leaving Uncle Eddie behind to collect their accounts receivable from his hotel room in the New Dublin Hotel.
Joey returned to his home in the Bronx and began playing in school orchestras and ensembles for parties and religious celebrations. After attending the University of Miami on a musical scholarship, Joey joined the Army Air Force, hoping to take up the great bandleader Glenn Miller’s offer to join his band. That great honor to a young man of 18 was too hard to pass up. But fate quelled his chance to join Miller’s band when he was still in basic training when Miller’s band was reassigned to another post.
After his days in the service were over, Joey studied music under musical geniuses Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein. As the 20th Century came to a midpoint, Joey played gigs with such legendary artists as Judy Garland, Pearl Bailey, Robert Goulet, Maurice Chevalier, Frank Sinatra and Marlene Dietrich. A new phase of Harnell’s career came when he served as the pianist of the Dinah Shore Chevy Show in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Joey’s big break came in 1958, when he became the full-time pianist and arranger for the incomparable Peggy Lee. In 1962, it appeared that his career might be over in an instant. A vehicular accident left Joe out of work.
At his point, let me tell you that Joey Hittelman is better known by his stage name of Joe Harnell. If you are a fan of jazz and pop instrumental music from the 1960s you will know his name.
Joe’s second big break came in 1963 when he recorded “In Other Words” for Kapp Records. Harnell was asked to arrange the song in bossa nova style. The record went to No. 14 on the Billboard Pop chart and No. 3 on the Adult Contemporary chart. In the winter of 1963, the song, better known as “Fly Me To The Moon,” was No. 6 on the New York City charts. That year, Harnell’s unique arrangement led to the song capturing the Grammy Award for the Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Harnell’s first album, went to No. 3 on the Billboard Album chart. Over the next four decades, Harnell released nearly 20 albums of easy listening and jazz music.
After a brief career as a jingle writer, Joe accepted the position of musical director for the Mike Douglas show from 1967 to 1973, when he moved to Hollywood to start yet another career as a composer and arranger of music for television shows and movies.
Harnell’s most well known compositions were themes from science fiction shows, “The Bionic Woman,” “Alien Nation,” “V” and most notably, “The Incredible Hulk.” It was his “Lonely Man Theme” from “The Incredible Hulk,” which expressed the anguish which the character David
Banner felt as he struggled with his metamorphism into a monster in each episode. Joe also composed music for drama shows, including “Santa Barbara,” “Cagney and Lacey,” and “In The Heat of The Night.”
Joe, the self proclaimed “Music Man,” died in Sherman Oaks, California on July 14, 2005. At the age of 80, Joe never forgot the grand and magical times he had in Dublin, Georgia in the summer of 1938.