Like Alan Civil, who played the French horn solo on the Beatles' "For No One," David Mason had a long and distinguished career as a classical musician, but is most known for his contribution to one Beatles session.
Born in London in 1926, Mason studied music at the Royal College of Music, after which he became a member of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and eventually secured the principal trumpet position in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Mason spent seven years with the Royal Philharmonic before joining the New Philharmonia.
It was while he was a member of the New Philharmonia that Paul McCartney saw him playing the trumpet on Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major on the BBC on January 11, 1967. McCartney thought Mason might be able to supply a solo for "Penny Lane," a track that was otherwise finished. On January 17, Mason came into the studio to play the song's famous rapid, high-pitched trumpet solo. Mason took nine trumpets to the session to cover contingencies, deciding on his B-flat piccolo trumpet, and said that although it sounds as if it was speeded up for the record, it was not.
He also played a final burst of notes over the song's final bars, but these were edited out at the last minute, although they remained on a promotional copy of the single given out to radio stations. (That version was later included on the Beatles' Rarities LP.) Yet another version of "Penny Lane" was assembled from various takes for Anthology 3, with an extended part for the piccolo trumpet at the end.
The piccolo trumpet solo on "Penny Lane" was Mason's most recognizable contribution to a Beatles track, but he also played as a session musician on three other Beatles songs in 1967: "A Day in the Life," "Magical Mystery Tour," "It's All Too Much," and "All You Need Is Love." In fact, on "All You Need Is Love" he used the same trumpet as he had on "Penny Lane."
Besides performing with the New Philharmonia, Mason was also principal trumpet for the Covent Garden Opera and the English Chamber Orchestra, and was a trumpet professor at the Royal College of Music for 30 years. Mason died in 2011 after a brief battle with leukemia. He was 85.