Still over the moon after half a century

Jake Fleming, whose interpretation of Moon River is still earning him royalties
Jake Fleming, whose interpretation of Moon River is still earning him royalties

Everybody’s familiar with the song ‘Moon River’, made famous in the 1961 movie ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, starring Audrey Hepburn.

But the classic tune might not be so well-known had it not been for a St Andrews musician who’s still reaping the rewards of a chance meeting he had over half-a-century ago.

Jake Fleming was just 14 and playing harmonica with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at the time of his fateful encounter with the song’s composer, Henry Mancini.

The orchestra were performing on STV’s One o’Clock Gang Show in 1960 and unbeknown to Jake, Mancini was in the audience as they performed Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony.

“Afterwards a man came out of the audience and asked to have a word with me,” recalls Jake.

“It turned out it was Henry Mancini. He said ‘you’re a genius with that’, meaning the harmonica, and asked me if I would play something by ear.as he had his own orchestra with him.

“After I’d finished playing, he went ‘yes!’ He told me that the tune was going to be pulled from the movie as he wasn’t happy with it, but when he heard my interpretation he said it was just what he was looking for - and that song’s been looking after me ever since.”

Recorded by dozens of artists, ‘Moon River’ remains one of Mancini’s best-known compositions and is still raking in the royalties for Jake all these years on. Indeed, every time the Galaxy chocolate advert is shown on the TV, Jake’s pension pot receives another boost.

After his first meeting with Mancini, Jake spent two years in America working under a nom-de-plume, and not long before his death in 1994, Mancini visited him in St Andrews .

The pair enjoyed a pint in the Cross Keys bar, where Jake’s original harmonica is soon to be displayed.

Jake has led an eventful life as an entrepreneur but now suffers from ill-health and lives quietly with his wife Maya, an acclaimed concert pianist.