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Steve Rawton


© 2007/12 KAMUSICO All Rights Reserved International Copyright Secured This publication may be freely downloaded from the internet on condition that no changes will be made to the text or general layout. Copying in digital and/or printed form is permissible and copies may be privately distributed provided that the moral rights of the originator under International Conventions are acknowledged. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Many people and organisations gave valuable assistance during the original research phase of the project, including: - American Federation of Musicians, Billy Amstell, Sylvester Ahola, Stanley Black, Billboard, BBC, British Film Institute, British Museum Reading Room, Sam Browne, Camarata, Crescendo, George Chisholm, Joe Collins, Joe Crossman, Decca Records (UK), Alan Dell (BBC), Down Beat, EMI, Harry Francis (MU), Teddy Foster, Max Goldberg, Norman Hackforth, Moira Heath, Max Jaffa, Joe Jeanette, Joan Linton, Ivor Mairants, MCA, Melody Maker, Musicians Union, Radio Times, Ronnie Munro, Sid Phillips, Woolf Phillips, Brian Rust, Ronnie Scott, Anne Shelton, Joyce Stone, Eric Winstone, Elisabeth Welch. And for more recent help and advice thanks are due to: - the British Library, Dave Cooper, English Heritage, Gordon Howsden (Memory Lane), Richard Johnson, Malcolm Laycock, David McGowan (BBC-Written Archives Centre), Grahame Newnham, the Theatre Museum, and Mark Willerton. CONTENTS I II III IV V VI VII Band Line-up Index Personnel Index 1917 – 1926 1927 – 1930 1931 – 1933 1934 – 1937 1938 – 1940 1941 – 1949 1950 – 1971 2 31 84 131 194 244 280 288 289

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I 1917-1926
The year in which Bertram Ambrose came into existence is not known for certain. It is of course somewhat unusual to say that a person ‘came into existence’. But the reference here is really to the stage name that this person seems to have adopted in place of his real one. The assumption that this switch did take place is based on the fact that searches in all the usual places have failed to discover the official existence of a ‘Bert Ambrose’ before the early 1920s. Ambrose never revealed that his name was of the ‘stage’ variety, and was somewhat cagey about his age, asserting that he was born ‘around the turn of the century’. None of this would matter much were it not for the difficulty of commenting on previously published accounts about Ambrose’s early life and career. Most of these are contradictory and confusing and it would be nice to provide a definitive version. Because this is not presently possible the best that can be done is to present a synthesised account up to the mid-1920s, after which we are on somewhat firmer ground. So here goes… ‘Ambrose’ was born in 1896 and spent his early childhood years in the leafy North London suburb of Stamford Hill. His father was ‘something in textiles’ and, although not musical himself, encouraged his son to take up the violin. According to Ambrose: ‘I was only six-and-a-half when my father bought me a small fiddle…then engaged a street musician, no less, to give me my first lessons...he got half-a-crown for each lesson, and I got sixpence every time I practiced… a “professional” right from the start!’ Ambrose’s musical endeavours were interrupted by the First World War. He later commented: ‘Mother was worried about the Zeppelins – the newspapers all carried graphic accounts of how London would be reduced to rubble when - not if they came over and dropped bombs on us…so, I was packed-off to America…to my aunt who lived in New York.’ After arriving in the United States Ambrose spent a year or so completing his education and music studies, then obtained his union ‘ticket’, and became a professional musician. His first regular job was with a symphony orchestra based in New York, but this did not last long and he was soon freelancing for a musicians’ agency. This involved playing mainly in theatre and cinema pit orchestras, and was no doubt excellent experience for a novice player still not sure which branch of the profession he wanted to join. At some stage he became convinced that dance music would provide the best opportunity for progress given his limited musical abilities. He successfully auditioned for pianist-bandleader Emil Coleman - but was fired after two weeks for impudence! After this he played with a quintet at Reisenwebber’s Restaurant for a while, and then drummer-bandleader Murray Pilcer invited him to join the prestigious Sherbo’s Orchestra. It always amused Ambrose to recall that there were six fiddles in the orchestra and that he played the sixth! This appears to have been the last time that he worked as a sideman because after this engagement he formed a five-piece band under the name of ‘Bertram Ambrose’. Residencies at the fashionable Club deVingt in Manhattan and the exclusive Palais Royal on Broadway then came his way. At some point he increased the size of his band to seven players. In the early 1920s Ambrose received an invitation from London-based impresario DeCourville to bring his band to London for an engagement at the exclusive Embassy Club.

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Although Ambrose intended to return to America at the end of his six-month contract he didn’t immediately do so, and despite problems recruiting suitable replacements for musicians who periodically left, and other difficulties, he continued to play at the Embassy Club, intermittently at first and then continuously until 1927. Leaving aside Ambrose’s story for the moment, we must now consider the kind of music he was playing, how it came about – and related topics. The terms ‘dance music’ and ‘danceband’ would seem to require little explanation, but have to be put into the context of the era concerned. The years between 1900 and 1920 will suit our purpose nicely, and no apology need be made for firstly confining our attention to the United States. At the turn of the century American social dancing had two distinct aspects – rural and urban. In remote rural areas various kinds of ethnic folk music were used for dancing, but rural towns (particularly those in proximity to a railroad) had by now adopted the ‘barndance’. Folk-based dancing depended on local traditions, whereas the barndance had formal steps (based on a European import – the ‘pas de quatre’). In both cases string bands – invariably led by fiddle players – were the usual means of providing the music. Due to segregation African-American communities developed their own kinds of social dancing served by a distinctly different kind of music derived mainly from their own folk culture, although there was some interchange. In the cities and larger towns the distinction in dance styles was more a matter of social class and ethnic origin. The latter was important because of the number of immigrants flowing into the United States, many bringing musical and dancing traditions with them. However, the upper and middle classes inevitably set the standard for social dancing. This standard was based on imported European dances, principally the waltz and the polka. For these dances the Viennese-type string orchestra found most favour. This usually comprised violins, violas, cellos, double bass and (sometimes) timpani. The archetypal Viennese bandleader was, of course, Johann Strauss – the Waltz King. However, by the turn of the century such orchestras were threatened by the popularity of a new dance that was entirely American in origin – the ‘Boston’, or ‘two-step’. It wasn’t so much that Viennese-type bands couldn’t play twosteps, but rather that they sounded better played by concert or military bands comprising brass and woodwind instruments. Such bands, associated with the music of John Philip Sousa, were very popular by this time. Moreover they could cope with waltzes and polkas to a more acceptable standard than string orchestras could handle two-steps. But something else became popular around the turn of the century, a kind of music for which the Viennese-type dance orchestra was totally unsuited – ragtime! Although ragtime was a fusion of elements originating in both black and white folkcultures, it was at first associated with the banjo-accompanied minstrel shows that toured in rural areas. By the late 19th Century it had emerged as piano music, popularised by composers like W.H. Krell (Mississippi Rag) and Scott Joplin (Maple Leaf Rag). Now ragtime essentially has a syncopated melody line over a regular bass line. (The beat in the melody line is displaced and doesn’t fall where it should, according to convention.) Syncopation had long been common in folk music and was the basis for much of the music that came from black Africa. Although found in classical music, it had not been commonly applied to commercial popular music.

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Had ragtime remained music for the piano there would have been no problem, but composers of popular marches – including Sousa – soon realised that syncopation could be used to spice-up their own output. Although it was really ragtime-influenced music rather than pure ragtime, it became hugely popular. Then someone came-up with the idea of applying ragtime to dance music. A syncopated ‘hesitation waltz’ was introduced and this soon became popular. However young Americans in particular had become bored with the old dances, even in syncopated form, and started to look for something more exciting. Because of segregation, African-Americans in urban areas had been obliged to develop their own forms of popular culture, including distinctive kinds of social dancing. One syncopated African-American dance in particular - the ‘cakewalk’ – was taken-up by the white community and became something of a craze. It’s popularity soon spread to Europe, and the music associated with it – ‘ragged music’ – even came to the attention of avant-garde classical composers - Debussy included a version of it in his Children’s Suit. One important connecting link between black and white popular cultures at this time was ‘vaudeville’. Vaudeville developed from the touring minstrel shows that were for decades an important feature of American light entertainment. The growth of cities and towns, and railroads connecting them, made variety theatres viable all over the country, and by the end of the 19th Century a thriving ‘vaudeville circuit’ employed hundreds of touring artists. One tradition that passed from minstrelsy to vaudeville was the parodying of African-American singing and dancing by white performers wearing ‘black-face’. Now considered grotesque and racist, this tradition did at least enable white audiences to appreciate what the black community had to offer, however distorted the presentation. By 1900 black artists were appearing in vaudeville, even though they were usually low on the bill and always – bizarrely – obliged to apply black-face! And it was principally these black vaudevillians who demonstrated, on stage, the various dances popular in African-American communities. Young white Americans in particular saw these syncopated dances as exciting alternatives to what they already had and were becoming bored with. The fact that the older generation were unlikely to approve merely added to the attraction! And so the stage was set for the introduction of ‘animal dances’ into the mainstream. Animal dances were different because as originally conceived they were shamelessly sensual and uninhibited. Popular in the black sub-culture of Southern cities like New Orleans and St Louis their very names were indicative of their erotic nature – ‘funky monkey’, ‘bunny hug’, ‘grizzly bear’ and ‘gobble goose’ were just some of the early examples. Of course black vaudeville artists refined them somewhat, but this merely made the demand for them among mainstream dancers unstoppable. Most did not last very long but by 1910 some animal dances had just about become acceptable in polite society. By this time the demand for all kinds of dance music had grown enormously since the turn of the century. At this time America was exceedingly prosperous (except in the Deep South) and a substantial middle class had money to spend and leisure time to fill. Entertainment of all kinds was in great demand and this included provision for social dancing. Every town and city now had public dance halls and the craze for dancing had even spread to fashionable hotels and restaurants. All this meant much work for orchestras and bands able to provide the kind of up-to-date music that dancers now demanded – including ragtime. By 1910 the Viennese-type dance orchestra was no longer predominant in the United States; the waltz and polka were still in demand, but they were not now at the top of the popularity list.

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In order to accommodate the new kinds of dance music, orchestra leaders compromised by reducing their string sections, adding brass players, and tentatively introducing rhythm instruments. The prototype was the theatre pit band. The only clue we have now of what dancebands might have sounded like comes from the ‘stock arrangements’ of certain tunes, issued by music publishers for bands and orchestras. At best these can only be described as ragtime-influenced arrangements. Suffice to say that early jazz styles had not yet affected mainstream dance music. After 1910, though, things started to move in that direction – slowly but surely. Apart from their importance in popularising novel dance steps, vaudeville and musical theatre were also crucial when it came to promoting the popular songs of the day. Recorded sound was still in its infancy and broadcasting still at the experimental stage, so music publishers had to rely on direct methods in order sell their sheet music. By now all the important publishing firms were in New York, mostly centred on West 28th Street – Tin Pan Alley. Sheet music sales were big business and a sizeable chunk consisted of popular songs. Before 1910 sentimental ballads, ‘heart songs’ and novelty tunes accounted for most ‘hits’, but after ragtime dancing caught-on popular music tastes started to change. In 1911 songwriter Irving Berlin published Alexander’s Ragtime Band and after exposure in vaudeville it became a major hit. Thousands of others – good, bad and indifferent – would follow over the next few years. Most weren’t ragtime as defined by composers like Scott Joplin, but that no longer mattered to the public at large. But if ragtime music was being coarsened, the dances associated with it were undergoing a process of refinement under the auspices of a remarkable young couple called Irene and Vernon Castle. It is impossible to overemphasise the importance of Irene and Vernon Castle so far as social dancing and dance music are concerned. Vernon Castle was an English song-and-dance performer working in American vaudeville around 1908 when he first met Irene, a stage-struck teenager with a talent for dancing. Together they devised a stage act that included novelty dances ‘lifted’ from various ethnic folk cultures – including ‘animal’ dances. By ‘refining’ these dances they effectively made them suitable for ballroom use and this led to requests for stage demonstrations. By 1912 they had become phenomenally successful and were touring all over the United States, demonstrating the latest dance steps. And their influence wasn’t confined to the dance floor - clothing, footwear, hairstyles and social conventions were just a few of the things that came within their ambit. The effect of the Castles’ interventionist approach is illustrated by Irene’s successful campaign to banish whalebone corsets and multilayered undergarments from the respectable woman’s wardrobe. By 1915 the Castles had set up dancing schools and dance halls in several major cities, and had many business interests related to dancing. They were instrumental in feeding every major dance craze until the United States entered the First World War in 1917. Some of these dances were very much in vogue when Ambrose embarked on his danceband career, so we need to give them some consideration. One animal dance in particular, the ‘turkey trot’ (or ‘one-step’), survived much longer than stable-mates like the ‘horse trot’, ‘bunny-hug’ and ‘grizzly bear’. Another dance, the ‘foxtrot’ was not an animal dance as such, but owed its existence to a vaudeville performer called Harry Fox, who introduced it during the ‘ZIEGFELD FOLLIES OF 1914’. The Castles turned ‘Fox’s trot’ into the foxtrot. Although refined, it remained a lively dance until emasculated by the English some years later.

but few nonprofessional dancers could master the flamboyant steps before it was given the Castle treatment. Livery Stable Blues.) To get some idea of the type of music dance orchestras were required to play around the time Ambrose joined their ranks we can take a look at the titles of some popular tunes from 1915 to 1920: . Swanee. Rose Room. the pubic started to demand tunes to dance to as well. Bugle Call Rag. This may have irked music publishers somewhat. Sometimes these were original compositions. but for most Americans what was good enough for the Astors. It was these new . McNamara’s Band. Hindustan.dances that predominated so far as the essentially youthful activity of public social dancing was concerned. Nola. Hits of the time were defined by known sales of sheet music. may be familiar to readers – particularly those that became ‘standards’ and jazz classics. dance orchestras could more or less ignore the output of Tin Pan Alley. Hawaiian and Brazilian musical forms.St Louis Blues. Some of these titles. At first it was only the tune that was of interest – the incorporation of vocal content into dance music was a long way off. Barnyard Blues. After You’ve Gone. Indianola. What these tunes actually sounded like when played by dance orchestras is more difficult to discover. Beal Street Blues. concerned as the latter was primarily with popular songs. Unless popular songs happened to be waltzes or polkas their basic tunes were largely irrelevant. (At this time record sales of pop music were insignificant. That’s A Plenty. Dollar Blues. these dances were also adopted by High Society.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 6 Both the one-step and the (original) foxtrot were essentially ragtime dances. Ragging The Scale. Dardanella. Jelly Roll Blues. That Naughty Waltz. Other dance variations also popularised Neapolitan. The Darktown Strutters’ Ball. what’s important for now is the inevitability that they would have featured in the dance music repertoire of the time – and this gives us some idea of what Ambrose had to offer as a successful bandleader. In fact a version of it had been popular as an exhibition dance in Europe for some years before its import into the United States. When ragtime dancing came into vogue. Of course music publishers had supplied the latter for some time in the form of stock arrangements of instrumental pieces. On The Beach At Waikiki. Vanderbilts. but while they remained popular dance orchestras had to adapt their playing accordingly. Sugar Blues. At The Jazz Band Ball. Bluin’ The Blues. or thereabouts. Rose Of Washington Square. Home Again Blues. and the tunes they represent. Rockefellers. Honky Tonk Town. rather than resist. Instead of merely wanting tunes to sing to. a dance originating in Argentina. However. Royal Garden Blues. Aunt Hager’s Blues. Neapolitan Love Song. but there was still mileage to be had even from half exposure of a popular item. the nearest thing that America had to an aristocracy and shrewd enough to embrace. Jazz Baby’s Ball. Moralists might strenuously object to the turkey trot and its ilk. As early as 1913 the music industry trade paper Billboard regularly published lists of the top-selling tunes – an early kind of Hit Parade. And from this time on dance orchestras based their music mainly on the output of Tin Pan Alley. Johnson Rag. When ragtime became common to both popular song and dance music the two genres became interlinked. Perhaps more surprisingly. and Mrs Styvesant-Fish was good enough for them! Before 1910. but other dances introduced by the Castles required music of a somewhat different nature.especially ragtime . Missouri Waltz. The Castles also introduced a simplified version of the ‘tango’. Tiger Rag. trends likely to be irresistible to their own offspring. things started to change. Only the Brazilian ‘maxixe’ made a lasting impression by starting the vogue for Latin American-based dances. but there was also a lively trade in adapting classical themes for dance orchestra use. Most of these didn’t last very long. .

As we have seen there was. orchestra leaders were obliged to produce the appropriate sounds. and the orchestrations (or arrangements) by means of which the players as a unit produced the sounds required. and like other influences impinging on popular music they were regarded as ephemeral novelties. and bandleaders had to have each instrumental part copied-out as required. at least with the public at large. Inevitably. However. Because Morton’s ragtime music caught on. When pop songs started to be used for dancing publishers merely produced an instrumental version based on a song’s catchiest melodies. as interpreted by another pianist – Jelly Roll Morton – it had more of a novelty value. Stock orchestrations for dancebands catered for a select range of instruments based essentially on those used in small theatre orchestras. this affected the types of musical instrument employed. At the time this was not the case. both products of the music industry. we must take a closer look at the dance orchestras of the time as musical entities. Not terribly interesting from a musical point of view. after all. In both cases commercialism ruled the roost – they were. (This later became the standard format for strict-tempo ballroom orchestras). which accounts for the more-or-less standard instrumentation adopted by a wide variety of bands and orchestras. ‘blues’ and ‘jazz’ were in common use. Now whatever one thinks of ragtime there’s absolutely no doubt that blues and jazz came to be taken very seriously indeed. Even so. just as Tin Pan Alley had to cater for changing tastes in dance as well as song. although it was only in this instrumental respect that the two were similar – a greater degree of musical versatility would have been required from a pit band! The standard stock orchestration only consisted of a score sheet. we shall leave a detailed discussion of records and recording techniques until later. Because Ambrose only participated in early recording sessions as a sideman in Sherbo’s Orchestra and not as a bandleader. These were repeated over and over with various musical embellishments added. . but clearly suitable for the intended purpose. Inevitably. Any discernable common approach to instrumental line-up was due to the use of ‘stock orchestrations’. and as the titles of the tunes previously listed suggest. and Joplin’s didn’t. Of course ‘not serious’ isn’t the same thing as ‘not good’. even though musical purists sometimes think it is. Top music publishers had always provided these. usually lifted from the chorus. For dance orchestras the years between 1910 and 1920 were essentially years of rapid change. and both eventually became accepted as art forms. but the end-results are not necessarily representative due to the nature of the acoustic recording process then used. ragtime as perfected by pianist-composer Scott Joplin was a sophisticated and formalised type of music. the terms ‘rag’. the playing techniques used. To regard this or that aspect of popular music as ‘artistic’ would have struck those concerned with its production and distribution as patently absurd. it’s the American experience that’s all-important. the types of instruments employed. Any variety came from key changes and/or different melody instruments taking the lead. after 1910. it follows that the buying public wanted popular music that was not ‘serious’. The other two terms that Tin Pan Alley ‘tunesmiths’ used at the time were ‘blues’ and ‘jazz’. a distinct relationship between dance music and the output of Tin Pan Alley. the way they were played and the methods of orchestration used.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 7 Of course some dance orchestras did record instrumental versions of these songs. For example. Because of this we have to establish whether these terms were used in a way that we would now accept as authentic – particularly as interpreted by dance orchestras of the day.

Perhaps others were making the same discovery at the same time – and would certainly have done so later. bandleaders could (and innovative ones did) add subtle embellishments in an effort to create a distinctive ‘sound’. At best this was only a proto-jazz band. so we have to go back to the turn of the century and consider the music scene in the city of New Orleans. Nevertheless. New York and San Francisco were frequenting clubs in which genuine improvised blues-cum-ragtime music was being played. A band that originated in New Orleans but had come to New York via engagements in Chicago – the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB) . white and creole – shared the enthusiasm for these forms of music. Lewis’ band – and others like it – paved the way for the Jazz Craze that gathered momentum in New York after 1917. Had the ODJB been the definitive influence on jazz-based dance music it would be possible to take our discussion on from the time that it first appeared in New York. ‘smootch’. ‘slow drag’. then some commercial dance orchestras after 1915 were using arrangements that had jazz-like links between the repeated melody sections. and the comic antics that accompanied the music must have been a major distraction. . although at the time they were more popular as instrumentals played in ragtime. Tradition has it that the first band to play a rudimentary form of ‘jazz’ (note that this term was not in common use until later) was that led by African-American cornettist Buddy Bolden.triggered this craze. music and more music. It is almost impossible to think of any musical form that did not flourish in New Orleans by the end of the 19th Century. but there is some evidence that around this time some orthodox players in cities like Chicago. While it would be wrong to say that New Orleans was the only source of the music that chiefly concerns us.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 8 Although the widespread use of these orchestrations did lead to a degree of uniformity so far as instrumental line-up was concerned. But this is not the case. and ‘wiggle-butt’ in the popularity stakes. It was here that a young white clarinet player learnt to play in a ‘hot’ and (seemingly) improvised way. Here animal dances like the ‘buzzard lope’ and ‘kangaroo dip’ vied with erotica such as the ‘grind’. Eventually this requirement led to an awareness of a new musical form that could be used to make such embellishments exciting as well as subtle – jazz! In 1912 African-American bandleader William Handy composed and published Memphis Blues and two years later his St Louis Blues appeared. Both were essentially blues songs. Among other things Bolden’s band played dance music at the delightfully named Funky Butt Hall. Some years later Handy wrote stock arrangements of his and other composers’ tunes for publishers and it was in connection with this service that he is supposed to have introduced the ‘jazz-break’. However it was Bolden’s band that came to be acknowledged as a primary originator of the musical form that would come to be called ‘jazz’. One such club was Leroy’s in New York City. His name was Ted Lewis and later he got together a group of like-minded white players and formed a band for an engagement at the College Inn on Coney Island. Crucially. it is still the best place to start from. Bolden had discovered a collective improvisational style that transcended current musical styles – not as a result of intellectual analysis but by chance. Just as important is the fact that the three main ethnic groups in New Orleans society – black. Like Vienna. The music was as uninhibited as the dance motions and essentially consisted of a swinging ensemble version of ragtime fused with the blues. If true. Whether regular musicians actually made these phrases sound ‘jazzy’ is a moot point. New Orleans was a city of music.

refinements in both instrumentation and playing styles occurred as jazz developed over the years. it is possible that the first attempts to present jazz as music to listen to. Our primary concern is of course with the development of dance music rather than jazz but no apologies need be made for dwelling on the jazz side. but the essential ingredients were there. in New Orleans in the early years of the 20th Century. Indeed. In the latter case it was either grafted-on to the usual rhythm line-up. It was the relationship between these two sections as well as the improvisation employed by both that distinguished Bolden’s band from ordinary ragtime bands. By 1905 Bolden was running several bands all over town. There was. and anyway both lines were fully notated. reigned supreme. But jazz requirements were quite different whether the piano was played as a solo instrument or as part of an ensemble. . rather than melody. and the banjo and tuba replaced their more versatile counterparts in the rhythm section. not necessarily for the better. It was also for presentational reasons that Bolden’s prototypical band line-up underwent changes. one addition to the rhythm section that was entirely welcome – the piano. trombone. and the clarinet played obligato figures above .and ‘rhythm’. in which the guitar.cornet. rather than musical subtlety. At some point in the early 1900s it occurred to someone that the piano had sufficient versatility to contribute to a band’s rhythm section if only some way could be devised for achieving this. Bolden achieved his particular ‘sound’ with an instrumental line-up comprising: . No easy task because of the degree of musical dexterity required. double bass and bass drum played in jazz mode are ‘felt’ as much as ‘heard’…and may not even be heard at all away from the bandstand! Such subtleties were lost on vaudeville impresarios. Most pianists could cope with the syncopated melody line in ragtime numbers because the base line was entirely conventional. and other bands had started to imitate his style. double bass (played with a bow) and drums. rather than dance to.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 9 To say that Bolden’s style became popular in New Orleans in the first few years of the 20th Century would be an understatement. Essentially the band comprised two sections – ‘horns’. were detrimental because these attempts were made in vaudeville where novelty and hilarity. or in small bands used to provide most or all of the rhythm section requirements. Dance music could not have taken the form it eventually did without the influence of jazz – and jazz may not have developed in the way it did without its early links to ‘straight’ dance music. The ‘someone’ who cracked this problem was Jelly Roll Morton – or so he later claimed! Certainly by 1915 solo piano was being played in a ‘jazzy’ rather than ‘raggy’ way at clubs like Leroy’s. The guitar. guitar. however. clarinet. As we shall see. This was a much greater innovation at the time than might now be appreciated. The piano was not then regarded as a standard dance orchestra instrument. double bass and drums provided a rhythmic background and the bass line. and was being used as a rhythm. in which the trombone supplied connecting links between melodic phrases played by the cornet. instrument in some dance orchestras.

and for this work they hired a musical director called James Europe. but few knew how to get the best out of the new style. and it’s arrival in New York in 1917 just happened to coincided with the public’s need for a new ‘craze’ to latch-on to. the basic tunes were identical. rather than jazz. He was an AfricanAmerican with an outstanding musical talent. By this time Irene and Vernon Castle were at the height of their popularity. Here. a suspended cymbal. style appeared around 1916. piano and drums – and the playing style represented post-Bolden developments popular at the time in New Orleans. By 1917. This meant that a technique known as ‘double drumming’ had to be used in order play bass and snare drums simultaneously. by now. The Castles also continued to tour the vaudeville and cabaret circuits. then. Stock orchestrations of the time don’t appear to have catered for percussion so orchestra leaders must have relied on their drummer’s extemporising ability. snare drum. This also was a cross over from jazz bands appearing on the vaudeville circuit. a genuine form of jazz music had spread (mainly) from New Orleans to other cities in the United States and was starting to influence dance music. this new kind of orchestration aroused some interest among danceband leaders and musicians. Europe formed a fourteen-piece band called the Syncopated Society Orchestra. . The first published stock orchestration for dance orchestras written in jazz. His approach to music was rag. but the critical point is that the array of instruments he employed demanded dedicated – rather than stock – orchestrations. It was a foxtrot based on Jelly Roll Morton’s composition Jelly Roll Blues. It did however show that alternative approaches to scoring were possible and might enable dance orchestras to replicate some of the excitement generated by the proto-jazz bands then appearing on vaudeville stages and in African-American clubs. and (sometimes) a pair of floor-level foot-operated cymbals. an advantage that soon attracted the attention of other bandleaders. provided the dance New York’s Long Beach. a band that still owed more to ragtime than emerging jazz styles. The pedal-operated bass drum and high-level foot-operated cymbals were not yet in general use.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 10 Another rhythm section instrument that gradually gained acceptance among the trendier dance orchestras was the drum set. this became something of a tradition and lasted well into the era when most danceband musicians were expected to be good ‘readers’. clarinet. In New York the ODJB merely repeated what it had been doing a year before in Chicago. rather than ragtime. Among the many enterprises that they were involved in was the opening of a huge ballroom – Castles by the Sea . The five-piece line-up comprised cornet. Considering that one player was doing what at least three or more players were doing in a military or concert band it comes as no surprise that the drum kit was considered a great novelty when it first appeared – and also caused some concern among orthodox percussionists. for the same reason. but it did exist. After all. The ODJB certainly originated in New Orleans but was only ‘original’ insofar as it was the first band to popularise the words ‘jazz’ and ‘Dixieland’. Sherbo’s Orchestra. This would have continued to be the case had the ODJB never existed. Because this was also a popular hit song. standard danceband line-up comprising front-line melody instruments and a rhythm section (with strings an optional extra) remained the norm. oriented. For the Castles. trombone. The combination of instrumental variety and tailor-made arrangements gave his bands a distinctive ‘sound’. Despite this the. As we shall see. and a determination to promote the interests of black musicians. but this was quite effective when done properly. Early versions were somewhat primitive and consisted of a bass drum (smaller than later ones).

It also attracted many imitators – some genuine. Jazz travelled along the Mississippi from New Orleans to Chicago. sensation. No mention has yet been made of the saxophone. Around the same time Hickman hired a pianist-arranger called Ferde Grofe. However. One of the latter was bandleader Art Hickman. Saxophones were originally introduced in the 19th Century so that the sounds made by string sections in concert orchestras could be replicated in marching bands. To explore this development we have to turn our attention to the music scene on the West Coast of the United States. Grofe remained interested in classical music but also developed a passion for jazz. The Jazz Craze sparked by the ODJB meant that genuine jazz players now had a chance to emerge from obscurity and form bands that had some chance of commercial success. The reason for this is that the early formulators of these genres generally ignored the saxophone. tenor. Now Grofe started out in classical music and apart from playing the violin had studied formal music theory to an advanced level. one of the instruments now closely associated with jazz and dancebands. He became interested in jazz after hearing one of the club bands. though clearly jazz-based. Jazz musicians at the time had little or no interest in scored music. but at the time this was not generally appreciated. Out of interest. These early ODJB titles. invariably they were improvisers and some of the best couldn’t even read music. and by 1919 ragtime as such was beginning to sound like ‘yesterdays music’.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 11 It was an instant success when it played for dancers at the Paradise Ballroom and then Reisenwebber’s Restaurant. really owed their overwhelming success to exuberance and novelty value rather than jazz content. that by 1915 African-Americans in West Coast cities had established clubs and dance halls where New Orleans-style jazz was being played. others not. even more so! However some vaudeville saxophonists did become popular mainly for the music they produced. . each with a different size of saxophone. And dance orchestra leaders preferred the real thing. A performer dressed as a clown. and when these were issued the band became a countrywide. baritone. and then international. Each member of the saxophone family (alto. he subjected jazz tunes to the same kind of analysis that might be applied to classical pieces and so figured-out their technical characteristics. Orthodox players went to jazz clubs in order to listen and learn. Despite segregation a degree of interchange took place between black and white musicians. or three. But New Orleans jazz pioneers didn’t see the need either for strings or their equivalents. then by railroad east to New York City and west to San Francisco…or so the legend goes! It is true. it was two years later that a saxophone-playing duo – Bert Ralton and Clyde Doerr – unwittingly triggered a minor revolution in jazz and danceband styles.) was intended to correspond to one or other of the string family. the New Orleans style of jazz was not entirely suitable for dance orchestras and a new approach soon emerged. or more. etc. Bandleaders anxious to satisfy an obvious demand and run with the trend started to hire musicians who could at least simulate jazz styles. Even so.and two. Despite this some musicians did take-up saxophone playing and started to present vaudeville acts based on its novelty value. In February 1917 the ODJB made some records. For example Rudy Wiedoeft on C-melody Saxophone became a popular recording artist after 1916. wearing blackface and tooting on a saxophone was considered hilarious . That much better jazz was being played outside the ranks of the ODJB is now taken for granted. however.

It would take many years. Here. Whiteman had sufficient orchestrating skills to make his own ‘sound’ similar to Hickman’s. The band’s success there was as phenomenal as it had been in San Francisco.the ODJB being the supreme example. Dancebands however were another matter. Grofe was given a free hand to reorganise the band and produce arrangements. Art Hickman’s fame soon spread beyond San Francisco. When the United States entered the First World War. and in 1919 he came to New York for some high profile engagements. One of the first records to be released in the autumn of 1920 included the tune Whispering and one year later this record alone had sold over one million copies. and while Hickman was in New York Whiteman’s band became a numberone attraction on the West Coast. of course. and Grofe transferred his attention to the stock orchestrations that by this time were beginning to include the jazzy embellishments mentioned earlier. most couldn’t…at least not quickly enough to avoid being eclipsed by the next phenomenon to hit town – Paul Whiteman! Paul Whiteman was another classically trained musician who became disillusioned with the career opportunities available in his chosen profession. Once settled in New York. Most of the top ones did. and reorganised his own outfit along the same lines. On discharge he returned to San Francisco and used his gratuity to start a dance orchestra. While playing at the Fairmont Hotel in 1919 he became aware of the popularity of Art Hickman’s band. to perfect the dance orchestra as a musical entity. Suffice to say that what resulted was a revised approach to dance orchestra instrumentation. their collective efforts were achieved by trial and error . While playing viola in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra around 1916 he became interested in the kind of music then being played in jazz clubs. He also gave a great deal of thought to the instrumental line-up that these kinds of orchestration catered for. At some point Hickman/Grofe became aware of the Ralton/Doerr saxophone team. and the scramble was then on to hire saxophonists and/or induce clarinettists already in-post to ‘double’ on sax. and a new method of arranging for it. and they were hired to provide a ‘missing ingredient’ that Grofe identified when analysing dance orchestra instrumentation. Art Hickman was well aware of what Grofe was trying to do when he hired him. then. and any bandleader wanting to stay ahead of the field had little choice but to take note. Whiteman was drafted into the navy and eventually put in charge of a fifty-seven piece marching band. However. Whiteman lost no time in taking advantage of the opportunities on offer and signed a recording contract with Victor. . And this led to the incorporation of the saxophone as an essential part of the new format. Clearly. and the efforts of other innovators. Paul Whiteman was offering something unique when he opened at the Palais Royal in October 1920. but not before ‘poaching’ Ferde Grofe from Hickman’s band. but Grofe had started the ball rolling. When Hickman returned to San Francisco from New York in 1920 Paul Whiteman decided to try his own luck in the Big Apple. The musical technicalities involved in the work that Grofe undertook are somewhat complex and need not be considered here. and bandleaders had to up-date their output as best they could. This was essentially the kind of New Orleans-style jazz that was also intriguing Art Hickman and Ferde Grofe. So far as the new arranging method was concerned music publishers were slow in figuring-out what was required.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 12 Like most rock groups now. was a new tailor-made ‘sound’ for the dance orchestra and when the Hickman band started to use it the results were electrifying.

Although we don’t know what his band sounded like. For now. Of course some of the jazzmen who came to Europe played pseudo-jazz rather than the real thing. The Whiteman/Grofe line-up was different insofar as two cornets and a trombone were included in the front line. tenor sax/clarinet. giving a twelve-piece combination that came to be accepted as the prototypical dance orchestra for much of the Roaring Twenties. banjo. As there was no danger of Edward following the Jazz Kings to their new venue. What probably consolidated their acquaintanceship. Whiteman also had three saxophones . Others had preceded them. it was merely a matter of replacing them at the Embassy with successive alternatives Ambrose’s outfit being one of these. Although European musicians soon learnt to master the rudiments of ragtime. and drums. The rhythm instruments comprised piano. comprising:. because where he went High Society went.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 13 We don’t know for sure what Ambrose’s 1920 American band was like either in respect of line-up or personnel. Now this might seem like an off-the-cuff remark. but it isn’t! Edward was the Embassy Club’s most important member. then. At this prestigious venue Ambrose was certainly following in the footsteps of some interesting predecessors. second violin…and Ambrose leading on first violin. For some of this time their clarinettist was jazz giant Sidney Bechet. was Ambrose’s indulgence of Edward’s ambition to play the drums! Ambrose later recalled: ‘When the mood took him he would sit in with the band…the regular drummer didn’t mind too much and neither did I.two altos and one tenor. For example Benny Peyton’s Jazz Kings. however it is believed to have been a septet. banjo. Later.piano. though. jazz presented difficulties that took somewhat longer to resolve. but this was certainly not so with the Jazz Kings. The Whiteman/Grofe partnership had more innovations in the pipeline. although I can’t say it did much for the tempo!’ . drums. we do know that Edward liked it. and the ODJB and Murray Pilcer’s Jazz Band were contemporaneous. Prince of Wales – who was one of their greatest admirers. However bands move on. It successfully played at the Embassy for some months from the autumn of 1919. a tuba and a couple of fiddles were added. And it was a ‘king-in-waiting’ – Edward. alto sax/clarinet. was the kind of nine-piece band that Paul Whiteman took into the Palais Royal about the time his first records were released. and that was what really mattered to the Embassy’s management! Ambrose’s first-hand familiarity with New York’s popular music scene must also have been significant because Edward occasionally invited Ambrose over to his table to discuss such matters. which will be discussed later. with all sax players doubling on clarinet. The Jazz Kings were not the only band to visit London in the immediate post war years. an AfricanAmerican group that presented New Orleans-style jazz with the polish of a society dance orchestra. we shall leave an America adjusting to the sounds of Paul Whiteman and the consequences of Prohibition and join Ambrose at the Embassy Club. It had been the same when ragtime first spread to Europe before the war. and the Jazz Kings were hired to replace the ODJB at the Hammersmith Palais – a large public dance hall in West London. and what he liked they liked…and so on! Now Edward liked jazz and ‘hot’ dance music and any club that wanted to retain his patronage had to supply as much of what he liked as possible. These bands – and notable individual jazz musicians (mostly white) – were drawn to London (and also Paris) because of public demand for a kind of music that indigenous musicians could not supply with the same degree of authenticity. This.

The key word though is ‘nominal’ because alcohol of sorts could always be obtained at any time of the day or night albeit on an illicit basis. Consequently problems arose when the band had to play for visiting cabaret artists. to learn that Ambrose’s chief inspiration in the early years of the 1920s came not from the likes of the ODJB or Paul Whiteman. and he was obliged to hire talent that could play ‘hot’ but not necessarily ‘read’ well. then skidaddle back to the club…it was all done in about forty minutes. scratch out Danny Boy on the fiddle. equally talented. and so on…and then we really were in the business!’ There was of course a world of difference between the Embassy Club and Funky Butt Hall. escaping the stifling summer heat. like jazz bands in general. For the first couple of years Ambrose had a high turnover of musicians. It should not surprise us. then. The musical versatility that would become the hallmark of orchestras led by Ambrose was still someway off. cultural and social events) when High Society headed for the Riviera. . There was also something of an exodus by the same kind of people in New York City. and some of the musicians who played in them became great names in jazz and dance music. So far as anyone can remember Ambrose’s first band at the Embassy Club was similar to his Palais Royal outfit and some of the personnel were possibly the same. As he later reminisced: ‘I would slip out of the club. It was probably the need to recruit replacement musicians that prompted Ambrose’s intermittent return trips to America in the 1920s. One big difference between nightspots in London and New York would have been obvious to Ambrose – the nominal absence of alcoholic beverages in the latter. but there were other. just so long as Ambrose put in a brief appearance. for by now America was in the grip of Prohibition. His other passion was gambling. although even in New Orleans the music scene was overwhelmingly ‘respectable’. Eventually it got to be a third band. No doubt Ambrose was able to combine pleasure with business by taking advantage of the many delights on offer along the East Coast. Society dance orchestras of the ‘hot’ variety.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 14 Hobnobbing with royalty had a knock-on effect that was certainly beneficial to Ambrose’s career because it meant that top society hostesses simply had to secure his services for their private functions. African-American musicians who were able to make the ‘new music’ acceptable in more refined circles. The possibility that Ambrose matched Piron stylistically seems remote. and substitutes from a local pit orchestra sometimes had to be brought in. particularly as his band was smaller and lacked a brass section. chat to the hostess for a while. Buddy Bolden’s proto-jazz bands might have had an exuberance in keeping with the venues at which they played. then a fourth. fact something of an all-round sportsman. The Embassy Club always shut down for a couple of months at the end of the London Season (a combination of sporting. but nevertheless the first steps towards it. He was by now good at golf and tennis . drive to wherever the second band was playing. at least for a while. had their beginnings in New Orleans. And the fact that it was not always his regular band that undertook such gigs didn’t seem to matter. but rather Armand Piron – an African-American bandleader-violinist of exceptional ability who played at the famous Roseland Ballroom in the early 1920s. Not yet the ferocious addiction that would later take hold. and this soon became a very nice little earner indeed.

. Clubs generally made their money from entry fees. Despite the class difference between a local Palais de Dance and the Embassy Club. Hotels invariably observed the licensing laws much more strictly than clubs. this added to the excitement of a night out on the town and the club owner who clocked-up the greatest number of ‘pinches’ in any one year was usually proud of the fact. and usually closed earlier. although the somewhat quirky British licensing laws sometimes made life difficult for club owners. Most hotels dating from pre-Edwardian times had a large ballroom originally intended for private functions. but the dining part was usually taken much more seriously than in clubs. and even those patrons who did merely faced the embarrassment of having their names and addresses taken-down. and with them the need for provincial dance orchestras that could play in the same style as their West End counterparts. This generally suited their mainly upper-middle class clientele who had to get back to the suburbs after their big night out. Dance floors were invariably small and intricate dance steps. Food was served to comply with the licensing laws but was not usually taken seriously – most of the patrons would have dined earlier and better. In Britain the trend only started in earnest after the war. It was the function of club dancebands to aid and abet this policy. but more up-to-date. For many it wasn’t quite the same! London’s nightlife didn’t have Prohibition to contend with. the actual process of dancing seems to have taken second.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 15 Clubs that prior to 1920 – when Prohibition came into effect – had depended on selling drinks had either closed-down or been taken over by gangsters and reopened as ‘speakeasies’. Dance halls had taken much longer to become popular in Britain than in the United States where by 1910 all cities and major towns had public dance halls. Whereas nightclubs were essentially nightspots. Tea dances and ‘tango teas’ became popular in the ‘twenties. Of course steps were taken to ensure that the Prince of Wales and his entourage never got caught-up in such goings-on. Even the most prestigious establishments were in danger of a police raid if the moral guardians reckoned that illicit consumption of alcohol was taking place. facilities. usually just before midnight. after which two or three hours of dancing took place until closing time in the wee small hours. especially when the floor was crowded. the dance tunes were essentially the same. hotels and restaurants sometimes catered for teatime dancing. But what about those dedicated followers of Irene and Vernon Castle who did take ballroom dancing seriously? Public dance halls and ballrooms catered for their needs. Such laws were not really directed at the upper classes. And like club cuisine. club dancing was not treated as an art form. For some. Many of the top hotels also provided facilities for non-residents to dine and dance. Modern hotels usually had similar. By the 1920s most of these had been transformed into a restaurantcum-dance floor to cater for the ‘outside trade’. at least with people who had time on their hands in the afternoon. but rather the ‘toiling masses’ whose drinking habits were considered to have a direct bearing on their propensity to actually work. And it was the same for those top restaurants that also had facilities for dancing as well as dining. After the opening of the Hammersmith Palais in 1919 they spread slowly but surely. place to just having a good time. Any remaining respectable establishments like hotels had to make-do with soft drinks. turns and glides impossible to do. cover charges and by selling drinks at exorbitant prices. Apart perhaps from tea dancing. The ambience that club managers aimed for was that of a party rather than a ball. Some clubs had a cabaret or floorshow. or even third.

As with the dance crazes. Dear Old Southland. Now all of the above titles represent songs…words and music. In fact they were essentially the same tunes! Some of the big New York publishers had branches in London. based. There and then he cabled to New York: ‘PLEASE RETURN IMMEDIATELY STOP THE EMBASSY NEEDS YOU STOP’. like the first listed. When Buddha Smiles…and…Chicago. Three O’clock In The Morning. This would change. for example: . Only Coal Black Mammy originated in Britain.Ain’t We Got Fun. Wang-Wang Blues. Of course. Way Down Yonder In New Orleans. many of the titles will be familiar…some as constantly reinterpreted jazz/big band tunes…others as typical ‘twenties popular songs. Ma! He’s Making Eyes At Me. dance orchestras in Britain had the same access to stock orchestrations as their American counterparts…whether they played them with the same alacrity is another matter! Most of the three-dozen or so hit tunes listed previously would have remained in the danceband repertoire for a number of years before being either ditched or updated. Verse tunes were almost always ignored by orchestrators. The Sheik Of Araby. Crazy Blues. John Henry’s Blues. but this time entirely for professional reasons. the very notion would have seemed bizarre. Very little of the kind of music that appealed to dancers originated in Britain. Apart perhaps from these two items. Whether Ambrose obeyed this royal command ‘immediately’ is not known but he was certainly back at the Embassy by Christmas. I’m Just Wild About Harry. Limehouse Blues. Lovesick Blues. Little is known about this engagement except that Ambrose’s fee was substantial for the six weeks involved.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 16 In August 1923. However. This is because they conformed to a rigid Tin Pan Alley formula – a thirty-two bar chorus comprising four eight-bar sections in the sequence AABA (‘A’ and ‘B’ being different musical passages). . British dance orchestras used popular tunes of the time. Wabash Blues. Ain’t We Got Fun. others sold their wares through British firms. As in America. On The Alamo. after the Embassy Club had closed for the summer. but cross it they certainly did. He had been engaged to front a band at the Clover Gardens in New York. Second Hand Rose. there was a little delay in these popular tunes crossing the Atlantic. but for the moment we can ignore Gus Kahn’s intriguing lyric for Ain’t We Got Fun and take the music – the tune – as an example of how ‘twenties pop tunes (songs) were structured. Hardly surprising given that much of this music was ragtime and jazz. of course. it can be inferred that he was a success because when the engagement finished in early September he was asked to stay on for a further six weeks. I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate. April Showers. I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate dated from 1919 but only became a hit in Britain when the short-lived ‘shimmy’ dance-step craze crossed the Atlantic in 1921. This was a dinnerdance establishment that ranked midway between the highly exclusive Palais Royal and the just-about respectable Roseland Ballroom. All was well until the Prince of Wales turned-up one night and found Ambrose missing. But at this time dance music did not include vocal content…indeed. Coal Black Mammy. Jazz The Blues. Ambrose agreed and arranged for someone to deputise at the Embassy during his absence. Do It Again. by 1923 more tunes had become popular. Say It With Music. They were hits by virtue of their sheet music sales and (to a lesser extent) record sales. Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye. Essentially. Ambrose once more crossed the Atlantic.

Three recording sessions took place in April and twelve titles were eventually released on six 10 inch78rpm discs. they were ideal for danceband use given the essentially simplistic nature of popular dances like the foxtrot and one step (called the ‘rag’ in the UK). Early in 1923 Lou Sterling of Columbia Records invited Ambrose to make some test recordings after hearing the band play at a private function. For these. two-step and tango might occasionally be included in a dance programme. . And even American bands were not recorded ‘authentically’ because of the recording process then being used. current pop tunes were rarely available so bandleaders generally used stock arrangements of old tunes. particularly at private functions. Some musical instruments couldn’t be reproduced at all.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 17 Although the simplistic musical patterns posed problems for lyricists. Of course these were early days for British jazz-oriented dance bands so far as the record industry was concerned. is that he would have been unable to use his normal arrangements – which might have been more adventurous – or make full use of the band’s dynamic range. Everything depended on the ingenuity of recording engineers in ensuring that the various sounds being made in the studio were actually recorded. though. Melody instruments like the cornet (or trumpet) and alto saxophone recorded quite well. and it didn’t really come to much. this was something of a gamble for Columbia. American bandleaders whose records were issued in the United Kingdom inevitably dominated the market. The range of sounds that could be reproduced and their intensities were strictly limited. with an occasional cymbal hit permitted. Considering that Ambrose was entirely unknown in Britain apart from London High Society. For example. To understand why this was so we need to consider what was involved in producing records at the time. because arrangers did not have to worry about lyrical continuity it was possible to introduce embellishments between melody sections that relieved the monotony of constant repetition. British recording engineers were someway behind their American counterparts when it came to presenting jazz and dance music in the best possible way on record. The important point. Also. to enjoy the shimmy or whatever. the drum was banned from the recording studio and drummers had to perform on the woodblock. By 1920 the acoustic recording method had just about reached its limit so far as quality of output was concerned. either for the company or Ambrose. The only feasible way of incorporating a bass line was via the tuba. modern styles would have formality imposed on them. Later. Despite these limitations bands like Paul Whiteman’s were enjoying phenomenal popularity in the early 1920s so Ambrose’s lack of success can only be partially excused. but for now we can leave the dancers at the Hammersmith Palais or wherever. and rhythm instruments like the piano and banjo had to be played much louder than usual in order to be heard. It was the need for proximity to the horn that made any large ensemble difficult to record effectively. Of course less popular dances like the waltz. so did the clarinet in its middle range – but only when played close to the recording horn. Nor can we take Ambrose’s first recording effort as typical of his band’s true potential. The reality is that the kind of ‘modern’ informal dancing in vogue at the time had virtually eclipsed the older more formal styles.

but even if an integrated development of jazz had been possible in the commercial world the question of what was or was not authentic jazz at the time would still arise. Such clubs were one kind of refuge from the ‘Jim Crow’ restrictions that greeted blacks on arrival in these cities. After 1910 African-Americans migrated north in ever increasing numbers and jazz clubs started-up in cities like New York. Sobbin’ Blues. My Buddy. which raises the question – what. were the differences between dance music and jazz around this time? Any discussion involving ‘jazz’ can only be meaningful if the term itself has a generally accepted definition. The idiocies of segregation tainted and distorted almost every aspect of the music industry. Pasadena. The orchestra that Ambrose used for the Columbia recordings comprised his Embassy Club band with special additions: AMBROSE & HIS EMBASSY CLUB ORCHESTRA Bert Ambrose (violin/+leader) Abe Aaronson (alto sax/clarinet) Rupert Dixon (tenor sax/clarinet) Max Raderman (piano/+arranger) Harry Edelson (banjo) Eddie Grossbart (drums) Julius Nussbaum (tuba)* Vernon Ferris (trumpet)* Joe Smith (trombone)* *Added for recording purposes. Rose Of The Rio Grande. Down Hearted Blues. All of these titles were popular with dance orchestras and jazz bands at the time. All six records remained in Columbia’s catalogue for a couple of years but only clocked-up minimal sales. When All Your Castles Come Tumbling Down. Weary Blues. Essentially these were jazz ‘workshops’ where musicians could hold ‘jam sessions’ and ‘cutting contests’ and generally interact with each other. and Wolverine Blues. there seems little doubt that the most authentic jazz of the time was being played in AfricanAmerican jazz clubs. and an appreciative audience. Chicago and San Francisco. Despite the best efforts of the segregationists it proved impossible to prevent white musicians from attending these clubs – the lure of the music and the desire to learn how to play it were too strong. However. if any. Tin Roof Blues. This would be a tall order at the best of times. Leaving aside the task of defining jazz according to its tangible characteristics – many of which could be faked – the best that can be said about the relationship between authentic jazz and jazz-oriented dance music in the early 1920s is that there certainly was one! . Snake Rag. Without You. Have You Forgotten Me?.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 18 The twelve titles recorded by Ambrose were: When Will I Know? China Boy. and for the time we are considering exceedingly difficult to arrive at.Bugle Call Rag. By The Shalimar. Gulf Coast Blues. Swingin’ Down The Lane. The Pale Venetian Moon. Dearest. for example: . Sweet Lonesome Baby. It would be nice to know how the Ambrose band sounded on those 1923 hits that it didn’t record. without commercial considerations predominating. Dumbell/Jennie.

Glenn Miller. Around 1919 when the Ragtime Craze was starting to lose its impetus. Now readers will have noticed that the lists of pop songs given previously contain many titles with the word ‘blues’ in them. As ever. in 1922 he declared himself King of Jazz! He later claimed: ‘I made a lady out of jazz’ – but was too polite to reveal the kind of woman he thought Jazz was before being rescued. mostly women. captivated the consumers of Tin Pan Alley wares. but mainstream cabaret and vaudeville gave some scope for African-American blues singers to become known to white audiences. Most blues singers eked out a living by working in jazz clubs. Only one essential ingredient needed to be added in order to ensure them a lead position – the vocal. rightly or wrongly. . Some blues items that had been popular for years as instrumentals. thrill-hungry consumers of pop music latched-on to the blues as the springboard for a new craze. the Jazz Hounds. In many cases they were allowed to use backing groups of their own choice. Since his initial record hits in 1920. Whiteman’s musical style can best be classified under the heading ‘jazz-influenced pop music’. Songs. regarded as the first of their kind by the world at large. By this time he was an international star and in the history of 20th Century popular music ranks with the likes of Benny Goodman. when Mamie Smith recorded Crazy Blues. as ever. and this enabled black jazz musicians to gain first-hand experience of recording. Some however were genuine blues numbers and for a while after 1920 a few African-American blues singers made records that became big hits. his own arranging skills now being confined to an occasional ‘jazzing the classics’ effort like The Poet And Peasant Overture (1922). Although written to the usual pop song formula. but these were exceptions. Of course many jazz groups also played for dancing. like St Louis Blues and Memphis Blues were now revived as songs with their authentic blues structure intact. The first vocal blues hit came in 1920. the chance to record. Mamie Smith and her five-piece backing group. another point that helps blur the distinction between dance and jazz bands. His fans regarded it as ‘jazz’ pure-and-simple simply because Paul Whiteman said it was. Because genuine blues singers were available at the time their talents were tapped by the record industry in order to make its blues output appear genuine. Most of these songs emanated from Tin Pan Alley and at best can only be described as blues-influenced songs (here we go again). This gave a few black artists. Tin Pan Alley was ready to oblige although. Up to now the interchangeable terms ‘danceband’ and ‘dance orchestra’ have been used to refer to a musical entity the principal function of which was to provide music for dancing. In fact Whiteman was very good at what he did.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 19 In 1923 Paul Whiteman brought his band to London for a number of engagements. not just tunes. Although authentic blues did not conform to the rigid Tin Pan Alley formula – it could be adapted. gave it the full blues treatment and it caused a sensation when released. However. Whiteman had clocked up many more including Wang-Wang Blues (1921). and Paul Whiteman was certainly a major innovator when it came to introducing the ‘vocal chorus’ to danceband recordings and broadcasts. it was mainly dancebands that moved into the mainstream pop market. He still retained the services of Ferde Grofe as chief arranger. Elvis Presley and the Beatles – all. the output was largely faked. Limehouse Blues (1922) and Three O’clock In The Morning (1923) – all of which sold over onemillion copies within a year of being released. and one of the things he did was to propel dance orchestras into the mainstream of popular music. Indeed.

White jazz didn’t really get off the ground in New York until later in the ‘twenties when a number of key musicians migrated there from Chicago. and later still. moreover. on both sides of the Atlantic. and Ambrose first heard his band play in New York in the late summer of 1923. . In the outside world something else was needed. Nevertheless. This was the International Smart Set. And for ‘smart’ read rich! Scott Fitzgerald’s cynical stories reveal the frenetic world of glamour. but so too did other American bandleaders. Apart from the fact that his own band-leading career had embraced clubs in New York and London. but deprived mainstream labels of some of the best artists around. Of course there was some good jazz and blues being performed at clubs like Leroy’s in Harlem. Of course Tin Pan Alley songwriters tried to ensure that their pop-songs-masquerading-as-blues were suitable for more refined vocal cords but even so the lyrics often made such refinement idiotic. there was a significant element of London High Society that was virtually part of the corresponding coterie in New York – and vice versa. One exception was a white group that started out in 1920 under the title of the Original Memphis Five and included Phil Napoleon on trumpet and Miff Mole on trombone. His name was Isham Jones. By 1923 New York was certainly the popular music capital of the world but not the jazz capital – such a distinction would have to be reserved for Chicago. Mamie Smith and her blues contemporaries also tackled routine pop songs with a panache that meshed with the jazz bands they performed with – and would have suited jazz-oriented dancebands. This was too good to last and Paul Whiteman eventually ‘poached’ Nichols and Mole although they didn’t stay with him for long. that Ambrose provided appropriate theme music. and it was one of the others that provided the inspiration for Ambrose to – eventually – branch-out from the closeted world of society band leading. At first only a male vocalist was used to provide the occasional ‘vocal refrain’ – later he added a vocal quartet. Whether Ambrose was one of the many Londoners eagerly awaiting Paul Whiteman’s first appearance in Britain in 1923 is not known. Ambrose was known to those who wielded power at the High Society end of market – and.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 20 The Blues Craze only lasted for a few years and of course it didn’t take the usual suspects long to raise objections to black artists recording for white consumers. The transfer of blues singers to such labels was fine for posterity. and not any other. trumpeter Red Nichols and saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer joined the band when it recorded as the Cotton Pickers. wealth and social status around which the Jazz Age revolved. And it was for this world. Paul Whiteman had that ‘something else’. Later. Moreover. Because there was a market for genuine blues records as well as authentic jazz (mainly among the more prosperous African-Americans who now lived and worked in the northern cities) record companies began to issue so-called Race Records specifically for that market. but New Orleans-style jazz was largely overshadowed by the synthetic output of Paul Whiteman and his ilk. and the dubious efforts of the ODJB. had their leaders been able to appreciate the fact. only a very few knew of Ambrose’s existence. From 1923 Paul Whiteman broadcast regularly and it was probably in connection with such work as well as concert appearances that he began to feature vocalists. a female vocalist. The crazy segregationist traditions of the time ensured that they couldn’t even if they had wanted to. While most of the population would have been aware of Whiteman’s ‘superstar’ status. groping to find ways of presenting vocal content. both elements intermingled at certain times in Paris and on the Riviera.

Moreover he had an understanding and feeling for jazz and the blues that eluded most commercial bandleaders of the early 1920s. then three from 1922. Swinging Down The Lane and It Had To Be You. On leaving school he followed his father into the mining industry. but one that would require a career change that would not be easy to achieve. which were some of the most innovative danceband arrangements of the time. He later took over as leader of this band and by 1919 was enjoying huge success. . nightclubs and dance halls that earned him $6. but around 1915 went to Chicago and spent a year studying theory. He also taught himself to play the C-melody saxophone.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 21 Isham Jones was a Chicago-based bandleader who occasionally worked in New York at a club of which he was part owner. The other instruments were trombone. piano.000 a week. This was Charleston and Ambrose was on friendly terms with its composer. Ambrose now wanted something along the same lines. What captivated Ambrose though was the distinctive ‘sound’ that Jones had created for his band – it was subtle. banjo. Johnson. he added a second cornet – and later two fiddles. was a leading exponent of the Harlem ‘stride’ school of piano playing. he made hugely successful nationwide tours of theatres. Also in 1922. having written the music for hit songs that included On The Alamo. it was not easy to perform and Johnson was somewhat unique in that he was also a brilliant classical pianist. Nevertheless it was dance music firmly rooted in jazz and – above all – the blues. Since then he had earned over half-a-million dollars in royalties from releases on the Brunswick label. Later he took piano lessons and became a fluent reader of music. He also wrote many of the band’s arrangements. Before returning to London in the autumn of 1923 Ambrose sought-out unpublished material that he could take back to London. Subsequently he wrote stock arrangements for a music publisher and played saxophone in a trio. composition and orchestration at a music school. and wrote arrangements for. But Isham Jones wasn’t only famous as a bandleader – he was also a leading Tin Pan Alley tunesmith. Jones was not only a bandleader and composer of distinction but also an arranger of outstanding ability. This was essentially the first distinct style of piano playing that owed more to jazz than ragtime. the celebrated James P. Apart from playing at Chicago’s College Inn and Marigold Gardens. Isham Jones grew-up in Michigan and was still a child when his father taught him to play the fiddle by ear. (Most classically trained pianists found it reasonably easy to master ragtime but difficult to learn stride piano. Nevertheless. but rather ‘American dance music’. After a few months of army service in 1917 he played piano with. His fame by this time was about level pegging with that of Paul Whiteman and his first big-recorded hit – Wabash Blues – had also been released in 1920. a danceband at the Sherman House Hotel.) Johnson let Ambrose have an advance copy of Charleston (which was about to be published as a pop song) and this was one of the items that Ambrose brought back to London. the seeds of ambition had been sown. Like Art Hickman and Paul Whiteman he included saxophones in his line-up – two at first. and tuba. Johnson. Unlike Paul Whiteman he never claimed to play jazz. apart from his composing skills. A noble goal. Isham Jones fronted the band on tenor sax and occasionally played piano. sophisticated and ahead of its time. drums. One day he sat in on a rehearsal for the Ziegfeld Follies and was intrigued by one of the tunes that accompanied a dance routine.

There was some room for expansion beyond his current seven-piece band – but not much. That same year Jones had written the music (and Gus Kahn the lyrics) for two of the biggest hit songs of the year on both sides of the Atlantic – It Had To Be You and I’ll See You In My Dreams.the ‘quickstep’. Also people started to set up classes in ballroom dancing so that the correct dance steps and motions could be learned.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 22 Had Ambrose been able to exploit this commercially he might well have scored a big hit because this was the very same tune that triggered the Charleston Craze in America. Most of the big-time leaders in both America and Britain included a brass section and a second alto (three saxophones in all with at least one doubling on clarinet). Despite this it still retained its ‘greasy dago’ image and was frowned on by many in ‘polite society’. But what were the correct steps? The answers came in 1924 when the ISTD formed a ballroom branch and initiated a series of conferences to lay-down appropriate rules and regulations.and by the grandiloquently named Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD). Such ambitions could only have been further fuelled when the Isham Jones band visited Britain in 1924. and in Europe a year or so later. one other that did also had a head start in the popularity stakes and would prove exceptionally difficult to catch-up with – namely Jack Hylton. Irene and Vernon Castle. of course. and also a faster version . national and international competitions and championships. However. the ISTD’s were much more formalised. All this made much sense from the point of view of the professional ballroom dancer. there was a lot to be said for the so-called English Style and it came to be accepted in ballroom dancing throughout the world and has remained supreme to this day. Of course one side effect of all this was the division of humanity into those who could and those who could not dance ‘correctly’! If the diminutive dance floor at the Embassy Club prevented patrons from making the turns and glides necessary to satisfy the rigours of the ISTD then it must come as no surprise that the size of the bandstand imposed limits on Ambrose’s lineup. Nevertheless. The ISTD’s main concern was with the standardisation of classical ballet dancing and the regulation of the many dancing academies that taught it.ingeniously made compatible with foxtrot steps for those who couldn’t manage the real thing. Moreover. had based their work on the assumption that it was essentially for people out to have a good time. The ISTD refined it and introduced the ‘slow foxtrot’. Apart from prescribing speeds and steps for the waltz and polka (which remained reasonably popular) the ISTD got to work on the foxtrot. the best that Ambrose could come up with was a foxtrot version that no doubt satisfied the patrons of the Embassy Club. Although the Castles had replaced the ‘trot’ with a ‘walk’ their foxtrot remained a lively and rather jerky dance. But even the foxtrot was about to be emasculated . Of course Ambrose wasn’t a big-time leader – but he was beginning to wish he were. Compared to the Castles’ dance steps and movements. In Britain. Another dance that had to be simplified was the Tango . So far as his main band was concerned it was by now somewhat behind the times. ballroom dancing had gained widespread popularity since the end of the war and public dance halls had been established all over the country. Of course Ambrose employed additional musicians for outside engagements but these were hired on an ad hoc basis and the bands involved would still have been small. But Ambrose wasn’t the only British bandleader who took the Isham Jones band as an example to be emulated. Over time the ISTD standardised all the mainstream ballroom dances and encouraged local. .

One thing that they did have in common was the use of current pop tunes to keep their customers happy. and his recording career took off. Whiteman’s ‘King of Jazz’ title remained intact and what he presented was regarded as jazz by the public-at-large. Some readers may recognise these titles. One aspect of Whiteman’s output that caused controversy at the time was his penchant for jazzing the classics. . After leaving school he played piano with various touring shows until the war. Goodman. even though most of it really wasn’t. Apart from those mentioned previously. but the arrangement was by Ferde Grofe. Fascinating Rhythm. For this event he hired New York’s Aeolian Hall and augmented his basic band with large string and woodwind sections. This had been so since the early years of the 20th Century when the notion of copyright became properly legalised in America. Ambrose’s wasn’t. One 1924 hit . I Want To Be Happy. Indeed Hylton belongs with the likes of Whiteman. There were however some crucial differences – Hylton worked at the less esoteric end of the market. For the next few years Hylton’s career paralleled Ambrose’s. The programme ranged from Livery Stable Blues to a ‘straight’ version of one of Elgar’s Pomp And Circumstance marches. By 1924 the name of Jack Hylton was known beyond the venues at which he played. Taking a classical theme and using it as the basis for a popular song was not new. The composer of this piece – George Gershwin – also played the piano solo. effectively creating a concert orchestra.the most commercially successful bandleaders of the era that concerns us. Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) had been established in 1914 to ensure that fees were paid to its members whenever their work was performed or recorded (broadcasting was added later). After the war he became pianist-arranger with a danceband at the Queen’s Hall Roof in London. the son of a mill worker turned pup keeper grew up in Lancashire. even to the extent of their recording experiences – Hylton’s with His Masters Voice (HMV) early in 1923. It Had To Be You. and possibly two others that became jazz standards: . and as a child learned to play piano and organ. Hylton.Jimtown Blues and Copenhagen. An avuncular Paul Whiteman guided the audience through the programme with a commentary on each item that once more emphasised his role in taming jazz. The variegated nature of Paul Whiteman’s repertoire was apparent when he organised a concert early in 1924 to ‘celebrate American music’. Britain and most of Europe. Of course ‘commercially successful’ doesn’t mean ‘artistically supreme’ but even in this respect Hylton had his moments. Of course anyone doing this had to ensure that the ‘lifted’ tune was not subject to copyright. which became Jack Hylton & His Orchestra. Despite this. but the high point of the concert was the specially commissioned Rhapsody In Blue. and Nola remained popular but such tunes were usually reserved for the relief pianists who were sometimes hired to keep patrons happy during band breaks. Kitten On The Keys. In 1921 he took over this band. and Rose Marie. Indeed he now preferred the term ‘symphonic syncopation’ as a description of what he was about. Of course piano novelties like Canadian Capers. What’ll I Do. California Here I Come. Tea For Two. Ellington. during which he became musical director of an army entertainments unit. the following were the big hits of 1924: . Miller and Basie .KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 23 If there ever was an archetypal British bandleader then Jack Hylton was it.Amapola.Ritual Fire Dance – was a rare example of what we would now call ‘orchestral light music’ making it into the sheet music charts. In the United States an organisation called the American Society of Composers.

But Gershwin was really interested in creating music that was unmistakably American. of course. Apart from a string of Tin Pan Alley hits and successful musical comedies Luckey Roberts fronted one of the best society dance orchestras in Harlem. Rather than get too involved in the Prince’s jazz interests Ambrose arranged for Luckey Roberts to send-over. the best output from the Race Records catalogues. Indeed their flouting of classical musical conventions was even more controversial than their occasional forays into the world of jazz. taking his entire band along to catch the late show at the Lincoln Gardens. And for Paul Whiteman read danceband leaders in general. on a regular basis. was well aware of the differences. Apart from Oliver himself on first cornet. the product of his labours. one of whom was George Gershwin. By the early 1920s Chicago had replaced New Orleans as the jazz capital of America.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 24 The law that supported ASCAP’s authority was not retrospective. Clearly. but didn’t understand its technicalities. Ambrose only had a limited appreciation of authentic jazz although he understood the musical technicalities involved. so we have to explore these developments from both angles and primarily with our attention fixed on the American experience. and undoubtedly had a genuine appreciation of the African-American contribution. . Isham Jones would sometimes shut-upshop early. Ambrose may have lacked true empathy towards jazz but he couldn’t afford to ignore it – dance music. Johnson. the attempt to fuse classical music and jazz always had noble connotations and noble attempters. then. According to Jones. although Ambrose. so music published before it came into force was not covered. Unlike Gershwin. the developments that occurred in both dance music and jazz in the second half of the 1920s were similar. but Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade? It wasn’t only jazz aficionados who cast doubts over Paul Whiteman’s bona fides. The Prince of Wales liked jazz. Louis Armstrong left Oliver’s band in 1924 and joined Fletcher Henderson’s band in New York. The cultural guardians who railed against jazzing the classics were probably not too happy about the process in reverse – classical composers incorporating jazz in their own works. Baby Dodds on drums and Louis Armstrong on second cornet. commenting at the time: ‘If you want to know what jazz music is all about and what its becoming…go down and listen to Joe Oliver’s band’. Over time the Prince built-up a fine collection of jazz and blues records. Ravel and Charles Ives. George Gershwin was also an accomplished stride piano player. a technique he had acquired after long hours spent jamming in Harlem jazz clubs. was far too closely intertwined. They played at the Lincoln Gardens in 1922 and a year later made a series of recordings that epitomised the post-Bolden New Orleans style of jazz. there was much music in the ‘public domain’ that could be used willy-nilly. And at the top of the list of jazz greats newly established in the Windy City none was greater than Joe ‘King’ Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. and they also had a mutual friend in Charles ‘Luckey’ Roberts another African-American composer-pianist of outstanding ability. So far as the public-at-large were concerned dance music was jazz. Nevertheless. he was an admirer of James P. A jazzed-up version of a traditional tune like Marching Through Georgia was one thing. Nevertheless. In fact the Creole Jazz Band represented the penultimate blossoming of the New Orleans style. Like Ambrose. Henderson was yet another classically trained pianist but unusually had a university degree in science and mathematics. the band included Johnny Dodds on clarinet. Of course these were invariably avant-garde composers like Stravinsky.

In some respects these techniques reflected the influence of classical music on scoring for big bands. At last Challis was able to put his theories into practice and when the new band secured an engagement at the Graystone Ballroom in Detroit it was an instant success. With Johnny Dodds on clarinet. In 1924 Goldkette decided to form a band and hired Challis to give advice on the line-up and prepare arrangements. and rhythm sections – with strings as an optional extra. Goldkette had distinct brass. This meant that brass and reeds effectively became distinct ‘sections’ of the band. one trombone. play as a clarinet choir. One white arranger who equalled Don Redman in innovative skill was Bill Challis. He was a saxophonist who played with brass bands in Pennsylvania before 1920 and taught himself music theory and orchestration. Louis Armstrong recorded five titles with Bessie Smith and after leaving Henderson’s band in the autumn of 1925 he returned to Chicago and formed his own band. sax. Because Goldkette recorded and sometimes performed in New York where Henderson also played. the Hot Five. Goldkette remained based in Detroit. Parallel developments occurred that make it difficult to say who did what first.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 25 Segregation ensured that Fletcher could not make use of his college education in any meaningful way so he ‘resorted’ to piano playing. Henderson’s band continued to work in New York although Louis Armstrong left it in 1925. Henderson and Redman were two of the founding fathers of what would come to be called ‘big band music’. . when required. three saxophones (one doubling on clarinet). due to the innovative arranging method adopted by Henderson and his associate arranger Don Redman. Another innovation was the use of the ‘riff’ – a melodic phrase constantly repeated. which he led on cornet (occasionally trumpet). both Redman and Challis influenced one another. either behind an improvised solo or as a main theme. piano. Of course these innovations didn’t all appear overnight nor did jazz bands and dance orchestras immediately accept them. Louis played third trumpet. banjo and tuba. and so too did the more complex harmonies involved vis-à-vis New Orleans-style jazz. Kid Ory on trombone. and both later acknowledged this. with drums (Baby Dodds) and tuba added – must rank as the peak of New Orleans style jazz. Consequently he was given full scope to use his sensational improvisational skills. but was essentially the featured soloist. A notable feature was that the three sax players had to double on clarinet and. An interest in jazz led to arranging for local dancebands and eventually he moved to Chicago. eventually taking-over the Graystone Ballroom and starting a corporation that came to control twenty bands. One thing’s for sure – both black and white bands and musicians were involved in these developments. Johnny St Cyr on banjo and Lil Armstrong (Louis’ formidable wife) on piano. There he worked with a pianist called Jean Goldkette. After a short spell as a session pianist and stock arranger he formed a small band for an engagement at the Club Alabam and later an eleven-piece orchestra for the famous Roseland Ballroom. And in a way that had not been heard before. This band had three trumpets. drums. During his stay in New York. Redman also used the block-chord method – alternating a phrase between brass and reeds engendering a ‘call and response’ effect. played over phrases provided by the band that sound improvised but are actually notated. Essential ingredients of this music included authentic improvised solos. the Hot Seven. the Hot Five – and a variant.

not the one who became King George).) Despite all the raised eyebrows the craze persisted. got wind of these and demanded a slice of the action. is the one dance that now symbolises the Roaring Twenties and is too well known to require description here. The innovations of Louis Armstrong at this time were numerous. I’m Sitting On Top Of The World. There is no record of what he did during the summers of 1924 and 1925 during the Embassy Club’s long breaks. so there would have been some work available for the society bands. Dinah. Here are the most recognisable: . Perhaps the most important was his move away from ‘paraphrasing’ – jazzing the basic melody – and towards the spontaneous creation of new melodies over the tune’s changing harmonies. If You Knew Susie. Show Me The Way To Go Home. which crossed the Atlantic around 1924. Eventually these Royal ‘jam sessions’ became regular (but strictly private) occurrences. According to the Daily Mail it was ‘…reminiscent of Negro orgies’. Not because we have actual details. Headin’ For Louisville. Just when the ISTD had succeeded in taming the foxtrot and tango. but because all bandleaders were obliged to play the latest hit tunes in order to keep their customers happy. We can be reasonably certain about the tunes that Ambrose would have added to his repertoire in 1925. Daven Port Blues. Of course not all the Smart Set departed for foreign parts or even deserted London. From this time on the collective improvisation of the New Orleans jazz style was being transcended by something new. Sleepy Time Gal. Most of Ambrose’s 1923 contingent was still with the band. although sax player Rupert Dixon left some time in 1924 (the name of his replacement isn’t known). Yes Sir That’s My Baby. Always. Because Ambrose also had to satisfy the jazz inclinations of some of his patrons the following titles might well have been included: . and eminent doctors wrote to The Times warning of the dangers it posed to public health. . including a foreign contingent. and indirectly made the distinction between authentic jazz and jazz-influenced music more clearly definable. Britain – and much of Europe – was still in the grip of the Charleston Craze. it was featured in variety theatres and young people blocked traffic by dancing it in the street. At the time it was accepted without too much trouble in the United States but in Britain it caused outrage. Charleston contests were held in dance halls. the really big hit in Britain in 1925 was none of these but rather a leftover from 1923 – Charleston.Boneyard Shuffle. To have Edward bashing the drums and George thumping the piano during regular Embassy Club hours was too much for Ambrose so he arranged some out-of-hours practice sessions. another manifestation arrived on the scene to intrigue the young and trouble the feint hearted.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 26 But it was Louis Armstrong as soloist that had the greatest impact on the development of jazz and big band music. Having neglected Ambrose’s career for a year or so we must return to the Embassy Club to find out what he was getting up to.Alabamy Bound. The scandal was complete when the Prince of Wales skilfully danced it in public while on holiday in Biarritz… the King of Jazz might well have been amused but the King of Britain certainly wasn’t! In 1925 Edward was still practicing to be a jazz musician – joined now on piano by his younger brother George (the one who became Duke of Kent. Don’t Bring Lulu. Sweet Georgia Brown. Not much as it so happens or at least nothing out of the ordinary. However. Riverboat Shuffle. The Charleston. of course. Milenberg Joys. Other royals. Who. (In fact injuries were sustained due to over-exuberant kicking.

000. and such machines remained available almost until the end of the 78rpm record in the late 1950s. The American company Western Electric had perfected – and patented – the new recording method after long years of experimental work. and the control that the engineer had over the amplification and balancing of these ‘sounds’ that was revolutionary. The situation was similar in Britain. It also took a bit longer for British record companies to make use of the new recording technique.sales declined to a low-point in 1925. . The 10” disc (about 3 minutes playing time) and 12” disc (about 4 minutes) were by now the standard products. To say that this was the same thing as friendship would be going too far. but within the social limits then in force it came close to it. Indeed. although total sales were relatively smaller of course. Most leaders who normally used drums soon took advantage of the first point. So too did the sales of electrical phonographs (called gramophones in the UK). However the late 1920s did see the end of cylinder (as opposed to disc) records.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 27 No doubt the camaraderie generated by such goings-on enhanced the growing relationship between Ambrose and his royal clients. After being processed by recording engineers these pulses were reconverted into vibrations at the tool that cut a spiral groove in the wax master disc. but revived when electrically recorded titles subsequently became available. meant that restrictions on both band size and instruments used could be lifted. the performance of the system exceeded the acoustic method by two-and-a-half octaves and this enabled the wider ranges of bass and treble to be captured. Nevertheless once it became widely known that the new process was being used record sales did accelerate on both sides of the Atlantic. its not only musical styles that have changed over the years! One important development that affected bands on both sides of the Atlantic was the introduction of electrical recording methods in 1925. Despite these limitations record sales in the United States in the 1920s were huge (worth over $100. In fact 1921 was a peak year . Also. and the banjo and tuba replaced by the more flexible guitar and string bass. Electrical recording though was not a complete panacea for reproducing sound. Essentially it enabled sounds in the recording studio to be picked-up by microphones that converted mechanical vibrations into amplified electrical pulses. Importantly for jazz bands the full drum kit could now be included. but only some. then. and was always reluctant to talk about such things. in both countries acoustic recording lingered for some years. the recently introduced counterparts of electrical recording. After several intermediate processes metal stamps were produced which were used to turn-out records. Of course electrically recorded sides could still be played on acoustic record players. Some of the problems associated with the acoustic system were referred to previously.000 in 1921). and it would take some time before recording artists and engineers found the best ways of doing things. much to the chagrin of a small minority of record buyers. Paul Whiteman’s 1921 million-seller represented 2% of the Victor Record Company’s total sales for that year. particularly where smaller recording companies were concerned. particularly for low-cost labels. Clearly. The electrical method. Ambrose though would never admit to it being so. but more caution was exercised over the second for reasons that will be explained later. It was the ability to capture sounds at a multiplicity of points by using more than one microphone.

It was probably to promote sales of their recorded output that brought some of the betterknown American bands to Britain. Here’s the line-up in September 1926: AMBROSE & HIS EMBASSY CLUB ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Reeds: Rhythm: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Jules Berkin (trumpet) Frank Biffo (trumpet) Ephraim Hannaford (trombone) Barney Sorkin (alto/clarinet) Joe Crossman (tenor/clarinet/alto/baritone) Max Raderman (piano/+arranger) Harry Edelson (banjo) Eddie Grossbart (drums) Julius Nussbaum (tuba) . Early in 1926 Ambrose added American trumpet player Jules Berkin to his line-up. Around the same time the unknown tenor player who had earlier replaced Rupert Dixon left and was in turn replaced by Joe Crossman. All led competent hotel bands that had become known to a wider audience through broadcasts – which in turn led to recording contracts and respectable record sales. the first time a regular front-line brass player had been included in the Embassy music. Nevertheless he had the only allBritish band that stood any chance of challenging American bands in their own back yard. Paul Whiteman. Ambrose’s band now had a fully-fledged brass section. Few British bands could approach. the quality of output of these American bands.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 28 Dancebands had become major contributors to overall record sales in the United States by the mid-1920s. Moreover Hylton relied almost exclusively on British musicians. Vincent Lopez and Ben Bernie brought their bands over for brief engagements in 1926. Percival Mackey. Later the same year Ambrose brought over a trombonist from America and then hired a second trumpet player. Ted Lewis. One that did was Jack Hylton’s and in 1926 it was the first danceband to be included in a Royal Variety Performance. These were among the very few available that could match American musicians when it came to jazz oriented. Jack Payne and Reginald Batten. let alone rival. a young British reed player of outstanding ability. and his rehearsal procedures at the time were notoriously onerous. Other popular British bands of the mid-1920s included Debroy Somers. Paul Specht.American companies could afford to be more adventurous. In the United Kingdom the market for records remained stubbornly upper and middle class and this limited the scope for recording the hotter forms of dance music . Many other leaders destined to become household names spent the 1920s as provincial bandleaders each awaiting the chance of a top London engagement. Moreover the British record market was open to duty-free imports so records by well-known American bands were readily available at little extra cost. Of course Jack Hylton had little alternative but to copy as closely as he could the orchestrations used by American bands in order to achieve the effects he desired. and the fame and fortune that usually followed.

Astaire later said that the Embassy band was the best he had ever heard outside America. Prior to this Ambrose had performed with only minimal rhythm support. He was a Londoner and only twenty when he joined the Embassy band. Six of Ambrose’s nine sidemen were Americans. and contributed several arrangements. Another was that the ‘real’ lead instrumentalist was now the first trumpet player rather than Ambrose on violin. British-born Munro – who would continue to supply arrangements for Ambrose’s band for the next ten years – was a classically trained pianist who had studied theory and orchestration at the Guildhall School of Music. Livingston’s arrangements were re-workings of jazz classics like Rose Room. Copenhagen. Irving Berlin. Bugle Call Rag. proficient on alto.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 29 Given the size of the Embassy’s bandstand it must have been a tight squeeze accommodating ten players. . but it was Joe Crossman who would have the most significance in the long run. The other non-American addition to Ambrose’s expanded Embassy Club band was second trumpet player Frank Biffo. arranged ‘hot’ music with room for jazz improvisation. Joe Crossman later maintained that Ambrose’s reconstituted Embassy Club band came close being a jazz band. became a recognisable feature of the famous Ambrose Sound. Ambrose now had a line-up that matched many American medium-sized bands. turning to lighter forms of music after war service. Apart from being an innovative improviser he had a good grasp of music theory and possessed orchestrating and composing skills. admired by Jimmy Dorsey. However. a West End jazz club. at least by the standards prevailing in Britain at the time. Whether the club’s patrons appreciated the fact is another matter! Visiting American musical celebrities who were favourably impressed included George Gershwin. he was certainly one of the first to raise its status from that of a mere novelty instrument with an undefined role. by Ronnie Munro. baritone and clarinet as well as tenor. who came from Bert Ralton’s Savoy Havana Band and about whom little is known. At the Embassy he also had ample opportunity to double on clarinet and baritone sax. on a part-time basis. Crossman’s technique. Also of interest is the fact that Ambrose commissioned a number of arrangements from Fud Livingston an American musician with excellent jazz credentials. Milenberg Joys and Dippermouth Blues. particularly when later applied to vocal choruses. Something else that Joe Crossman did was to notate some of his improvised solo passages and these give us some idea of his jazz prowess in the Ambrose band even though it wasn’t recorded. Benny Goodman and others. rather than the ‘head’ arrangements previously used. Ambrose was certainly one of Joe Crossman’s greatest admirers but the complement was not returned – and that’s putting it mildly! At first though Joe was content to indulge the boss and became good at providing ‘hot’ obbligatos in support of Ambrose’s ‘straight’ fiddle solos. While it would be an exaggeration to say that Joe Crossman was as influential in Britain in relation to tenor sax playing as Coleman Hawkins in America. After completing his musical studies in the early 1920’s he worked in various small-time bands then spent a couple of years touring abroad. and Fred Astaire. Ambrose spotted Joe Crossman playing at Rectors. Max Raderman continued to oversee arranging duties assisted. He was an all-round reed player. In time he would become one of the best jazz alto players in Europe. One consequence of this was the need for more sophisticated arrangements.

as instrumentals. but the time had come to move-on. One other hit of the time deserves closer attention –Black Bottom. then. Here. Given his own life-style requirements substantial but not yet outrageously lavish . It was a similar situation with regard to stage and concert appearances: show promoters wouldn’t take the risk of presenting an unknown band in return for the kind of fee that Ambrose was likely to expect. some of which were still popular in the mid1920s. Later Ambrose would adopt this song as his signature tune. And a scandal it certainly caused after crossing the Atlantic! Apart from its Caribbean-style hip movements the Black Bottom involved a lively mixture of sideturns. but “everyone” amounted to only a few hundred people. Blue Room. The Embassy management would not contemplate direct broadcasts from the club and Ambrose was unlikely to obtain studio broadcasts at peak listening hours when the band was preoccupied at the club even if the BBC had been prepared to grant such a privilege to a largely unknown band. But this would undoubtedly have required a more modest approach to the kind of music he wanted to present. as songs. Birth Of The Blues.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 30 Of course not all of the music that the band played would have been jazz oriented. all of course accompanied by wild jazz rhythms. To accept the modest and reasonably lucrative role of a society bandleader was certainly an option. jazz classics. Bye Bye Blackbird. I Know That You Know. As with the Charleston. Clapa Yo’ Hands. Ambrose’s dilemma was the need to offset the cost of the larger band. When Day Is Done. stamps.‘We had been at the Embassy Club almost continuously for six years…six enjoyable years. They wanted us at the Astoria [a large West End ballroom that opened in 1926] but could only offer half what we were getting at the Embassy…with what I had to pay my American boys…impossible!’ Clearly. are some of the more popular hits of 1926: . Ambrose was particularly fond of When Day Is Done and used it as one of the ‘party pieces’ featuring his own fiddle playing – presumably by now supported by Joe Crossman’s ‘hot’ tenor work. Despite the excellence of Ambrose’s band there was little chance of it being heard by the public at large. The quality of musicians that he insisted on employing didn’t come cheap and he was probably subsidising the additional intake out of his income from other sources – mainly the gigs for private functions.Are You Lonesome Tonight. Like Charleston it came to represent the Roaring Twenties and was also a dance that originated in a Broadway show – in this case ‘GEORGE WHITES SCANDALS OF 1926’. As usual the current popular hits would have provided much of the stable fare although it was still only the tunes rather than the songs that mattered – vocalists were still not being routinely featured. skating-glides. skips and leaps. This is how he later put it: . ‘Deed I Do. the patrons of the Embassy Club couldn’t possibly have attempted to dance the real thing without carnage resulting – the dance floor was much too small. We were undoubtedly missing the chance to reach a wider audience but the problem was where to go next.Ambrose had some cause for concern. Ambrose had reached a crossroads in his career. Harmony Blues. Mountain Greenery. became ‘standards’ and some. And there was something in Ambrose’s character that had little to do with modesty! . but in 1926 he still didn’t need one. Most of these. When The Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along. Black Bottom. The Riff Song. Everyone who heard the band said how good it was. then. For them a slow version would have been provided but one nevertheless incorporating the backside wiggles that distinguished this dance from its stable mates among the animal dances.

Devonshire House.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 31 There was. another option – start-up again in America. were now in the grip of mobsters. Regent Street. and his own London seat – Devonshire House – was among the estates being redeveloped after 1920. rows and squares bounded by Oxford Street. II 1927 – 1930 Mayfair – like Bloomsbury. Piccadilly. So far as history is concerned the name derives from the annual fair that took place each May on common land now home to the present Hyde Park Corner. now giving their names to the buildings that replaced them. market gardens and open country incredible as this now seems. of course.1920s the area had been almost completely redeveloped. And what did exist. signalled the end of large aristocratic edifices so close to the centre of town – Royal residencies of course being an exception. As Ambrose pondered his dilemma the 1926 Festive Season approached – always a busy time for society bandleaders. The ground landlord for some of the southwestern part of Mayfair was the Duke of Devonshire. Dorchester House…and others. Whitechapel and Soho – is one of those distinct parts of London that conjures-up in the mind something more than just a geographical area. By the mid . of course. part real and part fantasy. at least from the late eighteenth century. As the leases ran-out on these Mayfair estates they were unceremoniously demolished and the land re-leased to property developers. and mansions standing in their own grounds. included a number of large town houses. and Park Lane. but Ambrose was well aware of the pitfalls. . These great houses and estates were the London residencies of wealthy aristocrats and flourished when the area was just inside the western boundary of London proper and surrounded by dairy farms. And what the mind’s-eye ‘sees’ is. Grosvenor House. the surrounding areas swallowed-up by a teeming metropolis. and a few mews cottages are the only reminders that something other than street after street of large modernistic apartment and office blocks once existed ‘just off Park Lane’. Prohibition was still in force and most places of entertainment. Moreover the competition there was keener and the opportunities in Britain more clearly defined. So far as geography is concerned reality comprises myriad streets. This must have seemed an attractive proposition from a financial point of view. spiralling land prices in the heart of London and Lloyd-George’s death duties. particularly in the big cities. A combination of higher labour costs. Brook House. It must also be appreciated that Ambrose was running a highly profitable society band agency that had the pick of elite functions in London and occasionally elsewhere. By the early years of the twentieth century Mayfair had become an enclave of the extremely wealthy. This. One remnant of this fair is the street emporium known as Shepherds Market. And it was while the Embassy band was playing at a high-class private function around Christmas that one of those strange quirks of fate occurred that would propel Ambrose to a leading position in the British danceband firmament and eventually gain him international success. Around this time there was one particular construction site that would have impressed onlookers for no other reason than its sheer size.

so catering for ‘outside trade’. Thus it was that resident dance orchestras started to appear in hotels. In effect the company was sub-contracting some of its musical requirements. Moreover Towle was also interested in arranging broadcasts from the hotel for publicity purposes. or in place of.000 now]. Each Corner House comprised a great chamber decorated in cream and gold after the fashion of a palace ballroom. the more traditional palm court orchestras. either in addition to. a post he held until 1920. Now Ambrose was not under a formal contract at the Embassy Club. This in itself was not new – high-class restaurants like Gatti’s at Charing Cross had been doing this since the early 1900s. These large establishments catered for what would then have been regarded as the ‘lower middle class’ and ‘respectable working class’.000 [about £400.£10. . Towle also pioneered the conversion of hotel ballrooms into restaurants with dance floors that could be used on a regular basis. including the May Fair. At the May Fair the facilities for dancing and dining would be about three times larger than at the Embassy. He was appointed managing director of Gordon Hotels in 1921. Lyons & Co.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 32 Placards announced that it was to be a five-star hotel under the control of Gordon Hotels Ltd. In the case of the May Fair Hotel he envisaged a band that would satisfy the tastes of the large number of American tourists that it was considered essential to attract if the hotel was to be a success. This lucrative and high profile contract was exactly the chance that Ambrose had been waiting for. After graduating from Cambridge University around the turn of the century he joined the management of J. After the war the Corner Houses occasionally hired visiting American jazz and dancebands as special attractions. but the idea was opened-up to a much larger clientele through the pioneering Lyons’ Corner Houses after 1909. The managing director of Gordon Hotels was Sir Francis Towle. In theory he could give two weeks notice at the appropriate time and transfer what was undoubtedly his band to a new venue. and the band area able to comfortably accommodate a twelve-piece orchestra. Waitresses called ‘Nippies’ glided between the tables and at certain times a string orchestra of the Viennese type would serenade patrons. In addition to fronting the main band at the May Fair Ambrose would also be required to supply and supervise the music in other establishments that came within the Gordon Hotels ambit. Towards the end of 1926 construction was nearing completion and fitting-out the interior well under way. not Jazz!) no less. reasonably priced fare that Londoners associated with ‘Joe’ Lyons. The reputation of a hotel’s dance orchestra became as important as the quality of its other services and was something that Towle paid great attention to. During the First World War he saw active service until being appointed Controller of Canteens at the War Office in 1916. A press release announced that the new hotel would be called the ‘May Fair’ and would be opened towards the end of March 1927 by the King (of Britain. But the clincher was the annual salary . Quite early on in his career Towle had become convinced that music was an important ingredient in attracting customers to large eateries. Towards the end of 1926 Towle offered Ambrose the opportunity to supply bands for Gordon Hotels. and gained experience in organising large scale catering and restaurant and hotel management. The ambience may have been luxurious but the food on offer was the wholesome. not insignificant by the standards of the time. with huge chandeliers of prism glass hanging from a high ceiling. It was for this work that he was knighted.

Those contributing to this style at the time were Benny Goodman.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 33 Out of courtesy Ambrose forewarned the Embassy’s manager and part owner Luigi of his intention to accept Towle’s offer. As mentioned earlier Ambrose had already used arrangements by Fud Livingston. Such jazz bands were unbeatable and undoubtedly provided the main inspiration for a rising generation of both black and white jazz and danceband musicians. Apart from those already mentioned. helped make the Chicago music scene in the mid-1920s the hottest in the United States and therefore the world. subsequently Ben Pollack’s principal arranger. Pollack’s band contained several former members of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. As Ambrose reckoned it couldn’t be done without a substantial American input in terms of personnel. However. So what exactly were the latest trends? What actually made a jazz musician a star player? Ambrose had some idea at the time…we now have the benefit of hindsight. Eddie Condon. Danny Polo. Coon-Sanders. and others were approaching the ultimate development of New Orleans-style jazz.he had to set-about organising a new band for the May Fair from scratch. One reason for this was the increasing control of popular entertainment in Chicago by the mobs and the parallel determination of crusading authorities to oppose them. Essentially this was a fairly pure form of jazz that eschewed commercialism. These then. and so far as band-building goes what Ambrose achieved at this time was a classic example of effective big band management. So let’s leave Ambrose en route to New York and attempt to get an overview of the American jazz and dance band scene circa 1927. the bands of Doc Cook. Initially pianist/arranger Max Raderman functioned as stand-in leader. but among its practitioners only a very few were able to resist the temptation of earning a decent living by making commercial compromises. . then his brother Lou came over from America to front the band. Mezz Mezzrow. Gene Krupa and others. In Chicago at this time King Oliver. he made the five-day boat trip to New York. known as the Austin High Gang. In the end Ambrose left the band and its library of arrangements at the Embassy Club while he took-up duties with Gordon Hotels. Although there were some innovative things taking place on the West Coast and elsewhere. Another reason was the sheer scale of the music business in the Big Apple and the opportunities for earning big money that this represented. the two places that really mattered were New York and Chicago. a band that in the early 1920s was as influential as the ODJB. Erskin Tate and Ben Pollack were also significant. and others. As well as continuing his work supplying bands for society functions – by now a lucrative business . Ambrose’s May Fair contract with Gordon Hotels was signed early in 1927 but would only come fully into effect when the hotel opened in March. Certain white jazz musicians developed what came to be known as Chicago-style jazz. Ambrose continued to indirectly control the Embassy band for a while. What then happened between Ambrose and Luigi is not known but it soon became clear that the parting of the ways would be far from straightforward. Jelly Roll Morton. after 1926 a drift of bands and individual musicians to New York started to gather pace. His mission was to review the very latest trends in jazz-oriented dance music and hire a nucleus of star quality jazz musicians. but last fronted it on December 31st 1926. Louis Armstrong and pianist Earl Hines were essentially transcending New Orleans jazz as sidemen in Carroll Dickerson’s Orchestra and in recording sessions with Armstrong’s own groups the Hot Five and Hot Seven.

Indeed. which were always significant despite intermittent ‘retirements’. All these musicians significantly influenced the development of jazz-oriented dance music. clarinettist Jimmy Dorsey. in 1926 a widely reported Battle of the Bands had taken place at the Roseland Ballroom between the Henderson and Goldkette outfits. Adrian Rollini. although the band as such had yet to achieve the widespread fame that would come with a later residency at the Cotton Club. and Jimmy Dorsey. extensive exposure on radio and an international reputation Paul Whiteman was a superstar with a lot of money and influence in the world of show business. Jones wrote many of the arrangements used by his own band and still fronted it on tenor sax. Overall. With record sales running into millions a year. The spin-off from such activity came from the need for these musicians to earn a living in the more commercially minded world (for blacks) inside and (for whites) outside Harlem. So too did key members of the Harlem-based Duke Ellington band. Just as a group of white musicians in Chicago developed a variant of New Orleans-style jazz. which at various times included Red Nichols. Apart from Nichols. he was doing very nicely indeed with a large danceband occasionally augmented to around forty players for special presentations of Symphonic Syncopation. along with their Chicago counterparts. The most vibrant jazz developments in mid-1920s New York took place in Harlem clubs largely outside the experience of the general public. At the Roseland Ballroom Fletcher Henderson’s band continued to attract critical acclaim and was matched in esteem by the Jean Goldkette band (Detroit-based but frequently working in New York). Goldkette/Challis produced a distinctive ‘sound’ that later came to be associated with Hollywood musicals. Like Fletcher Henderson. banjoist Eddie Lange and drummer Vic Berton. too far in some respects particularly in the case of Jean Goldkette who by 1927 was running into trouble with radio and record company executives over the amount of unadulterated jazz on offer. although it would take many years for his type of swinging jazz to be universally appreciated by the public at large. The result was at best a draw! If Fletcher Henderson’s chief contribution to dance music came mainly through the innovative arranging skills of himself and his associate Don Redman. so too did a similar group in New York. Another New York jazz band that offered similar fare was the California Ramblers. Of the commercial dance bands based in New York none surpassed the quality of the one led by Isham Jones. then key members of Goldkette’s band influenced how arranged music and improvised solo passages were played. The fact that he was a prolific and successful Tin Pan Alley tunesmith has tended to obscure his contributions to the big band genre. And the self-proclaimed King of Jazz? Well. the band included trombonist Miff Mole. Of the several bands that developed this so-called New York-style cornettist Red Nichols led one of the best known. would come to dominate jazz and swing music in the 1930s and later. with occasional contributions to the rhythm section on piano. Fletcher Henderson didn’t have quite the same problem. In both cases the bands were ahead of their time.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 34 Almost all the big names in jazz and dance music did recording and radio session work in addition to their regular work in established bands. This was the essential ‘campus’ for an up-and-coming generation of jazz musicians that. . The day of the star ‘session musician’ had arrived.

And because such developments affected what Ambrose was doing in America in the winter of 1927 we must take a closer look at them. and rhythm sections nominally led by his own fiddle playing. and orchestration methods. . nominally improvised but in reality carefully crafted beforehand. Ambrose’s brass section was to comprise two trumpets and one trombone. Both. To some extent such aggregations paved the way for the popular rhythmic light music of the 1930s and later. Fletcher Henderson and a few others had by this time added a third trumpet and second trombone. In reality the first trumpet player would assume the leading role most of the time. influenced horn playing in general. In 1926 Louis Armstrong changed-over permanently to trumpet and proceeded to enhance the performance standards for jazz trumpeters just as he had done for cornet players. However he had no intention of wielding a baton at this stage in his career and at least so far as live performances were concerned he remained a working musician. like Armstrong. Noted mainly for his brilliant open playing. In the late 1920s they were really a distraction from more important developments taking place in the instrumental configuration of bands. including King Oliver and Bix Beiderbecke. However in the mid-1920s trumpet makers brought out models that went a long way to matching such characteristics. again also for trumpet players. The use of mutes was becoming important though and here the inspiration came from Duke Ellington’s trombone player Sam Nanton. Bix Beiderbecke’s cornet technique. Even in pure jazz bands the trend to replace the cornet was gathering place. In some ways Beiderbecke paved the way for the ‘cool’ style of jazz that came later. ease of rapid playing and strength in the middle range. Ambrose’s task as leader would mainly be limited to selecting the programme and ‘counting-in’ the band at the start of a number. augmented for special concerts. Until the mid-1920s the cornet had certain perceived advantages – a mellower tone. Like Whiteman he had a highclass danceband. Another influential cornet player who also switched to trumpet in the mid-1920s was Red Nichols. It was not yet usual to have a separate trombone section. open and muted. was unorthodox but highly influential. Oliver’s use of mutes was particularly important and Duke Ellington’s lead trumpet player Bubber Miley developed many innovative mute techniques that had previously been pioneered by Oliver for the cornet. Mention should also be made of Isham Jones’ trumpet player Louis Panico who developed the ‘talking trumpet’ effect after studying Joe Oliver’s mute work. and this encouraged the transition. it was the leading melody instrument in jazz-oriented dance bands. a fairly standard grouping. at least so far as open playing was concerned. sax. The principal brass instrument in dancebands after the mid-1920s was the trumpet – indeed. tone magnificent and musical attack perfect. Nichols greatly influenced dance band trumpeters required to provide ‘hot’ solos. although Paul Whiteman.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 35 Only one other American bandleader at this time attempted to emulate Paul Whiteman’s symphonic ambitions – Vincent Lopez. His intonation was faultless. One thing we can be fairly certain of is that Ambrose had already made up his mind on the new band’s configuration – distinct brass. Some cornet players held out. Little advance had been made in trombone technique since Miff Mole transcended the New Orleans ‘tailgate’ style of playing and in 1927 he still set the standard for jazz-oriented dance band trombonists.

for his quality of tone and phrasing. In the saxophone ensemble it had a supporting role. As with his alto playing. and an ‘intense’ style associated with Pee Wee Russell. The single clarinet. was not widely used in danceband sax sections at this time. giving the instrument a comic role. If Ambrose’s proposed brass section was fairly standard for the time. its full potential had yet to be realised. Jimmie Noone. made much less use of vibrato. Fud Livingston was also widely admired for his tenor solos around this time. generally playing a line beneath the lead alto. There were however major differences between the two players – Bix. . false fingering and triple tonguing. played ‘straight’ often took the place of the trumpet as the main melody lead for the entire band. particularly as a solo instrument. smearing and assorted ‘farmyard noises’. remained popular as a means of providing the usual florid obbligatos around lead melodies and an occasional improvised arpeggio. rarely altered his tone. much admired. and Benny Goodman. As with the tenor. Larry Shields and Jimmy Dorsey. In time the tenor would become a major solo voice in jazz. Johnny Dodds. Dorsey developed the use of multiphonics. Bix was an innate melodist and brilliant improviser. Generally speaking two styles of clarinet playing dominated jazz in the mid-1920s . Other appendages to the sax section depended on skills that sax players might have over and above normal requirements. The tenor sax did eclipse its rivals in those dance bands that eschewed the influence of jazz – the ‘sweet’ bands. The two main innovators on alto were Jimmy Dorsey and Frankie Trumbauer (both at this time with the Goldkette band. Adrian Rollini played solos on the bass saxophone that mostly came within the range of the baritone. By this time the alto’s lead and solo roles had become reasonably well established. but that time was a long way off in 1927. by the mid-1920s the alto saxophone had become the principal reed instrument in jazz-oriented dance orchestras. but also recording with ad-hoc groups). However. Although the clarinet remained the most important reed instrument in jazz until well into the 1930s. Indeed.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 36 Like Louis Armstrong. a special kind of tenor. One of the finest ‘straight’ tenor players was Isham Jones. The role of the tenor saxophone was not fully developed at this time. two altos and a tenor. although it would be some years before his famous tenor style became fully developed. fine tone and sophisticated phrasing that impressed other players. Most danceband leaders preferred the former – Ambrose was an exception. elegant phrasing and smooth articulation were highly influential. unlike Louis. and improvised much closer to the melody line. however. although Don Redman occasionally played one in Fletcher Henderson’s band. The baritone sax. However. The use of a clarinet ensemble had been pioneered by Fletcher Henderson in 1924 and was still considered rather ‘advanced’. one player who significantly improved tenor technique was already emerging as an innovator in the mid 1920s – Coleman Hawkins with Fletcher Henderson’s band. Unfortunately there was a tendency for arrangers to overuse effects like slap tonguing. all his sax players would be required to double on clarinet and at least one to provide baritone solos. so too was his intended reed section – basically. unlike the alto and tenor. Equally influential at this time was Frankie Trumbaur on C-melody sax. while Trumbauer’s clear tone. it was the adoption of a smooth articulation. in such bands the tenor.a ‘smooth’ style as exemplified by Barney Bigard. even by jazzmen. but apart from these two examples there were no discernable influences on those who used it for solo work.

Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith and Luckey Roberts were still its most renowned practitioners. For those bands pursuing the kind of jazz related to or derived from the New Orleans style Jelly Roll Morton continued to set the standard both for solo and ensemble playing. Unlike pianists. Of these the most versatile was the piano. Of these. It is also worth noting that Bix Beiderbecke. particularly where the tuba had been superseded by the double bass. but in the late 1920s the standard rhythm section comprised piano. Another difference creeping in was more extensive use of the bass drum. although an additional percussionist was employed to play them. although improvisation skills remained important. or soprano sax abilities available within a reed section so that arrangers could include special effects as and when required. Vincent Lopez and Ben Pollack also occasionally featured flute solos. so lets see what developments had taken place since ragtime styles had been transcended in the early 1920s. However the instrumental line-up was not quite so clear-cut in 1927. was experimenting with a blues-based stride style in the late 1920s that influenced many soloists. banjo and tuba. but its inclusion in danceband sax sections was unusual. particularly the pedal-tuneable kind. had been largely superseded by a variety of styles that required more formal playing techniques. Eventually the guitar and double bass would triumph. Don Redman also used the soprano saxophone without vibrato to simulate oboe effects. For jazz-influenced dance bands the Harlem Stride School was more influential because of its greater relevance to formally arranged music. drummers diverged significantly in the kinds of style adopted throughout the 1920s. Occasional use was also being made of timpani. oboe. Electrical recording and broadcasting processes had opened up possibilities for including two instruments – the guitar and double bass – that were considered unsuitable for live performances. typified by Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton. The pedal-operated bass drum was now standard and the high-hat cymbal (also foot operated) just coming into widespread use. although by this time Earl Hines. By this time much greater use was being made of cymbals in accompanying patterns and ‘hot cymbal’ playing was becoming popular using either suspended cymbals or (with sticks) on the newly introduced high-hat. By the late 1920s the largely improvised New Orleans style of drumming. .KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 37 It was always an advantage to have flute. Ambrose was one of the few bandleaders to envisage a regular ensemble role for the flute at an early stage. Duke Ellington and Fats Waller were emerging as innovative stride players with something more to offer. drums. Don Redman was one of the first arrangers to include solos specifically for the flute and Paul Whiteman. and a pair was used in Whiteman’s concert orchestra. although there was still scope for improvisation even when the drum parts were written-out. A set of temple blocks. Johnson. piccolo. A tom-tom was usually included in addition to the regulatory snare drum and a varying range of suspended cymbals. cowbells and a wood block were invariably included for special effects. Hines would have the most influence in the long term and essentially set the standard for pianists in big bands well into the 1930s. James P. By 1927 the various components of the modern drum kit had been perfected and adopted by up-to-date drummers. an accomplished pianist. despite certain advantages over the banjo and tuba. The four-piece rhythm section was by now a standard requirement for all except very small dance bands.

The banjo was usually matched with the tuba and bass drum in the rhythm section. So far as banjo playing goes there were so many good rhythm players that no names stand out as being particularly influential. However. It was this trend that eventually accelerated the demise of the tuba. cellos…and a harp! . The tuba was something of an interloper in jazz and dance bands. but the idea didn’t really catch on. chimes. but none of these additions impacted on the development of dancebands proper. guitar to be featured occasionally on records. although electrical recording techniques enabled the more versatile. Ambrose was aware of rhythm section developments in America but was rather slow in adopting them. used both banjo and guitar in tandem . The adoption of a plucking/slapping technique for the double bass by small group jazz musicians in the early 1920s enabled rhythm sections to play in 4/4-time. The Whiteman and Lopez orchestras – of course – had string sections. vibraphone. like Paul Whiteman. but is mainly remembered as the inventor of jazz guitar technique. etc. the leading exponent of this being multi-instrumentalist Adrian Rollini. Although there were some fine tuba players around who could produce credible ‘hot’ solo passages the instrument was usually restricted to 2/4-time. These larger orchestras invariably employed additional percussionists . Few bandleaders followed Whiteman’s example of including banks of violins. The kind of tuba most favoured for recording purposes was the sousaphone with its large forward facing ‘bell’.others had their banjo player double on guitar. but this proved unsatisfactory for acoustic recording. Some leaders.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 38 Increasingly danceband drummers were being expected to maintain a steady tempo within the rhythm section and this represented at least one essential difference between dancebands and authentic jazz bands. and the glockenspiel. and this set the pattern for the rhythm smaller orchestras the drummer coped as best he could. The introduction of the arched-top steel-stringed guitar in the mid-1920s enabled a plectrum to be used and this enhanced the sound considerably. Nevertheless it was jazz drummers who set the standard for all types of rhythmic percussion techniques. Some bandleaders attempted to substitute the bass saxophone for the tuba. Two young players making an impression in jazz circles at the time were Dave Tough and Gene Krupa. but when the tuba started to be replaced by string bass it was found that the latter instrument was best matched with the guitar. Early jazz bands had used the double bass – played with a bow – to enhance the bass line. who set the standard throughout the 1920s at least on the sousaphone. although some bandleaders (including Paul Whiteman and Isham Jones) effectively transferred it to the brass section. John Kuhn. a trend pioneered by Louis Armstrong’s small bands. particularly in the percussion department of the larger aggregations. bassoons. violas. most string sections were quite small – two or three violinists at most. and Kaiser Marshall (with Fletcher Henderson). the main influences coming from Ben Pollack.. a trend followed by most dance orchestras that tended towards the ‘sweeter’ side of things. The addition of unusual instruments was becoming popular. Leaders like Paul Whiteman and Vincent Lopez were regularly using such things as the xylophone. His pioneering work in this field was outstanding but rightly belongs to developments after 1928. The banjo remained an important rhythm section instrument in 1927. Whiteman and Lopez also used additional woodwind instruments such as oboes. Eddie Lang was a fine rhythm banjoist who also excelled as a soloist. but less percussive. Vic Berton (Red Nichol’s band). It was Isham Jones’ tuba player.

arranging methods replicated those used by orchestrators catering for light music orchestras. dance orchestras that were not jazz-oriented or even mildly influenced by jazz. Bill Challis or Isham Jones in 1927 would be quite intelligible to the present generation of big band musicians. . All the major music publishers ran subscription-arranging services for such outfits. Even in 1927 some Viennese-type dance orchestras remained in business and very popular. like most authentic jazz bands. even though some of the instrumentation and most of the playing styles would be quite different. of course. For jazz-oriented dance orchestras the role of the arranger had become crucial. something must be said about orchestrating methods being used around this time. but in 1927 this was not generally the case. Of course there were still small units that. The important thing to appreciate is that written arrangements for jazz-oriented dancebands had by now moreor-less been formalised. jazz-oriented dance orchestras and all the rest. At the other end of the scale large orchestras like Whiteman’s required detailed orchestrations. As some smallish jazz bands developed into larger jazz orchestras the need for more formal arranging methods would arise. These came to be known as ‘sweet’ bands and by 1927 some of these were becoming extremely popular. but the techniques involved here were ahead of their time. in fact right up to the present.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 39 Some ‘hot’ bands did have string sections that had a stab at playing in ‘jazz mode’. Also. each player being supplied with a written ‘part’. In general the more jazzinclined the orchestra the more genuine would such improvisations be. For such bands. even in orchestras the size of Whiteman’s the rhythm section players would have had to improvise most of their contributions around given chord progressions. particularly regarding his own compositions. There were. Moreover the format that had come to be standardised by 1927 was essentially the same as would be used by big bands subsequently. which included the legendary Joe Venuti within its ranks. However it would be a mistake to think that his orchestrations were identical to those used by. notably Jean Goldkette’s outfit. used ‘head’ arrangements – a term with a variety of meanings but always implying informal methods of deciding how a piece of music would be played. By 1927. say. Ambrose did not originally intend to include a string section in the May Fair band but augmentation for recording and broadcasting purposes induced him to do so on an occasional basis – for better or worse depending on ones point of view! Finally. One exception – a rather special case – was Duke Ellington. symphony orchestras. then. Because it was a jazz-oriented dance orchestra some scope for improvisation by key soloists would have been included. This was the kind of arrangement that Ambrose used for his bands when they were smallish units. there was a reasonable distinction between arranging methods for jazz bands. An arrangement prepared by Don Redman. For these and related reasons the distinction between pure jazz and certain kinds of dance music of the era is not as clear-cut as some purists would like us to believe. Also some orchestras adopted standard big band sections and instrumentation but had all parts fully notated and usually played entirely ‘straight’. The Paul Ash orchestra also featured some ‘hot’ fiddle ensemble work (provided by Ash himself and one other violinist).

Next. expressed interest but only three could make definite commitments.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 40 Having gained a reasonable idea of how the American danceband scene would have appeared to Ambrose in 1927 we must now take a look at what he got up to on arriving in a New York gripped by winter. However Dorsey supplied a list of sax players who might be interested and for a while it looked as though Ambrose might get his entire three-man sax section from America. It was a similar situation with rhythm section players. and two of the new recruits who had arranging skills. Moreover he was available…at a price! Clearly the price was right because before Ambrose left New York Levine had been engaged both to play in the band and assist in its formation. but without a complete band there was probably little point. Levine was a talented brass section leader with orchestrating skills and directing experience. Of one thing we can be reasonably certain – Ambrose’s initial policy was to recruit an entirely American band. The original idea had been to commission a number of arrangements in America and do a certain amount of rehearsing. aided no doubt by Sir Francis Towle who had friends in high places. A partial solution to his dilemma came via a chance encounter with the AfricanAmerican pianist/bandleader Luckey Roberts. Apart from his reputation as a jazz soloist. Whether Levine brought the American contingent together for rehearsal purposes in the few weeks before they were due to embark for Britain is not known. Perhaps wisely Ambrose resisted the temptation to have Levine recruit a completely American band and bring it over to London in time for the opening of the May Fair. but regularly playing together. but without success. Ambrose had to recruit more British-based musicians in order to complete the band line-up. Among Roberts’ wide circle of contacts were some of the top white jazz musicians then working in New York and known informally as The Family (the East Coast equivalent of Chicago’s Austin High Gang). started work on contributions that later appeared under their names. Or rather present the best possible account based on the fragmentary evidence available. Preliminary discussions with the Meyer-Davis agency probably convinced Ambrose that this would be difficult to arrange within the time available . Nevertheless Ambrose did purchase around fifty orchestrations from a top freelance arranger called Archie Bleyer. Four experienced session musicians with varying backgrounds. Ambrose decided to make-do with those American musicians he was able to personally audition and make-up the shortfall as best he could after returning to London.he could spend two weeks at most in New York before returning to London. One of these was the trumpet player Henry ‘Hot Lips’ Levine. To lead the sax section Ambrose/Levine attempted to lure Jimmy Dorsey away from the Goldkette band. Of course Ambrose was after star players and most of these were with established bands and/or committed to session work. . It is also possible that Henry Levine. but only a lead alto player was signed-up. Although the Musicians Union (MU) was likely to object. On arriving back in Britain there was an urgent need for Ambrose to present the case for work permits for the American musicians. However before Ambrose left the Big Apple some progress was made on recruiting key players. Anyway the permits were granted for six months in each case with the possibility (but no more than that) of renewal after that at three monthly intervals. at this time it carried little weight with the government and a more-or-less ‘open door’ policy was still in operation.

It’s never been clear whether the second trumpet player was hired in New York or London. no doubt. but in 1927 the notion was somewhat radical. and Noble was making quite a name for himself as an arranger with advanced ideas. On leaving school he joined the family business but after becoming interested in Jazz and learning to play the piano rhythmically he successfully auditioned for a local dance band. Finally. This was the kind of thing that later obsessed Glenn Miller. probably making Crossman an offer too good to refuse. that the Americans’ stay was likely to be short-term Ambrose also engaged two additional rhythm players who had come to his attention while casting round for British musicians – Max Bacon (drums) and Joe Brannelly (banjo/guitar). The next thing that Ambrose had to address with some urgency was the need for additional material and orchestrators to provide it. although he certainly hailed from America. an American sax man then working in Britain. and one who could also double on string bass when required. Munro had already supplied some of the arrangements that Ambrose used at the Embassy Club.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 41 So far as Ambrose was concerned there was only one tenor player in Britain who could meet his required standard – Joe Crossman. Even so. the completed May Fair orchestra comprised ten musicians plus Ambrose himself. Filling the trombonist’s chair presented Ambrose with a problem given the limited time available. much of his time over the following few years would be devoted to the Ambrose band and in a capacity that went beyond the mere supply of arrangements. to complete the band. Effectively he was to become Ambrose’s chief arranger and deputy but neither of these titles would be used because Lew Stone never worked exclusively for Ambrose. Ambrose required the services of a tuba player. . Leaving these two additions out of the equation for the moment. For second alto player Ambrose obtained the services of Jack Miranda. After preliminary discussions Ambrose recognised Lew’s talents and engaged him to co-ordinate the arranging effort and assist in the development of the band. in addition to working as a session pianist. Aware. Two freelance arrangers Ambrose approached were Ronnie Munro and Ray Noble. He seems to have had little faith in any of the talent immediately available and was obliged to compromise by hiring a relatively inexperienced British player. By the early 1920s he was playing with West End bands and eventually joined Bert Ralton’s Savoy Havana Band. In fact the two had jointly won an arranging contest that the Melody Maker held in 1926. Although neither worked exclusively for Ambrose they both became directly concerned with the band’s formation. Lew Stone was about the same age as Ambrose and his childhood and family background similar. By the mid 1920s he had also become an accomplished freelance arranger. He had started piano lessons while still a child and by his teens had become a gifted amateur player and fluent reader of music. Another established freelance arranger with a growing reputation was Lew Stone and apart from supplying orchestrations for the new band he became involved with its musical development and was a pivotal influence in Ambrose’s rise to fame and fortune. Despite his promise to Luigi not to poach from the Embassy band Ambrose did just that. For this still important rhythm component he got one of the best players then available. Both would become important long-term members of Ambrose’s band. What impressed Ambrose was that Lew had theories about arranging that transcended accepted orchestration techniques and were concerned with what Duke Ellington later termed the ‘sound identity’ of a band.

Ronnie Munro. How many arrangements were involved at this early stage is not known but clearly a substantial number would have been required over and above those already obtained from Archie Bleyer in America. After studying in mainland America he switched his attention to more rhythmic forms of music and soon became an authority on the latest trends in jazz and ‘hot’ dance music. Around 1926 he came to Britain. Ray Noble. and arranging for. *Occasional additions. particularly those after 1920. towards the end of February. The amount of arranging effort required in a short space of time was clearly substantial. No doubt Ambrose. Apart from playing with.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 42 To complete the team of arrangers Ambrose made a rather unusual choice. Almost all the popular tunes previously listed. Fred Elizalde was a young Spanish-American musician with a flamboyant approach to life in general and music in particular. Ambrose was supposedly intrigued by what he heard and lost no time in signing-up Elizalde as an arranger for his soon-to-be-established May Fair band. According to legend Ambrose was at a Cambridge college ball with one of his society bands and Elizalde’s band was also playing at the same event. would have been essential for the band’s start-up repertoire – one hundred and fifty items at least. and formed a semi-pro band at Cambridge University. or more likely Lew Stone. Lew Stone (co-ordinator). ostensibly as a post-graduate student. laid down some ‘house rules’ that would ensure a degree of commonality so far as the format of submitted arrangements was concerned. Lew Stone commenced the task of co-ordinating the team of arrangers. and organising the new band’s library. Fred Elizalde. various ad-hoc bands in New York he wrote articles for influential music journals like Orchestra World. He came from one of the wealthiest families in the Philippines and showed early promise as a classical pianist and composer. It probably was also Lew’s responsibility to supervise the preparation of the notated ‘parts’ required by individual players. Strings: Arrangers: . Here’s the line-up for the new band: AMBROSE & HIS MAY FAIR ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Reeds: Rhythm: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Henry Levine (trumpet) Harry Wild (trumpet) Bill Morley (trombone) Lou Martin (alto/clarinet/baritone/flute) Jack Miranda (alto/clarinet/soprano) Joe Crossman (tenor/clarinet/baritone) George Posnack (piano/+arranger) Lee Conna (banjo/violin) Dick Escott (tuba/string bass) Henry Rederman (drums) Joe Brannelly (banjo/guitar)* Max Bacon (timpani/xylophone)* Sidney Lipton (violin)*…et al.

undoubtedly influenced his stride piano style. and also a competent arranger. Although in some ways Ambrose might have wished for more time to rehearse the band there was one good reason why the May Fair opening couldn’t come soon enough. Of the six musicians who came over the best known in America would have been Henry ‘Hot Lips’ Levine. In the rhythm section pianist George Posnack only stands out from the rest due to his additional skills as an arranger with musical ideas similar to those of Fred Elizalde. few would have found the names familiar. Of course Ambrose was doing quite well out of supplying society bands for private functions. Ambrose’s talents in this area would not remain unused for long. Olympia on the way to Britain. . and so he was personally vulnerable if things went wrong.Ambrose’s wasn’t…yet. apart from playing the entire range of saxophones he was an outstanding clarinettist. This had certainly been necessary at the Embassy Club and over the years Ambrose had become proficient in accompanying cabaret artists. clear toned. It was still unusual for dancebands to include vocal choruses while actually playing for dancing. Hylton’s band was certainly one of these . Levine favoured a mainly open. although bands that made records or studio broadcasts usually hired vocalists for such occasions. The second alto player. or got band members to do vocals. Ambrose’s sax section was potentially outstanding. Not even the readership of the Melody Maker was alerted to the Americans’ presence in Britain until after the May Fair had opened. style of playing and always insisted that any brass section he led played no more than half its time per session with mutes fitted.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 43 The absence of vocalists in Ambrose’s band is noteworthy. Neither the May Fair nor most of its associated establishments within the Gordon Hotels group included cabaret but. Like Nichols. including singers and dancers. namely his own financial situation! The agreement to leave the Embassy band in-situ had cost him dear…much of the outlay involved in starting again from scratch had to come from his own resources. In some cases the bandleader himself functioned as vocalist. At this stage in Ambrose’s career there was no clear distinction between his personal and business finances. While Ambrose and the others were eagerly beavering away in London early in March the American boys were enjoying the sea air aboard the S. With Joe Crossman completing the team. Jack Miranda. with whom he was on friendly terms.was not yet a limited company. a dynamic trumpet player greatly influenced by Red Nichols. Vocal content was only important for those bands associated with the mainstream of popular music. Even if they had been. Another notable omission was any requirement to provide support for a floorshow or cabaret. a good example being Jack Hylton. as we shall see. but even so the situation didn’t make much business sense. Also like Nichols.S. despite an ongoing interest in Ambrose’s supposedly enormous remuneration. The arrival of the American contingent went largely unnoticed by the show business correspondents of the British press. doubled on soprano sax and was also acclaimed for his ‘hot’ clarinet solos. The organisational ‘umbrella’ under which he operated – Ambrose Orchestras . Fats Waller. he had played with the California Ramblers and other bands that exemplified the New York jazz style. Sax section leader Louis Martin was a multi-instrumentalist. an early exponent of the flute as a solo jazz instrument.

and quite a few were friends. Max Bacon was a twenty-four year old self-taught drummer and multipercussionist who started playing with East London dancebands while still in his ‘teens. Max Bacon was considered to be one of the finest jazz drummers then working in Britain and particularly noted for his ‘hot’ cymbal playing. He constructed his own short-wave receiving equipment and was an avid listener to American radio stations. Dick Escott was hired specifically to play sousaphone. Although quite settled in Britain. each player reading from a supplied part. and these must have been quite intensive given the amount of material to get through in the short time available before the hotel was due to open. Banjoist Lee Conna was a highly regarded session musician who could also play guitar and ‘hot’ fiddle when required to do so. In mid-March Ambrose gave a party for the members of the new band. His brush technique. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that almost every name previously mentioned in connection with the New York music scene after 1920 was known personally to Joe Brannelly. and played at jazz establishments like Rector’s. the Florida Club and the FortyThree Club. . By the time he joined Ambrose. he functioned almost exclusively as band manager. although both would become regular inclusions in due course. By the mid-1920s he was playing with the Guilt Edged Four. Brannelly was an expert on the technical aspects of radio and electronics in general. occasionally subbing for the regular banjoist. and an advanced drumming technique representative of New York-style jazz. The following day rehearsals began. Joe returned to Britain just as Ambrose was forming the May Fair outfit and a chance meeting between the two resulted in Joe coming to work for Ambrose. not then in widespread use. Joe Brannelly was an Irish-American who came to Britain in the mid-1920s to play banjo in Bert Ralton’s band. a band that included Ronnie Munro on piano. While the band was on tour in South Africa in 1926 Ralton suffered a fatal accident and the band folded. or playing guitar as an optional extra. Max had mastered the recently introduced pedal timpani (the pedal being used to obtain different pitches) and the xylophone. not as an instrumentalist – although he was very good – but as a ‘fixer’ and talent spotter. particularly the broadcasts by dancebands that reached Britain in the wee small hours. Joe Brannelly returned regularly to America for short spells and kept in constant touch with a stupendously wide range of contacts in New York. In due course he would join the band on a regular basis while retaining his management role. By the early 1920s he had developed an incisive jazz drumming style and mastered whatever percussion instruments were around at the time. The two additional rhythm players hired by Ambrose were at this stage only auxiliary members of the band. It is almost impossible to overemphasize the importance of Joe Brannelly to Ambrose’s success over the subsequent ten years. was particularly acclaimed. Apart from expertise on the regular drum set.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 44 Drummer Henry Rederman was noted for his ‘hot’ cymbal playing. Apart from his musical and organisational talents. For new material the appropriate arranger would briefly outline what was required and then take the band through the number. Ambrose’s rehearsing procedures did not change much over the years after formal arrangements had replaced the ‘head’ variety. constantly on the look-out for instrumental and vocal talent to enhance the reputation of the band. For the first few months of the May Fair band’s existence. His background before joining Ambrose was varied and included playing in one of Jack Hylton’s subsidiary bands. although he was also competent on double bass.

This pattern. Not all bandleaders considered this necessary. For this kind of trade hotels tended to attract a different type of customer compared to nightclubs. would certainly not be ‘on the house’. of course. Around ten-thirty the band would get a half-hour break (union rules) during which a lone pianist would continue to provide music for dancing.brass coyly muted.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 45 In some cases the arranger would also be playing in the band and/or Ambrose would be playing the violin – either way the arranger directed the band until Ambrose either signalled his approval or suggested changes. applied to Ambrose’s band at the May Fair. . Apart from its three hundred bedrooms – ranging from singles to self-contained suits – the May Fair provided all the facilities and services necessary to qualify for its ‘five-star’ status. His principal concern was with the quality – rather than the form – of the band’s output. usually to rapturous applause whereas soloists within the band would generally be ignored. Moreover. Half-an-hour or so later the leader would appear. including dining and dancing in the ballroom. In the case of stock arrangements. Apart from catering for around five hundred or so guests the hotel also made some of its facilities available to non-residents. and it was not unknown for this to be accompanied by a drum roll and fanfare in an effort to induce a temporary hush in the background noise and. or possibly later. If the leader himself played an instrument then he might well perform one or two ‘party pieces’. It was unusual for a nightclub to liven-up much before ten o’clock whereas a hotel’s bars and cocktail lounges would begin to do serious business around eight o’clock. The band would come on at nine o’clock. After consuming pre-dinner drinks people would drift into the restaurant. It was mainly in the ballroom that Ambrose’s band played. came in late. That evening Sir Francis Towle and his fellow directors gave a reception for one thousand invited guests…and Ambrose’s new band made its debut in the main ballroom. In some cases an entire section might displease Ambrose. or previously used material merely being brushed-up. a round of applause from inattentive guzzlers at the tables. or anything else for that matter. invariably without the leader. Apart from the occasional special event the ballroom doubled as a restaurant and as such could accommodate about seven hundred people. Patrons’ intent on dancing could then expect at least an hour of first-rate dance music based on the popular hits of the day. Ambrose usually took control from the start. drums gently caressed with brushes. or ‘The saxes sound like warts’. The important thing to note is that he ensured that whenever possible arrangers were directly involved with the band so far as the interpretation of their work was concerned. but those who did invariably got better results. depending on the perceived seriousness of the offence. The following day the hotel opened for business and from this time on the drinks. Ambrose rarely asked for changes to be made in the structure of an arrangement or the interpretation of a passage by a soloist or ensemble. The full band would then return and continue non-stop until one-o-clock. Apart from the above-mentioned ballroom there was a residents’ restaurant and several bars and cocktail lounges. if not the exact details. If someone dropped a note. and start playing rather bland stock arrangements . Rehearsing with Ambrose in attendance was always demanding and never dull! King George V presided over the opening of the May Fair Hotel on the 27th March 1927. played off-key or some such thing Ambrose would invariably notice and the guilty party would then be subjected to anything from a sarcastic comment to the Ambrose Death Look. in which case he would come out with a remark such as: ‘The trumpets sound like a bad smell’.

rather than a song. then so too did the category of clientele. something seemed to be amiss when Jean Goldkette’s main band went out of business in mid-1927. his removal from the scene would be only temporary. doing well in the popularity stakes – Duke Ellington’s Black & Tan Fantasy. The durability of New York-style jazz in America was confirmed by the success that Red Nichols & His Five Pennies had with the hit tune Ida – one million copies sold within a year of its issue. as well as political. Here are some examples: . The Best Things In Life Are Free. agenda. And it was primarily pop tunes that kept the May Fair customers on their toes. Come midnight and it was time to depart for Basingstoke or Beaconsfield or wherever after their Big Night Out. Shakin’ The Blues Away. and Doctor Jazz.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 46 If the working practices differed between dancebands playing at the top nightclubs and hotels. like other jazz-inspired danceband leaders of the late-1920s. Wild Man Blues. Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.Ain’t She Sweet. It’s also worth noting that the Charleston was still a popular dance. moreover. Mobile Blues. Strike Up The Band. Me And My Shadow. My Blue Heaven. both of which were associated with popular tunes of the day. or probably any kind of uninhibited entertainment that might be associated with it. Hallelujah. like Goldkette. Popular jazz titles at the time included: . Copenhagen. Livery Stable Blues. In 1927 such bandleaders still found it feasible to include a sprinkling of jazz standards in their repertoire. Milenberg Joys. The same goes for the Black Bottom and the Drag.another Symphonic Syncopation blockbuster composed and arranged by Ferde Grofe. Funny Face. but even Tin Pan Alley’s routine output produced a number of standards. So far as most of the big names in the Goldkette band were concerned – including Jimmy Dorsey. at least so far as mainstream nightspots were concerned. Eddie Lang and Bill Challis – the main beneficiary was Paul Whiteman. The era of soft lights and sweet music had arrived. Before this though. However. Almost at a stroke. would be forced to face the reality of changing musical tastes for commercial reasons. Chloe. . Jazz and ‘hot’ dance music provided a most suitable accompaniment for such ‘goings-on’. Ambrose. S’Wonderful. Sidewalk Blues. Whiteman scored something of a hit with Mississippi Suite . Ida. though the patrons of the May Fair and similar genteel establishments would have been provided with foxtrot versions. Jackass Blues. pointed in the direction that dance music might have gone had commercial considerations not led it directly down Tin Pan Alley. A club like the Embassy catered for an exclusive coterie of wealthy aristocrats and their friends…essentially the idle rich whose lifestyles ranged from the mildly degenerate to the outright debauched. and also a rare example of a tune. Ellington’s masterpiece negated Whiteman’s pretentious efforts to synthesise jazz and classical music and. The people who frequented the dining and dancing facilities at the top hotels were usually upper middle-class types whose lives revolved around the Protestant Work Ethic and suburban respectability. Much more interesting was another minor hit of 1927. Some of the best of the 1927 crop came from Broadway shows. And on the whole these people just didn’t like jazz. And it was such middle-class people who were now setting the cultural. Sobbin’ Blues. Ol’ Man River. Black Bottom Stomp.Wolverine Blues. Isham Jones also disbanded the same year although. Tin Roof Blues. At Sundown. The Varsity Drag.

Here are the Brunswick/UK titles that were released in 1927: . The first was the chance to record for Brunswick. All the arrangements are examples of advanced trends in jazz-oriented dance music. possibly over the time slot to be allocated for broadcasts. The BBC did not pay anything for these late-night danceband broadcasts: they were in fact a form of indirect commercial radio – the BBC got a largely cost-free show while the venue. however. and the sax section is generally outstanding. indirect access through the medium of broadcasting was certainly feasible. for some reason Ambrose fell out with de Bosdari and did not record again with Brunswick until after the ignoble count departed from the scene later in the year. However. got publicity. only the trombone and piano come over as inadequate. One Summer Night. In this respect Henry Levine (trumpet). ‘Brunswick’ was in fact an American label and after 1923 a select range of recordings from the American catalogue was manufactured and marketed in Britain by Cliftophone Ltd and the Chappell Music Company respectively. but could only wait on events as the hotel management and the BBC haggled. It’s clear from just these few fragments that Ambrose’s first May Fair band could have become a first rate recording outfit on the ‘Brunswick’ label – important because of the American connection. there is some good ensemble work by the brass. The recording offer came from a somewhat mysterious (and probably shady) businessman called Count de Bosdari. Ambrose was well aware that radio was now the key to the kind of success he wanted. My Heart Stood Still. Unfortunately the rhythm section does not quite meet the standards expected of a top-flight band. the May Fair was still far removed from the kind of venue that would enable the general public to gain live access to Ambrose’s reputedly fabulous new band. The hotel had indeed been provided with a ‘land line’ (a dedicated telephone connection to a BBC transmitter) but reaching agreement with the BBC over transmissions was quite another matter. Jack Miranda (clarinet) and Joe Crossman (tenor) are particularly noteworthy. Whispering Pines. Louis Martin (alto and baritone). head of the (British) Brunswick Record Company. and of course the band. but this may have been due to recording difficulties rather than poor performance. Brunswick/UK established a studio in London in the spring of 1927 and over the next few months recorded mainly on an experimental basis. As an addition to the regular May Fair band an American vocal group – the Hamilton Sisters & Fordyce . The vocal group (Hamilton Sisters & Fordyce) is very good and the vocal parts well integrated into the arrangements. As well as American releases the new Brunswick/UK catalogue was to feature recordings by British artists. Take Your Fingers Out Of Your Ears. Performance-wise.Birth Of The Blues. and would take almost a year to accomplish. a recording as well as marketing organisation. In 1927 Count de Bosdari not only took-over Chappell’s distribution franchise but went one step further and set up Brunswick/UK. Some of the jazz solos that permeate these arrangements are. . Ambrose recorded six titles over two sessions in April and July using the relatively new electrical recording technique. For Ambrose. However. the second was an opportunity to appear at the London Palladium. The American company merely supplied sets of metal stamps to Cliftophone who then produced the records. Solo-wise.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 47 Although less exclusive than the Embassy Club. superb. the delay in commencing his broadcasting career must have been somewhat frustrating and he can’t be blamed for taking up two further options that presented themselves for consideration shortly after the May Fair opened. Possibly.was featured on some sides.

The task of providing this novelty element fell to Fred Elizalde. Grofe and others. initially using the May Fair band (masquerading as Fred Elizalde & His Music). who recorded for Brunswick/UK. . The inclusion of dancebands in variety theatre ‘bills’ had been pioneered in Britain by Jack Hylton and by 1927 had only been attempted by a few other bands. Fred Elizalde was also concerned with Ambrose’s second attempt to reach a wider audience in the summer of 1927 – the May Fair band’s appearance on the stage of the London Palladium. it would be a black musician with little theoretical knowledge. each of which represented some aspect of popular entertainment. The British format was similar to American vaudeville. a troupe of dancers would have to be hired and props constructed for the ballet that Elizalde wanted to include. When Elizalde formed his own band at the end of 1927 he continued to record for Brunswick and soon proved the importance of the link between successful record sales and broadcasting. In reality Elizalde didn’t need to be discovered – he was his own very effective publicity machine and would have quickly risen to the top of Britain’s jazz/danceband world. Elizalde certainly had experience and intimate knowledge of the New York music scene. but Ambrose was confining his own efforts to a one-week slot – two shows a night for six nights plus two matinee shows. who would soon make Elizalde’s complex theories redundant. Unfortunately Elizalde also harboured some rather quirky ideas about the role of African-Americans in contributing to the development – though not the origins – of jazz that are now known to be incorrect. Regarded at the time as Britain’s premier variety theatre. some of which were issued in America. Independently wealthy. For Ambrose’s requirements Elizalde composed a piece of music that had various titles over time. Now for Ambrose. One difference though was that Britain had no general equivalent to America’s Ziegfeld Follies (and similar shows) in which a degree of coherence was established between the various acts. and there was some interchange between British and American variety artists. he was an accomplished pianist and had followed his studies in music theory with a technically brilliant analysis of the structure of jazz. hungry as it was for direct American involvement. Somewhat like Gershwin. Elizalde was very much the ‘man of the moment’ so far as jazz-oriented dance music was concerned. Duke Ellington. Ambrose had supposedly ‘discovered’ Elizalde and given him his first big break in Britain. the most acceptable being Heart Of A Negro. non of which had yet matched Hylton’s success. Elizalde believed that it was possible to synthesise modern classical music and jazz into a completely new musical genre. Advanced publicity for the Palladium shows announced that: ‘Ambrose intends to introduce a startling new novelty in his forthcoming stage act’. The British variety theatre tradition was a leftover from the days of Victorian music hall and invariably followed the same rigid pattern.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 48 This left the field clear for Fred Elizalde. the Palladium presented weekly (sometimes fortnightly) shows based on a succession of ‘turns’. Indeed. Elizalde cut some fine jazz titles for Brunswick over the following years. Strange that this most un-commercial of musicians should have enjoyed almost instant commercial success when he became a bandleader whereas Ambrose was obliged to fumble about for years before achieving wider recognition. Apart from requiring the regular band to be augmented by extra percussion and a second piano for Elizalde’s own solo contribution. Hylton usually followed his own ‘top of the bill’ appearances at the Palladium with a tour of provincial variety theatres.

Something else that got occasional attention was Ambrose’s sartorial elegance.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 49 None of this should have been a problem for Ambrose. At the Palladium time would be the big problem – even as a ‘top-of-thebill turn’ Ambrose would only have been allocated forty minutes at most. Ambrose’s motoring interests got occasional press attention – it was reported that he owned a number of cars ranging from a six-and-ahalf litre Bentley to a Sunbeam sports model. the May Fair did not shut down during the weeks of High Summer although there was an inevitable fall-off in ‘outside trade’ when suburbanites headed for Brighton. This was probably the first time that Ambrose ever wielded a baton. Although some accounts hold that it was an unmitigated disaster this was not the case. led the specially added string section. little is known about Ambrose’s private life. If he was spotted wearing Dak’s on the golf course rather than ‘plus fours’ it soon became the talk of the town and ultimately an acceptable thing to do in High Society. and was known to have had a country retreat near Tonbridge in Kent. Ambrose forwent his usual summer break in August 1927. but these were resolved by scrapping it for subsequent performances. No doubt some jazz aficionados would have been irked at having to sit through preceding ‘turns’ and disappointed over the limited time that Ambrose had at his disposal. No doubt Ambrose took advantage of any extra spare time available to indulge his passion for golf – usually played within the confines of several exclusive clubs. Jean Pougnet. but the traditions of the British variety theatre were as immovable as Nelson’s Column. as on this occasion he did not lead the orchestra on violin. He probably occupied one of the May Fair’s luxurious residential suites soon after the hotel opened. No doubt the boys in the band were given some time off at staggered intervals but the band as such continued to function. but it went further than this insofar as Ambrose was an acknowledged trendsetter. Apart from his golfing activities and certain gambling exploits. And what had been good enough for Paul Whiteman had to be good enough for Bert Ambrose! Despite reasonably good reviews Ambrose was not too happy with the results as he perceived them. True. It is also reasonably certain that his ‘eligible bachelor’ status remained intact at this time. A vocal group was also included. and it would be another four years before he would front a band on a variety stage. And the Palladium. even to close colleagues. . If Elizalde’s revised contribution was at least politely received it certainly didn’t stop the show. or Scarborough. at the Embassy he had supported floorshows that included singers and dancers. who probably provided any required violin solos. Of course he could afford to be a snappy dresser. Ambrose’s Palladium show opened at the end of June 1927. though admittedly on a smaller scale. Unlike the Embassy Club. although whatever romantic attachments he did have remained a mystery. Unfortunately no details of these have come to light but we do know that all of Ambrose’s regular star soloists were featured as well as some special additions. presumably the same one that Ambrose used for recording purposes. which in time would become legendary. membership of which was more easily acquired by those upon whom the Prince of Wales looked with favour than by lesser mortals. however prestigious. In this respect Jack Hylton had little to worry about so far as live competition was concerned. Publicity for Ambrose’s stage show and the fact that it took place at a West End venue ensured an appreciative audience. or wherever. there were difficulties with Elizalde’s ballet sequence on the opening night. Having only been operational for four month at the May Fair. was just that – a variety theatre. The rest of the programme comprised a mixture of jazz classics and popular dance tunes.

together with their work permits. although Lew Stone was so closely associated with the band’s development that he can be regarded as Ambrose’s de facto chief arranger. Joe Brannelly also joined the band on a regular basis while remaining band manager and ‘fixer’ (talent scout). Lew also occasionally played piano with the May Fair band in place of the regular pianist. Fred Elizalde. The arranging team remained unchanged and so too did their essentially nonstaff status. although there’s no doubting his abilities as an ensemble player and ‘hot’ soloist. and like Leo Khan was virtually indistinguishable from his predecessor. Ronnie Munro. took over on drums and on those occasions when he performed on xylophone an alternative drummer (who also took care of the occasional timpani requirements) was included. Dennis Ratcliffe’s background remains something of a mystery. *Occasional additions The two most significant American additions were Perley Breed and Leo Khan. and made occasional contributions on piano. Here then is Ambrose’s reconstituted May Fair band: AMBROSE & HIS MAY FAIR ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Reeds: Rhythm: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Henry Levine (trumpet) Dennis Ratcliffe (trumpet) Sam Acres (trombone) Perley Breed (alto/clarinet/baritone/tenor) Jack Miranda (alto/clarinet/soprano) Joe Crossman (tenor/clarinet/baritone) Leo Khan (piano/+arranger) Joe Brannelly (banjo/guitar) Max Bacon (drums/xylophone) Dick Escott (tuba/string bass) Maurice Zaffer (timpani/drums)* Jean Pougnet (violin) …et al* Lew Stone (co-ordinator). Ray Noble. Red Nichols and Jean Goldkette…and numerous ad hoc groups put together for recording and/or broadcasting purposes. Some time before the American boys departed Joe Brannelly was sent to New York on what the Melody Maker laughably described as a ‘secret mission’ to recruit suitable replacements. Trombonist Sam Acres was a relative newcomer to the West End music scene.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 50 In September 1927 the contracts of the American musicians who had come over from New York with Henry Levine expired. and Ambrose was obliged to reorganise the May Fair band. Strings: Arrangers: . Although Levine opted to stay for a further three months the others didn’t. as expected. Max Bacon. his solo work was considered to be only marginally better than that of his predecessor. both practitioners of New York-style jazz and members of the group of musicians associated with the bands of Phil Napoleon. celesta or chimes at recording sessions. Perley Breed was another all-round sax man and ‘hot’ clarinettist.

Dance Little Lady. but eventually less inhibited dancers in public ballrooms began to sing along with the band. Didn’t I Tell You. These recordings made little impact at the time and are only important because they give us some idea of what Ambrose’s second May Fair band sounded like. Of course the answer to this problem was to use some kind of amplification for the vocalists but the only viable means of doing this at the time was the rather un-edifying use of a megaphone. the BBC did not share their enthusiasm. It was certainly in the interests of bandleaders to include vocal choruses whenever numbers played on the radio were part of their recorded output. I’m Riding To Glory. During broadcasts from a club. . In musical terms they are quite good – indeed outstanding in some respects – but were not commercially successful. Without You Sweetheart. It was of course early days for the British company and the recording equipment at Brunswick’s recently established studios above the Cavour Restaurant continued to cause problems well into 1928. Later. Nicolette. For this reason we shall delay taking a closer look at the recording industry as it was in the late 1920s until Ambrose becomes a mainstream recording artist. in 1928 it was exceptional unless a band was also broadcasting.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 51 By the late autumn of 1927 it was clear that Ambrose’s meagre Brunswick offerings had not exactly set the world on fire. radio audiences liked to hear at least some of the words of a song rather than just the tune. The inclusion of a vocal chorus while a band was playing for dancing would eventually become a common occurrence. restaurant or hotel ballroom it was quite feasible for vocal content to be included for the benefit of radio listeners even though this would have been virtually inaudible to the live audience. On the whole bandleaders resisted the inclusion of vocals while playing for dancing. However Ambrose cut a dozen or so sides for HMV during 1928. Adoree. Chirp Chirp. Another aspect of popular music that has been neglected up to now revolves around vocal contributions. Also. This wasn’t so much because the dancers didn’t want vocals but because of the difficulty in projecting the human voice above the band and the background noise that included shuffling feet and muffled chatter. Dance music accounted for only a small proportion of HMV’s output and much of this was taken-up by Jack Hylton’s substantial output as well as the British releases of a number of major American bands. well aware that in many cases bandleaders were ‘plugging’ their own records and may even have been receiving backhanders from publishing companies (‘plug money’). The best way to curb this uncouth trend was to allow vocalists onto the bandstand. Ballrooms. electrical amplification would come into widespread use but before the early 1930s the technology of public address systems was too primitive to use for quality performances. Inevitably perhaps. I’m More Than Satisfied. This must now be partly rectified because Ambrose included vocalists in both his recording sessions and stage shows – although only at the May Fair during broadcasts. unlike theatres. were not usually constructed with acoustical considerations in mind. Ambrose appears to have lost interest in Brunswick’s endeavours by the end of 1927 because early in the New Year he entered into discussions with a representative of HMV about the possibility of recording for that label. Sweet Sue. They don’t represent his entry into the ranks of regular recording artists like Jack Hylton or a whole host of other bandleaders. Here are the titles that were issued later the same year: Singapore Sorrows. Little Dream Nest.

In the late 1920s musical styles started to change as musical theatre and cabaret audiences demanded more wit and sophistication. of any verses were rarely used and if this gave the chorus lyrics unintended connotations…well. the BBC made several attempts to curb what turned out to be an unstoppable trend. The ‘big name’ bands were no longer merely bands for dancing. Cole Porter and Hoagy Charmichael were now on hand to supply what was required. and many others collaborated with composers to produce songs for vaudeville. then. these songs essentially put across the message: ‘I love you’ in thirty-two bars. In some cases a famous singer or vocal group recorded with a danceband on a ‘split royalties’ basis and then received label credits – for example Al Jolson with Isham Jones. The lyrics. Much of this more sophisticated output was first written for Broadway shows but even so never strayed too far from the standard TPA formula – all songwriters who got rich did so because they wrote commercially successful hit songs and not because of their cultural pretensions. with music by bandleader Isham Jones. George and Ira Gershwin. However simple or sophisticated. boosting the sale of sheet music. they had become part of the pop music mainstream. Bandleaders. The vocalists were almost never named on the label for the simple reason that no one was quite sure about the legal position if this were done. Publishers and songwriters got the same royalties regardless of the amount of vocal content included in a performance. musical theatre. True Jones’ melody is simplistic and repetitive but unlike Tea For Two it uses some clever musical techniques that were somewhat ahead of their time so far as pop songs of the early 1920s were concerned. Musically and lyrically it’s dead simple and quite typical of TPA fare.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 52 As we shall see. or the direct sheet music and record industries that became instant hits and some have remained popular ever since. And such luminaries as Rogers and Hart. particularly from lyric writers. Another popular song of the era was: It Had To Be You. Record companies took an entirely opposite view and by the late 1920s it had become almost impossible for a band to record current hits without the inclusion of a ‘vocal refrain’ however engaging the actual tune. One of the most popular songs of the early 1920s was Tea For Two and it is entirely typical of the popular musical style of the era. The melody consists of short repeated phrases and the phrases themselves contain repeated notes. Irving Caesar. This meant that very few show songs were actually ‘show specific’ – a distinction between ‘then’ and ‘now’ that goes beyond mere musical styles. So far as dancebands and their arrangers were concerned the only words that usually mattered were those comprising a song’s chorus. so too are Gus Kahn’s lyrics – not so much the actual words but the way syntax is stretched across the boundaries of the four-part musical structure. And so now we must take a closer look at the output of Tin Pan Alley (TPA) and how the words as well as the tunes were being presented to a seemingly insatiable public. invariably restricted the vocal content of a number to a single chorus so far as their recorded output was concerned. or even the music. . Lyricists like Gus Kahn. too bad! Music publishers might have objected but didn’t – they regarded a broadcast or recorded hit by a danceband merely a ‘sampler’. Record companies usually indicated the inclusion of vocal content by adding: WITH VOCAL REFRAIN to the record label. And it’s not only the music that’s innovative. Buddy DeSylva.

The distinction between Austin’s singing style and that of vaudeville ‘shouters’ Al Jolson and Sophie Tucker. It might take years for a singer to become a ‘headliner’ on the vaudeville circuit.. Bandleaders who broadcast regularly were well aware of all this and some took unfair advantage. Two of the finest ‘song stylists’ of the era first came to prominence as vocalists with the Whiteman orchestra – Bing Crosby and Mildred Bailey. But even the poorest danceband vocalists had to base their efforts on some particular standard and by the late 1920s this was usually the singing style that came to be known as ‘crooning’. Only in the dancebands’ vocal departments did women start to make an impact towards the end of the 1920s. but even a brief exposure over the airwaves could mean overnight success if the vocalist concerned had something special to offer. And there were many sub-standard vocalists who didn’t – now of no significance whatsoever other than to be regarded as ‘spoiling factors’. Many more band vocalists would follow in their footsteps. Both Gene Austin and Rudy Vallee were instrumentalists (Austin on piano and Vallee on saxophone) and so too was another profound influence on vocalists working with jazz-oriented bands – Louis Armstrong. In extending a vocal style that had its origins in New Orleans (and may have been invented by Jelly Roll Morton) Armstrong adapted his own instrumental improvisational skills to the voice and popularised what came to be called ‘scat’ singing. a popular American singer who owed his fame to radio and records rather than the stage or concert hall. In 1927 he formed a jazz band called the Connecticut Yankees and later secured an engagement at the Heigh-Ho Club in New York. Now it had been the custom for many years for an MC or bandleader to use a megaphone to announce ‘the next number’ etc. Vallee caused a sensation by singing through a megaphone. In fact Vallee used a specially adapted megaphone reputedly of his own design. particularly in large dance halls. On the whole pioneers like Paul Whiteman established the standard format for danceband vocalising. This started a discernable trend and by the end of the decade most bands included at least a modicum of vocalising while playing for dancing. though unlike many Whiteman always treated his vocalists with consideration and paid them handsomely. . but it seems that no one before Vallee had thought of using this device for projecting the singing voice. Another direct influence on band vocalists in the late 1920s was ‘singing bandleader’ Rudy Vallee. In 1927 he had a big hit with My Blue Heaven (eventually clocking-up record sales of five million).KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 53 During radio shows band vocalists were usually named and it was mainly for this reason that aspiring solo singers were willing to subject themselves to the trials and tribulations of danceband work. transcending the restrictions that bandleaders (of necessity?) placed upon them. Even so. An important pioneer of this style was Gene Austin. In fact there were quite a few talented black and white women jazz musicians obliged to restrict their ambitions to playing in all-women amateur bands – even semi-pro outfits would only rarely engage them. detracting from a band’s otherwise good performance. or ‘straight’ singer Paul Robeson couldn’t have been greater. So far as dancebands of the late 1920s are concerned it has been necessary to place the emphasis on men for the simple reason that around this time few women made it onto the bandstand either as instrumentalists or vocalists. these three artists also had million-seller hits around the same time.

their audiences were confined mainly to the black population who bought so called Race Records or tuned in to local radio stations catering for the black population. Two of the most notable interpreters of the genre were Ruth Etting and Annette Hanshaw. Even smoothies like Gene Austin and Rudy Vallee were suspect in some quarters and accordingly deplored by moralists. This was the white equivalent of the blues and. including a sprinkling of show business celebrities. it wasn’t only white singers who were affected by what was going on in Harlem night clubs – the more astute songwriters knew a good thing when they heard it and adapted their output accordingly. This was certainly the case with the group that Ambrose used during 1928.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 54 So far as broadcasting was concerned one of the finest band singers of the time was Mildred Bailey. Jimmie Rogers was one of the first to gain widespread popularity and had a million-seller hit with a song called T for Texas in 1928. As it was. They were probably an established cabaret act judging by their style. Mildred Bailey based her technique on blues and jazz styles popularised by Bessie Smith. but rather a singing style called ‘kootchy-coo’. and band vocalising lagged way behind American performance standards. Of course there was always the tiny minority of well-heeled whites who frequented Harlem nightclubs. music industry magnates…and of course the Prince of Wales! Indeed. called the Vocal Three. So far so good. When Ambrose was obliged to hire vocal talent in 1928 for recording and broadcasting purposes he was not exactly spoilt for choice. Most vocal groups tended to follow the standards set by Paul Whiteman. Her big break came when Paul Whiteman hired her. Betty Bolton and Elsie Carlisle occasionally took part in broadcasts by bands. One consequence was the ‘torch song’. particularly when country singers came to prominence on radio. Ma Rainey and Ethel Waters. . although singers like Hettie King. like the blues. It seems unlikely that they were formed by Ambrose or that they worked exclusively with his band. Indirectly it influenced musical theatre and Tin Pan Alley. There were for a time male equivalents although their impact was less because they just didn’t fit in with the rugged image of men that most American’s preferred. popularised by coy vocalists called ‘boop-boop-a-doop’ music. and her success in the early 1930s ensured that all the prominent bands that broadcast and/or recorded started to feature female vocalists from this time on. Another influence on late ‘twenties vocalising came from an unexpected source. There were no British equivalents to Gene Austin or Rudy Vallee. It wasn’t so much a case of daft lyrics in perennially popular ‘novelty’ songs. These African-American singers didn’t confine their efforts to classic blues and jazz songs – much of Tin Pan Alley’s output came within their ambit. The song I Wanna’ Be Loved by You is a typical ‘kootchycoo’ song with at least a degree of period charm that was missing from most. but there was also a lot of pop music silliness about in the late 1920s. several distinct vocal styles influenced female band vocalists. and the singing style that came to be associated with it. Squeakyvoiced Helen Kane was the prototype and her hugely popular style inevitably influenced other performers. Two side effects were the popularisation of yodelling and Hawaiian-style guitar playing. in its undiluted form appealed to a minority audience. Moreover female vocalists don’t seem to have been featured much on danceband records. So superior was their interpretation of routine pop songs that had it not been for the idiotic restrictions of segregation they would have been superstars of the era. As with their male contemporaries.

he was better at drumming than vocalising! Apart from the addition of part-time vocalists there were also several important instrumental and arranging changes that took place intermittently during 1928. but only rarely during recording sessions. Apart from deputising for Ambrose at the May Fair. It was also necessary to give the impression that someone actually was required to ‘lead from the front’ (although this was not really so with a ten-piece danceband). formerly Ambrose’s drummer at the Embassy Club. Ambrose continued to play violin along with the band while it was performing at the May Fair or at private functions. He soon became an indispensable member of the Ambrose band and remained in-post for almost fourteen years. Les Allen) Lew Stone (co-ordinator) Ronnie Munro Van Phillips.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 55 Ambrose also acquired the occasional services of a visiting American vocalist called Les Reis around this time. In other words he used the same music as would a vocalist and generally only covered one chorus…again just like a vocalist. Because Ambrose spent some time away from the bandstand a stand-in was required to take care of the violin work during his absences. Here’s the line-up in September: AMBROSE & HIS MAY FAIR ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Reeds: Rhythm: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Sylvester Ahola (trumpet) Dennis Ratcliffe (trumpet) Ted Heath (trombone) Joe Crossman (alto/clarinet/ baritone) Joe Jeanette (alto/clarinet/flute/+arranger) Arthur Lally (tenor/clarinet/baritone/+arranger) Bert Read (piano/+arranger) Joe Brannelly (banjo/guitar) Max Bacon (drums/xylophone/timpani) Dick Escott (tuba/string bass) Ernie Lewis (violin)… et al* Eddie Grossbart Les Reis* The Vocal Three* (Phil Arnold. Consequently. broadcasts or stage performances. Ambrose took on a full-time violinist named Ernie Lewis a classically-trained player who had switched from symphony orchestra work into the danceband firmament some years earlier. *Occasional additions. Ernie Lewis supervised the ad hoc string section when it was brought into existence for recording sessions. Another American who made vocal contributions was Eddie Grossbart. Eddie Brandt. At the May Fair his contribution to each number usually consisted of playing the melody line corresponding to the vocal part. One thing’s for sure. The ‘lead sheet’ that arrangers always prepared for Ambrose’s scrutiny (he rarely perused a complete score) contained all that was required for his own effort. Strings: Vocals: Arrangers: .

as well as undertaking a great deal of session work.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 56 Ambrose’s variable string section. Sylvester Ahola was a player much influenced by Red Nichols and in America had played in Nichols’ ad hoc bands. In the summer of 1928 Perley Breed returned to America supposedly for a short vacation but in fact didn’t return. when present. playing mainly with dancebands on passenger liners and also in India. Ted was regarded as just about the best jazz trombonist in Britain. He was also a great admirer of Louis Armstrong’s style and although favouring the ‘open’ approach to ‘hot’ solos was interested in the use of mutes – especially for ensemble purposes. viola and cello). Around 1920 Ted gave-up his job as a motor mechanic to become a professional musician. and occasionally a harp was added. Joe was born in Ireland and as a child learned to play the piano and clarinet. recognised his talent and encouraged him to take-on a fair proportion of ‘hot’ solos. but there was nothing weak about his replacement . He got on exceptionally well with the second trumpet player Dennis Ratcliffe. learned to play a range of brass instruments while still a child. working both as a session musician and freelance arranger. He showed sufficient promise as a band musician to be selected for studies at the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall. By the mid-1920s he had settled in London. After leaving the army Joe learned to play the saxophone and undertook studies in theory and orchestration at the Royal Academy of Music. getting his first big chance with Jack Hylton. Ambrose made regular use of his orchestrating skills. However. Although Joe Jeanette played rhythmically as part of the reed section ensemble. Jack Miranda left the reed section in mid-1928. Also in the spring of 1928 trombonist Sam Acres departed. Apart from playing the entire range of saxophones Joe remained proficient on clarinet and flute. He was a Londoner who. He remained a top New York session musician for some years then became a musical director with the NBC radio network. ranged from a couple of violins to the traditional string quartet (two violins. Prior to joining Ambrose he spent three months playing with Reggie Batten’s Savoy Orpheans. Like Henry Levine. Henry Levine returned to America when his extended contract with Ambrose expired early in 1928. His replacement was another musician destined to devote many years of valuable service to the Ambrose band – Joe Jeanette. By the time he joined Ambrose. along with his brother Bert. Subsequently he worked his way round the world. Eventually Ted opted for the trombone and his brother the trumpet and both played in amateur brass bands while still in their ‘teens. He had been regarded in some quarters as rather a weak link in the brass section. During the First World War he joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and was posted to the band school where he consolidated his clarinet playing and took up the flute. in September Ambrose decided to move Joe Crossman to first alto and leader of the reeds section. Indeed.Ted Heath. . and throughout the 1930s he was in charge of Ambrose’s library of arrangements. His immediate replacement as lead trumpet player and leader of the brass section was Jules Berkin (Ambrose’s first full-time trumpet player at the Embassy Club) but his tenure was somewhat brief and by the summer of 1928 another American trumpeter – Sylvester Ahola – had taken-over the section. on these two instruments he was highly regarded in classical circles and throughout his career contributed to symphony and chamber orchestras on a freelance basis. he was not a jazz virtuoso and only rarely did he perform solo. Later he worked for Bert Firman and then Al Starita. Consequently.

trombone. The band at the latter venue came under Ambrose’s control. After discharge from the merchant marine he played trombone in a Liverpool danceband and an interest in jazz later brought him to London. Apart from freelancing as an arranger and playing regularly at Rectors jazz club he worked in bands at the Hammersmith Palais. the son of a professional trumpet player and as a child learnt to play trumpet. but not music. As a highly proficient multi-instrumentalist he was never out of work. Max Bacon and Dick Escott comprised the rest of the regular rhythm section as before. then joined Jack Payne’s band at the Hotel Cecil. American pianist-arranger Leo Khan left the May Fair band in the summer. requiring the services of a second drummer (possibly Eddie Grossbart). He was a native of Liverpool. Bert Read was only twenty when Ambrose invited him to join the May Fair band. so it was merely a case of switching him to the May Fair. After a short spell at the Carlton Hotel he returned to New York where he worked for a music publisher. Joe Brannelly. clarinet. About a year before the war ended he became eligible for call-up and opted to join the merchant marine as an alternative to military service. piano and violin…all to professional standard! By the age of fourteen he had become a full-time musician. After fifteen months as relief pianist at the East Ham Palais-deDance he successfully auditioned for Vorzanger’s band at the Criterion Restaurant. Ciro’s Restaurant. Ambrose again ‘struck gold’. Arthur mainly played tenor but also soloed on baritone and clarinet when required. In his spare time (!) he attended lectures in technical subjects at Liverpool University and became something of an expert in automobile engineering and electronics. Unfortunately for science. He grew-up in East London’s Manor Park area and started to learn the piano at the age of six and golf one year later. At the May Fair. Savoy Hotel and Café de Paris. that Ambrose heard him play and invited him to join the May Fair band. at the Carlton. After training as a radio officer he joined a ship that was part of an Atlantic convoy and got torpedoed just a few months before the Great War ended. It was during his next engagement. For the tenor chair that Crossman vacated. .KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 57 Apart from playing alto Joe doubled on clarinet and baritone on both of which he shared ‘hot’ solos with the tenor player. Hotel Cecil. As only one timp was in occasional use at this time Max Bacon probably played it from the drum stool. After completing part-time studies in music theory he dropped-out of school and became a professional musician. He also studied theory and later developed orchestrating skills. Arthur Lally never fully recovered from this ‘near death’ experience and for the rest of his too-brief life suffered from mental problems. playing in brass bands. symphony orchestras. So far as his replacement was concerned. Regrettably. Bert Read was also a gifted arranger and in Ambrose’s band this skill was put to good use. pit bands and cinemas. although now Max Bacon was obliged to vacate the drum kit whenever the xylophone or other free-standing percussive instrument had to be played. he discovered jazz and before long was jamming at Moody’s Club. By the time he entered the sixth-form of the local grammar school Bert was a gifted amateur pianist but in deference to his father’s wishes prepared for a university degree in science. His arranging skills were also put to good use but none of his earliest orchestrations seems to have been recorded. Ambrose hired a young man by the name of Arthur Lally.

Lew Stone remained in overall control and Ronnie Munro and Van Phillips ‘on tap’. Each transmitter was associated with a studio although not necessarily at the same location. The London transmitter belonged to the Marconi Company and had the call sign ‘2LO’. was leading his own broadcasting/recording band during his short tenure on Ambrose’s arranging team. These recordings were organised by HMV and came between Ambrose’s regular recording sessions. American musical director/orchestrator Van Phillips. In the spring of 1928 Ambrose made his first broadcast from the May Fair Hotel. adjacent to the Savoy Hotel. There were seven studios at Savoy Hill. of course. It had taken almost a year for the hotel management to negotiate suitable broadcasting arrangements with the authority concerned which was. and like Fred Elizalde he had many advanced ideas when it came to arranging for dancebands.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 58 In the orchestration department there were also changes. However. but he was certainly travelling in the right direction as he approached his next big opportunity. This was actually the May Fair band and its purpose was to provide backing for four recordings by popular American baritone Whispering Jack Smith who was touring Britain at the time. three playing in the band. Ambrose’s ambition to join the ranks of the top British bandleaders was not to be achieved easily. In general. .) By 1923 five more transmitters had been established and most parts of the British Isles could receive broadcasts. like Ronnie Munro. the largest of which could accommodate a medium-sized orchestra. mainly comprising top American jazzmen. Early in 1922 the GPO issued licences for radio transmitters in London. There were now four new arrangers. having been appointed to a residency at the Savoy Hotel and for which he formed a highly acclaimed band. Fred Elizalde withdrew his services at the start of 1928. and directing. Moreover a dedicated landline network linked these regional transmitters. and by this time the studio and administrative headquarters of the BBC had been established in a building in Savoy Hill.London and Daventry. the BBC. By 1924 the London transmitter had been moved from Marconi House to the roof of Selfridge’s department store in Oxford Street. Later the same year the government persuaded the separate broadcasting companies to form a consortium so as to avoid conflict over the allocation of broadcasting frequencies. The installation had been paid for by the hotel along with the leasing of the landlines from the General Post Office (GPO). the danceband scene in Britain in the late 1920s was a credit to the dedication and enthusiasm of those associated with it. (In 1926 the BBC became a public corporation. before taking up this post Ray undertook one final task for Ambrose: arranging for. Landlines connected the hotel to the two national transmitters . Because radio would play such an important part in Ambrose’s career we must take a closer look at this institution as it was in the 1920s. A little later Ray Noble was obliged to withdraw from the arranging team after being appointed staff orchestrator with Jack Payne’s new BBC Dance Orchestra.different companies being involved in each enterprise. a temporary recording unit called the ‘Whispering Orchestra’. Even allowing for the fact that some of the top arrangers and musicians were Americans. Birmingham and Manchester . the best arrangers working in Britain at this time were equal to their counterparts across the Atlantic. The result was the British Broadcasting Company.

Late night dance music was usually broadcast from both London and Daventry transmitters. It wasn’t so much that the British Establishment considered commercial radio necessarily vulgar but rather the difficulty that they might have in indirectly controlling what was broadcast. For most working class households the pleasure of ‘listening in’ had to be postponed until second-hand sets started to appear in junk shops. However the government was determined to avoid the American experience in which a mass market for radio developed very rapidly after the early 1920s. At this time. payable by every household using a receiver. From a middle class perspective what the BBC provided was outstanding for the time. of course. financed the service ‘in the public interest’. Of course government influence was kept at arms length. initially encouraged as a means of providing ‘free’ broadcasts. each being connected to the various venues by land lines. These were successful and subsequently regular outside broadcasts from the Savoy and similar venues in London became standard late-night fare. it was an essentially London-based cultural elite that dominated broadcasting. The annual license fee was set at ten shillings [about £20 now] – not an excessive amount by the standards of today. And it’s this little bit that concerns us because it included a fair amount of dance music. It was probably the proximity of the BBC headquarters to the Savoy Hotel that led to some outside broadcasting experiments involving the hotel’s band being undertaken in the early 1920s. So in Britain a licence fee. Electrical companies like Marconi and Western Electric had become interested in experimental broadcasting. . From the various transmitters both national and regional programmes could be broadcast. given the millions of households in Britain. There was also an additional transmitter called Daventry Experimental (5GB) that sometimes participated. but the amount of independence enjoyed by the BBC was more apparent than real. The market for receivers was potentially huge. the BBC was catering almost exclusively for a well-educated and culturally refined clientele. the landline network enabled a degree of flexibility to be introduced so far as programme transmissions were concerned. These national transmitters were in London (2LO) and Daventry (5XX).KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 59 Importantly. but there were occasions when this was not the case. and it has to be emphasised that this term had a more precise meaning then than it does now. then. at 10. Around 80% of wage earners had an income that averaged £2 a week and the cost of a new radio receiver represented several weeks’ wages. and likewise with the term ‘working class’. This had been fuelled by the increasing ‘commercialisation’ of radio in the United States. to enhance the sale of their equipment – receivers as well as transmitters. And of course when the BBC became a corporation the last direct links with commercial interests were severed. but essentially High Brow with just a little light entertainment thrown in for good measure.30pm but by 1927 this had been extended to midnight (occasionally later) and late-night dance music was part of the normal schedules six days a week (note: never on Sundays). but the cost of a radio receiver was. some of which was jazz-oriented. And despite the regional variations previously mentioned. In the late 1920s the listening audience was essentially ‘middle class’. or the cost of receivers dropped as production methods improved. At first these broadcasts took place after the official ‘close-down’. As regional programmes were not usually broadcast late at night it was the two national transmitters that broadcast late night dance music. The BBC Board of Governors comprised solid Establishment figures and the first Director-General – Sir John Reith – undoubtedly shared their outlook.

which the government controlled. it may well have been the case that what Elizalde played was the closest to New York-style jazz that had ever been broadcast over BBC airwaves. Two years later there were 524 local stations licensed to broadcast. From the start of broadcasting in America the free market philosophy predominated. Indeed. Consequently. the other Savoy bands were excluded and Elizalde had the airwaves to himself for around three hours a week. In the spring of 1928 the BBC did in fact form its own house band – the BBC Dance Orchestra – under the direction of Jack Payne. who for some years had broadcast regularly from the Hotel Cecil. Kit-Cat Restaurant. and with a few notable exceptions providing similar output to KDKA. Owned by electrical equipment manufacturer Westinghouse and licensed as KDKA. Hotel Cecil. which started at variable times after 10. and it was the best available – Saturday night. dance music was well represented in overall light-entertainment output. and usually finished at midnight. as in Britain. being transmitted. One thing does stand out – whatever BBC listeners may have thought about dance music. In America the first regularly operated radio station started-up in 1920. The Orpheans were essentially what the Americans called a ‘sweet’ band while Elizalde’s outfit was. Here are some examples of regular broadcasting venues in the late 1920s: . . Some local stations were independent. Fred Elizalde & His Savoy Music and a tango band. radio programmes could only be received through headphones on crystal sets. jazz-oriented. Later a fourth – the Mutual Network – was added. of course. By the end of the 1920s America boasted thirteen million radio sets in use in just over forty percent of households. others were either owned by one or other of the networks or contractually affiliated. Thursday night was also generally allocated to the Savoy. A degree of government influence over broadcasting policy came in 1927 when a Radio Act was passed. Ambassador’s Club and. the May Fair Hotel. and national networks were established.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 60 Only a select number of hotels. Bearing in mind that there was only one national programme. There were three bands at the Savoy in 1928 – the Savoy Orpheans.30pm. they came overwhelmingly from the middle class.Savoy Hotel. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) ran two of these networks. Piccadilly Hotel. And it was an instant success. nightclubs and restaurants were permanently ‘wired-up’ for the broadcasts. Variety programmes sometimes featured popular dance bands and a regular one-hour late afternoon slot called ‘DANCING TIME’ was allocated to the London Radio Danceband directed by Sid Firman. the BBC knew this because people wrote in and said so – in substantial numbers. with minimal regional variations. except for the allocation of frequencies. Ciro’s Club. Carlton Hotel. The late-night slot was not the only time that dancebands could be heard on the radio in the late 1920s. from a year after it’s opening. but electronics technology was progressing rapidly and by the mid-1920s primitive receivers incorporating loudspeakers had arrived. and the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) a third. This was not really a BBC house band but one that was contracted to broadcast dance music from a studio at Savoy Hill rather than an outside location. In 1922 the first ‘commercial’ was broadcast and from this time on advertising became the principal means of financing American radio. In this respect the British and American experiences were different in the late 1920s. At this time. its output was almost entirely popular music and light entertainment. New Prince’s Restaurant. Café de Paris. The Savoy Hotel was the only venue to have a permanent weekly late-night time-slot.

She’s Funny That Way. Doin’ The New Low-down. Rudy Vallee. When You’re Smiling. Makin’ Whoopee. Ambrose’s first scheduled broadcast from the May Fair went out on Tuesday 20th March 1928 from 11pm to midnight. Titles of tunes played on these early broadcasts are available but no other details. Most programmes ran from 11pm to midnight with a few starting at 10. the first few broadcasts were dogged by technical difficulties and parts of some programmes from the May Fair went through Daventry Experimental while the BBC engineers sorted things out. One similarity with the British experience was the so-called ‘remote’ broadcasting of late night dance music from hotels.Al Jolson. less frantic dance music and a feint hint that the Jazz Age was giving way to something different. Much of what Ambrose broadcast included the latest hit songs. Lets Do It. Gene Austin. Ambrose certainly included vocals for the benefit of radio listeners. I Wanna Be Loved By You.30pm. Although major American dancebands helped to popularise these songs it was a handful of solo vocalists – essentially ‘song stylists’ – who clocked-up the greatest record sales. Sonny Boy. Button Up Your Overcoat. You’re The Cream In My Coffee. However. but with simpler steps). Bing Crosby. Crazy Rhythm. There was a brief revival of interest in early jazz-pop and The Original Dixieland One-step became a minor hit ten years after its original success. The Mouche. However. Shortnin’ Bread. Ruth Etting.about fifteen programmes in all. I’ll Get By. Sweet Lorraine. . In some cases they were only transmitted from Daventry. including: . and only two blues-influenced hits emerged that year – Washboard Blues and Yellow Dog Blues. Generally.A Precious Little Thing Called Love. Improvements had been achieved by mid-summer and from then on the May Fair band was allocated two or three programmes a month until the end of the year. but usually both national transmitters were used. In 1928 a bumper crop was available. Love Me Or Leave Me. Lover Come Back. Companies like Firestone and Bell Telephones eventually sponsored programmes devoted to classical music and such luminaries as Toscanini and Leopold Stokowski from the world of classical music presided over symphony orchestras permanently maintained by the networks.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 61 The big business interests that dominated the American networks were not overly moronic in their approach to what was broadcast. and one new dance in particular. Unfortunately. The Charleston was petering-out but still in demand and the same could be said for the Slow Blues. For the rest of that year they continued at odd intervals and on various nights of the week . Alberta Hunter and Paul Robeson. there was a trend towards smoother. So far as dance steps were concerned the foxtrot (quick and slow versions) remained supreme. There was something of a revival of interest in the waltz and onestep. including: . Dance Little Lady. although unlike in Britain different time zones had to be catered for (no easy task at a time when all broadcasting was ‘live’). I Surrender Dear. despite the fact that popular entertainment rather than high culture dominated the airwaves. I Can’t Give You Anything But Love. Danceband vocalists in general. Sweet Sue. Even quite small radio stations hired local dancebands and most of the big-name bands broadcast regularly on network radio. clubs and ballrooms across the country. and Eddie Grossbart in particular. Ethel Waters. clearly had a lot to live up to. the Baltimore (based on the tango. became very popular. to a much greater extent than in Britain dance orchestras were included in daytime and early evening scheduling. By 1928 the Blues Craze was petering out so far as the pop music was concerned. Drag and Black Bottom.

And this is precisely what he did. this highly lucrative set-up was wholly owned and run by Ambrose. Ambrose had other clients who owned clubs. What triggered this was a Tuesday late-night radio slot in the last week of December 1928 that had been routinely allocated to the May Fair. hiring guest artists. Because Ambrose was still under contract to HMV he was not credited on the record labels. This success did not go unnoticed by the upper echelons of the BBC. Somewhere. Apart from the fact that Lew Stone alternated between celesta and tubular bells in the augmented band and that matinee idol Jack Buchanan made a guest appearance no details concerning this broadcast have come to light. rather than purely business. (Eventually its turnover became so big that he formed it into a private limited company and employed a business manager to run it. The first required him to supply bands for the group as and when required for three years – the second. but considering that the BBC contributed nothing towards it in financial terms we can assume that Ambrose bore the full cost. Apart from Gordon Hotels. Operating under the title AMBROSE ORCHESTRAS. Now the May Fair was not open to outside trade on Christmas Day and the special party for regular guests was being held in the main restaurant and not the ballroom. this happened to be Christmas Day. so with the Brunswick releases of the previous year still available this made a grand total of ten records cut by the May Fair band over eighteen months. a goodly proportion being members of the ‘younger generation’ enjoying the rare privilege of staying up late.) In fact Ambrose did take-up the option of renewing his yearly May Fair contract in 1929 and the same year was also the turning point in his personal. success. restaurants or dance halls and didn’t want to hire the required musical talent directly. Although Ambrose’s lack of broadcasting and recording success only partially detracted from his prestige as resident bandleader at the May Fair. S’Wonderful. nor probably the fact that it was essentially self-financing! . Due to a single broadcast Ambrose had been propelled to national prominence. Coincidently.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 62 In November 1928 Ambrose returned to the Brunswick studio for a single session at which the following four titles were recorded: Roll Away Clouds. towards the end of 1928 rumours started to circulate that he was about to give up personal direction of the orchestra in order to concentrate on the development of his band agency. Of course all this work required a considerable amount of administrative effort and Ambrose had offices and a staff at Gloucester House in the Charing Cross Road. it was a smart move – the listening audience was estimated to be around fifteen million. which merely refer to ‘The May Fair Orchestra’. to personally direct the band at the May Fair for one year. By this time Ambrose’s HMV output had also been issued. Song Of The Sea. Although many of these early Ambrose titles had outstanding jazzinspired solos and superb ensemble playing by both brass and reed sections they made little impression on the record-buying public. However. He also continued to provide bands for private society functions – the appendage BAND SUPPLIED BY AMBROSE on an invitation to a ball was the next best thing to having the maestro attend in person (and for that to happen a hefty additional fee was required). using special arrangements and an augmented orchestra…even bringing in a small choir. Before dismissing this as improbable it has to borne in mind that Ambrose had two distinct contracts with Gordon Hotels. This meant that Ambrose had exclusive use of the ballroom and could use it more like a studio.

In general. Ambrose had something quite different in mind. although much of this was on the ‘lighter’ side of the musical spectrum. radio transmissions relied on live performances. If British radio audiences in the late 1920s were essentially middle class. However Elizalde’s ninety minutes of undiluted jazz was just about sixty minutes too much for the BBC. . this slot had always been allocated to the Savoy Hotel. Apart from the fact that many people relied on these late night transmissions for dancing in their own homes. of which the BBC was no doubt well aware.00pm every Saturday night. Until then. At this stage in its history the BBC was not inclined to pay dancebands for outside broadcasts and if Ambrose wanted to excel himself beyond what was strictly necessary then so much the better.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 63 From the first week of 1929 Ambrose broadcast at fortnightly intervals until the first week of March when one of the most significant events in his career occurred – he was given the most prestigious radio slot then available for dancebands. 10. in a studio or by means of outside broadcasts. None of this came cheap and Ambrose was obliged to bear the entire cost of the extra effort himself.perennial best sellers. the customers at the May Fair couldn’t be completely ignored. So far as the music was concerned Ambrose augmented the regular May Fair band with additional musicians and a vocal group. then the same can be said about record buyers. The true relationship between record sales and radio output was still an unknown quantity in the late 1920s.30pm to 12. and occasional guest vocalists including well-known variety and musical theatre artists. This came about essentially because Ambrose treated his programmes as something more than a mere succession of dance tunes. Programmes could not feasibly be pre-recorded. What Ambrose skilfully achieved was a feeling among listeners that they were being given something special. latterly being filled exclusively by Fred Elizalde’s band. This was an electrical device (originally intended for domestic use) that connected the sound box of an acoustic gramophone to the transmission equipment (or radio receiver in the case of domestic users). The large companies like Columbia and HMV had vast catalogues comprising mainly classical music. An American invention – the electrical pick-up – improved matters greatly. Until around 1927 there had been no way of playing records on the radio other than to position a microphone adjacent to an acoustic gramophone’s horn. Sometimes a notable instrumental soloist had a guest spot. These were usually by famous artists like Caruso and Dame Nellie Melba . Of course the dancing aspect had to remain predominant. Ambrose’s Saturday night radio shows were destined to become the most highly acclaimed danceband-based broadcasts in Britain. Dance music accounted for a relatively small proportion of the catalogue although some bandleaders clocked-up relatively high sales – particularly Jack Hylton. Some of the recordings on offer dated back to well before the introduction of electrical recording techniques including some pre-war favourites. that they mattered just as much as the hotel’s clientele. This meant that the ‘continuity’ aspect – the role of the MC/announcer – was an important ingredient. American radio networks soon perfected their own versions and from this time on it became feasible to play records directly over the airwaves. such as a flamenco guitar player or a famous pianist.

That’s Her Now. At the retail end HMV directly supplied ‘approved’ dealers in particular areas. There were probably other differences in the way records were produced. and had access to an international market (including America). Jack Hylton’s was the most prominent British band on offer. Me And The Man In The Moon. including Paul Whiteman. as a perusal of any HMV catalogue of the time will confirm. But the only serious rival was Columbia – the company that Ambrose had briefly recorded for in 1923. Leo Reisman. .KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 64 Record companies may have had their doubts about the relationship between the playing of records on radio and record sales at retail outlets. Thomas Edison had founded the American parent company and its British offshoot was established around the turn of the century. The quantity and range of HMV’s recorded output in the late 1920s was enormous. Unlike HMV. The initials ‘HMV’ referred to the world-famous trademark under which both records and record players were marketed – the industrial concern that owned this trademark was the Gramophone Company. together with anything that might resemble jazz. at least for its top artists. The Whole World Knows I Love You. Likewise music publishers were more than happy to have their songs performed on radio. To rival HMV in the British market there were around ten other companies in the late 1920s. and by implication their relative importance in the scheme of things. but none at all when it came to their artists performing live on radio. due to the celebrity status that this invariably guaranteed. This meant that there was a ‘pecking order’ among HMV’s recording artists according to which colour label their output was assigned to. Columbia supplied about a dozen wholesalers throughout the country who in turn supplied local retail outlets. his time with HMV had been as problematical as that with Brunswick. Ambrose completed his contractual obligations to HMV with two recording sessions in January 1929. particularly concerning the recording process. It had been founded around the turn of the century and by 1907 had become so successful that a large factory was opened at Hayes in Middlesex where both gramophones and records were produced. knowledgeable assistants would wait on elite customers who sometimes spent hours playing and selecting records. and recordings by American bandleaders were made available. although it opened its own store in London’s Oxford Street specifically for the upper class trade. The four titles cut were: If I Had You. Another difference was the way the records were manufactured – HMV used a disc of pure shellac whereas Columbia had a thicker laminated disc with only a thin layer of shellac on each side. The main recording studios were in Islington although some recording also took place at Hayes. Some of Rudy Vallee’s output was also included. (all arranged by Lew Stone). In its large sumptuously furnished rooms. accounted for a relatively small amount of HMV’s total output. though what the problems actually were in either case is not at all clear. By the time these sessions took place Ambrose had already signed-up with another record company. and Fred Waring. what mattered was the boost in sales of sheet music whenever a song was performed on the radio. So far as HMV records were concerned a colour code was applied to the labels that indicated their retail cost (which was strictly controlled). The performance royalties (paid only in Britain) were of little consequence. The break with HMV was the more serious of the two because this company was a big name in the record world. Gus Arnheim. Clearly. Columbia’s offices and studios were in Clerkenwell and the records were manufactured at a factory in Wandsworth. It is also quite clear that dance music.

No time was lost in releasing the titles on four records. So far as American recording artists were concerned Columbia in Britain had direct access to American Columbia’s catalogue and took full advantage of the fact. . Apart from price. who appears to have been in no hurry to inaugurate Decca’s first record catalouge. Exactly how this came about is not known but it seems likely that Decca’s dynamic boss Sir Edward Lewis approached Ambrose towards the end of 1928 and offered him a oneyear contract. Ambrose returned to the recording studio during April and at four sessions that month attempts were made to record ten titles. Luring top-flight artists away from established companies would be another matter. Even so Ambrose’s next move in his initially unsettled recording career was surprising – he signed-up with a company that was completely new in the record producing business – Decca.and one. However. and in Columbia’s case the services of a scientific genius called Isaac Shoenberg. all of which had a great deal of experience. On the other hand Decca had no experience in the recording industry and apart from the two giants – HMV and Columbia – would have to compete with ten or so lesser concerns. Had Ambrose left HMV to join Columbia no one would have been surprised. including the Chinel Galleries in Chelsea and Battersea Town Hall. all to no avail. And it was at the first of these rather odd locations that Ambrose took his May Fair band for its first Decca recording session in the first week of February 1929.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 65 This was a time of rapid technical progress and both companies had outstanding research departments. a stock-broker by profession. in a position to attract adequate investment funds. the initial recording efforts were undertaken in temporary premises. had builtup what had been a small family business only ten years earlier into a major British company . There had clearly been a degree of mutual dissatisfaction over the previous twelve months. supervised these initial recording sessions. which were included in the first issue of the Decca catalogue. Bing Crosby being an example. although early-on Lewis struck a deal with the American Record Company (ARC) to include some of their talent in Decca’s catalogue. The Decca Record Company’s managing director John Balfour. Although Decca had a factory in South West London that could be expanded to cater for the manufacture and distribution of records. Other artists that Decca signed-up in the early days had similar problems. moreover. though exactly what went wrong remains unclear. This was the start-up week for Decca recordings so the fact that the two titles that Ambrose cut proved to be technically unsatisfactory was understandable. Yes. but still too high for the mass market and they didn’t sell at all well. They were released on Decca’s 10-inch Magenta (‘M’) label and retailed at three shillings [about £1-20p now] supposedly reflecting the company’s slogan LEADING ARTISTS – LOWER PRICES. Lewis. the record manufacturing process at Decca’s factory remained flawed for many months and some of Ambrose’s output reflected this. So far as recording industry expertise was concerned Lewis was in a position to hire exactly what he wanted. something that Decca did have at the time was a proven track record in equipment manufacture and marketing. The reasons for these rejections were of a technical nature and no reflection on the band. Success at last came in May and June when eight titles were satisfactorily recorded over three sessions. The fact that Ambrose accepted this offer suggests that it was a particularly good one from a financial point of view and it seems likely that he was promised a much greater role in choosing what could be recorded than would have applied at HMV or Columbia.

Some important changes took place in the May Fair band during 1929. Van Phillips *Occasional additions. The guitar and string bass now had pride of place on some new arrangements. an American pianist and crooner temporarily working in London. Although marginally better that Grossbart he was way behind fellow American Phil Arnold who occasionally contributed to Ambrose’s early Decca recording sessions. For broadcasts only. Although it can’t be claimed that the standard of recording compared favourably with that of HMV around this time. by which time stability had once again been achieved: AMBROSE & HIS MAY FAIR ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Reeds: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Sylvester Ahola (trumpet) Dennis Ratcliffe (trumpet) Ted Heath (trombone) Joe Crossman (alto/clarinet/ /tenor) Danny Polo (alto/clarinet/baritone) Joe Jeanette (tenor/clarinet/flute/+arranger) Arthur Lally (baritone)* Bert Read (piano/+arranger) Joe Brannelly (banjo/guitar) Max Bacon (drums/xylophone/vibraphone/timpani) Dick Escott (tuba/string bass) Ernie Lewis (violin)… et al* Lou Aberlardo Phil Arnold* Betty Bolton* Lew Stone (co-ordinator) Arthur Lally. Here’s the line-up for September. On leaving Ambrose (at the May Fair he had only been a parttimer) he changed his name to Gross-Bart and continued to work as a session drummer and occasional crooner. but no personnel details have so far come to light. eventually forming his own band for club engagements. a female vocalist called Betty Bolton was occasionally brought in – and possibly others. Don’t Hold Everything. A Precious Little Thing Called Love. Do Something. Note that the vibraphone had been added to Max Bacon’s array of percussion instruments – an unknown substitute being required when he played this or the other freestanding instruments after the departure of Eddie Grossbart. the standard of playing by the Ambrose band was superb. The Wedding Of The Painted Doll. are Ambrose’s first Decca releases: Mean To Me. Ronnie Munro. Walking With Susie. Sugar Is Back. Rhythm: Strings: Vocals: Arrangers: .KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 66 Here. Only the brass section remained entirely unaltered. then. His successor was Lou Aberlardo. You’re The Cream In My Coffee. Also Ambrose regularly included an established vocal group (not the Vocal Three) for broadcasts.

After some months working in Berlin he arrived in Paris where Ambrose spotted him playing in a night club and persuaded him to join the reorganised band. Polo’s incisive yet fluid Chicago-style clarinet playing was widely appreciated in jazz circles and almost every top player at one time or another expressed their admiration. Joe Jeanette was switched to tenor but Joe Crossman provided the tenor ‘hot’ solos. He was also a fine all-round sax player and competent on flute. Along with drummer Dave Tough. Although Ambrose formed and controlled the band he put Arthur in day-to-day charge. Here’s the line-up: AMBROSE’S BLUE LYRES Brass: Reeds: Rhythm: Max Goldberg (trumpet) Tony Thorpe (trombone) Arthur Lally (alto/clarinet/baritone/+leader/+arranger) Peter Rush (alto/clarinet/+violin/+arranger) Rex Owen (tenor/clarinet) Harry Howard (piano) Bert Hadley (guitar) George Senior (string bass) Maurice Zaffer (drums) .KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 67 The most significant changes in Ambrose’s 1929 band took place in the reeds section. Arthur Lally joined the team of part time arrangers but occasionally played baritone at recording sessions. So far as Danny Polo’s colleagues in Ambrose’s reed section were concerned. Frankie Trumbaur. In 1926 he joined Jean Goldkette’s band in Detroit and also recorded with small groups in New York that usually included Bix Beiderbecke. only Joe Crossman was able to outplay him and only on alto (the numerous cutting contests between these two in London jazz clubs became legendary). Jimmy Dorsey. He was nominally second alto player but provided most ‘hot’ clarinet and baritone solos. Danny Polo had first come to prominence in 1923 when he joined the reed section of Elmer Schoebell’s Midway Gardens Orchestra in Chicago and played alongside Benny Goodman. Eddie Condon and Mezz Mezzrow. Arthur Lally’s new assignment was to lead the band at the Café de Paris a prestigious West End nightspot that came within Ambrose’s sphere of operations. Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti. Polo left New York in 1928 to try his luck in Europe. Other ad hoc groups that Polo recorded with at this time kept the flag flying for the more exuberant Chicago-style jazz and usually included Gene Krupa. Ambrose was able to pull the necessary strings to get him a work permit and no doubt the offer was just too good to refuse from a financial point of view. In May he asked Arthur Lally to front a band at the Café de Paris (a move that will be discussed in detail later) and obtained the services of American jazz clarinettist and sax player Danny Polo. Joe Sullivan.

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Max Goldberg was a highly significant inclusion – one of the finest trumpet players then working in Britain. He was a Canadian who had grown-up in Toronto and learned to play trumpet and French horn while still at school. Although he initially intended to take a science degree, success at local gigs as a semi-pro player led to a permanent switch to music as a career. In the early 1920s he spent a short time in New York and then came to London. After playing at various venues in London and the provinces he was spotted while playing at Moody’s Jazz Club by Jack Payne who brought him into the Hotel Cecil band. He then joined the Savoy Havana Band and later played lead trumpet in Jack Hylton’s Kit Cat band. Apart from being a fine lead trumpet player, Goldberg was one of the very few danceband brass players in Britain to feature the mellophone. This was a derivative of the French horn, though somewhat easier to play. Its most prominent exponent in jazz at the time was the American, Dudley Fosdick. Like Max Goldberg, Tony Thorpe would eventually become a long-serving member of Ambrose’s band. Little is known of his background, but like most modern jazz trombonists at the time he was clearly influenced by Miff Mole. Peter Rush was an all-round reed player as well as a superb ‘hot’ fiddler, but like his tenor-playing colleague Rex Owen seems to have been a relative newcomer so far as major danceband work was concerned. Of the others, only Bert Hadley (guitar) and Maurice Zaffer (drums) became long-term Ambrose musicians. The Blue Lyres started to broadcast from the Café de Paris soon after they arrived there. Ambrose also lost no time in arranging a number of live stage appearances in the London area. This became possible when he brought over Jimmy Caruso & His New York Syncopators for a two-month engagement at the Café de Paris. Although no secret was made of the fact that the Blue Lyres were an Ambrose outfit, he never fronted the band in public and Arthur Lally was given a considerable degree of freedom as its de facto leader. In addition to joining the arranging team for the May Fair band, he supervised the orchestrations for the Blue Lyres as well as undertaking a certain amount of session work, particularly with small recording groups. The arrival of the Blue Lyres at the Café de Paris caused something of a sensation and led to a dramatic revival in trade at the venue. Ambrose adopted a new approach to the new band’s dress code. At the May Fair the band wore black dinner jackets, dress trousers, wing collars and black bow ties (with Ambrose dressed in identical fashion – not in tails). The Blue Lyres wore white flannels, striped blazers, white shirts with soft collars and coloured ties. This caused some consternation among society gossip columnists, one even commented: ‘The new band at the Café de Paris plays rather well but looks out of place and rather cheap in their boiled shirts and tennis shoes’ Boiled shirts aside, the Blue Lyres certainly didn’t come cheap! And while on the subject of the Blue Lyres it’s worth pointing out that Ambrose started to use this title for a recording band comprising ‘hot’ players selected from the May Fair and Café de Paris bands. This recording outfit cut titles with a greater jazz content than would have been possible for a commercial danceband. Another major venue – Verry’s Restaurant in Regent Street – also had a band directly controlled by Ambrose. Violinist Jean Pougnet led this unit but no details of its line-up have come to light. Ambrose also supplied the band that played at a large ballroom attached to the Olympia Exhibition Hall – newly opened in 1929. Other bands for London nightspots were supplied by Ambrose’s agency but not directly controlled by him. In other words the work was sub-contracted.

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This was also the case with most of the small groups that Ambrose supplied for high-class private functions, which were generally one-night stands – or gigs. To say, as above, that these bands were ‘supplied by Ambrose’ is not strictly correct because he was no longer the ‘sole proprietor’ of the organisation that did the supplying. As his business interests grew it became necessary for Ambrose to protect his personal wealth should anything go wrong on the financial side. By the late 1920s Ambrose’s endeavours (excluding recording contracts) enjoyed a turnover of around £50,000 a year [about £2,000,000 now], and rising. The only way to obtain the necessary protection was to transform his organisation into a private company and so it became AMBROSE ORCHESTRAS LIMITED. The disadvantage was that Ambrose now had to comply with the requirements of the Companies Act and although less onerous then than in later years, still required a degree of formality, particularly over such things as bookkeeping and the involvement of fellow directors. The point about not including royalties from recording contracts is absolutely crucial – these were always between Ambrose as a person and the record companies concerned. The bulk of Ambrose’s later enormous earnings came about not from the fees he extracted from Ambrose Orchestras Ltd. but from his earnings as a recording artist. As the latter grew in the early 1930s the amount Ambrose obtained from the company diminished – indeed there were times when he was obliged to subsidise the company out of other earnings just to keep it from going under. However in the late 1920s it was a lucrative business and certainly provided the means for Ambrose to live in the manner to which he had become well and truly accustomed – which was very well indeed! Until 1929 Ambrose managed his organisational affairs somewhat casually. With the formation of the company this was no longer satisfactory and so he hired a manager to take care of the business side of things. Just as Ambrose was exceptionally lucky in having the services of Joe Brannelly as band manager, so it proved to be with administrative matters. His new business manager K.P. Hunt had a first class honours degree in electrical engineering from London University. During the war he had trained as a wireless operator and seen active service with the Royal Flying Corps. After the war he studied electrical methods of sound reproduction in the United States. As well as technical matters he became interested in modern management techniques, advertising and public relations. He was a gifted amateur pianist and had a remarkable knowledge of music. This was put to good use professionally because he was a prolific writer on musical matters. After giving-up full time technical work in the mid-1920s he worked for various show business interests and then became Jack Hylton’s press officer for a time. Ambrose gave K.P. Hunt almost total control of his business affairs and complete control of the office at Gloucester House. He turned out to be a brilliant administrator and the organisational system he set-up was the last word in efficiency and proved to be of lasting value. In July 1929 Ambrose recorded fourteen titles for Decca, some of which were released the following month and the remainder in the autumn. It was during the course of these sessions that Lou Aberlardo took-over vocal duties from Eddie Gross-Bart. Near the end of July the weekly broadcasts were temporarily halted while Ambrose took an extended leave of absence to visit America. The band at the May Fair continued to function with Ernie Lewis deputising for Ambrose. The boys in the band were given their annual two-week vacations at staggered intervals over the summer, substitutes being hired as required.

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During August, High Society departed to the country or abroad and it wasn’t quite the done thing to remain ‘in town’, although of course some did. The May Fair was popular with foreign tourists (particularly Americans) but even so the month of August was somewhat quieter than usual. However, ‘outside trade’ remained brisk and the ballroom-cum-restaurant stayed open for business. Ambrose’s American trip was part vacation, part business. Combining business with pleasure was something of an Ambrose speciality. At this time the sea trip took around five days and as a first class passenger with the White Star Line, Ambrose’s journey would have been very pleasant indeed. Nor was the Whitehall Hotel on Broadway – where Ambrose invariably stayed when in New York – any less pleasurable than the May Fair, being the American equivalent of a British five-star hotel, and a favourite haunt for visiting show business celebrities. Although the year was the fateful one of 1929 the event that would bring the Roaring Twenties prematurely to an end – the Wall Street crash – had not yet occurred when Ambrose mingled with (mainly) unsuspecting New Yorkers going about their business in the summer heat. The business that interested Ambrose was show business, particularly those aspects of it that were likely to affect the development of his various enterprises in Britain. So far as the New York jazz scene was concerned Ambrose was certainly spoilt for choice. King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller were all appearing at leading venues within the same few blocks, and numerous white jazz bands were finding useful employment in high class down town establishments. And yet all was not well with jazz in its pure forms. King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and the Chicago-style white players were facing challenges from the emerging big band style that they seemed unable to meet, despite having pioneered some of the basic musical innovations that the new style incorporated. After 1929 the kind of jazz they stood for dwindled in popularity and only a dedicated minority of players and aficionados kept it going. Both Oliver and Morton attempted to adapt to the big band idiom, but without success. Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller did so by skewing their output towards popular entertainment, and essentially without losing their jazz credentials. These things merely reflected a discernable trend in popular music in the late 1920s – a trend that had something to do with the need for more sophistication in musical styles than could be provided by jazz and blues in their pure forms. The jazz-influenced danceband – or big band – could provide this sophistication in degrees ranging from ‘sweet’ to ‘hot’, with a few ancillaries, like Latin American rhythms, thrown in for good measure. Like Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller they were able to give the public what the public wanted – and the best of them without diverging completely from the jazz idiom (although purists might disagree). In terms of commercial success the band that dominated New York, indeed the whole of America, in the late 1920s remained the one led by Paul Whiteman. Whiteman was not entirely happy with the trend away from jazz – after all it was supposed to be his ‘sovereign’ territory! This fact is important because Whiteman wielded enormous power in the American music industry at the time. His recorded output was enjoying huge sales and he broadcast four major band shows every week over network radio. He resisted the move towards overtly ‘sweet’ dance music by enhancing his orchestra with some of the finest jazz soloists available.

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In the late 1920s these included: Bix Beiderbeck, Eddie Lang, Jimmy Dorsey, and Tommy Dorsey. Whiteman also featured one of the best white jazz and blues singers to emerge in America at this time – Mildred Bailey. And he also retained the services of one of the most talented big band arrangers of the era – Bill Challis. Despite the inclusion of exotica such as oboes, bassoons and innumerable strings, the jazzinfluence manages to punch its way through and a fair amount of Whiteman’s late ‘twenties output is accordingly of interest. It didn’t seem to interest Ambrose much though, and when he later outlined to journalist Leonard Feather the bands that had influenced his early style Whiteman’s wasn’t included. Isham Jones, however, did get a mention, and in the late 1920’s, despite a tendency to drop out of the danceband scene for occasional ‘retirements’, remained a formidable rival to Whiteman both as a recording artist and on radio. By this time Jones had given-up fronting the band on tenor and was one of the very few batonwielding bandleaders to genuinely conduct his band – that is by facing the players, reading from a fully notated score and controlling the tempo. Some of these scores were the work of Jones himself, and he remained a significant arranging talent, particularly where blues-based numbers were concerned. Ambrose could only appreciate the Isham Jones band at a distance but while in New York he was able to spend some time with the highly acclaimed Ben Pollack band (this was because Pollack’s manager Bernie Foyer was hoping to arrange a London engagement for the following year) At the time Pollack was attracting capacity audiences at Manhattan’s Park Central Hotel with a band that included Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden and featured a substantial number of arrangements by Don Redman. Apart from a nightly half-hour radio show Pollack recorded regularly for a variety of labels, often adopting pseudonyms like ‘The Whoopee Makers’ or ‘The Hotsy-Totsy Gang’, and hired top soloists like Eddie Lang, Bix Beiderbeck and Jimmy Dorsey for these sessions. Benny Goodman joined the Pollack band in 1925 while it was still a West Coast outfit, and played alongside Glenn Miller and Fud Livingston (both doubling as arrangers). Despite leaving intermittently to play with other bands, latterly Isham Jones’, Goodman invariably returned to the Pollack fold. Although most highly regarded for his outstanding Chicago-style clarinet playing he was nothing if not versatile and also regularly played alto, baritone, flute, oboe - and occasionally cornet. The other principal jazz soloist with the Pollack band was Jack Teagarden on trombone. He worked with Glenn Miller, until Miller departed later in the year. Miller had been appreciated more for his arranging skills than as a trombonist, and when Teagarden joined the band Pollack struck gold. Teagarden’s warm, richly melodic, blues-influenced playing was unlike anything that had gone before. Miff Mole’s style was emulated by most post-New Orleans trombonists, and was reasonably easy to copy. The same cannot be said for Teagarden’s technically complex method of playing; consequently his immediate impact was personal rather than widely influential. Like Benny Goodman he was a prolific session player in addition to his work for Pollack. Goodman and Teagarden got on well with Ambrose, who at this time was one of the few British bandleaders to circulate within the New York jazz community. Ben Pollack’s band was essentially a jazz-oriented danceband rather than a jazz band proper, although on recordings the string section was usually dispensed with.

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Actually, he only used strings because the hotel management insisted on it, and this was one of the things that irked Benny Goodman and some of the other jazz players in the band. And yet the hotel band was a huge hit with the American East Coast college crowd and radio audiences. The point was probably not lost on Ambrose, still formulating a musical policy for his own purposes. As usual while in America, Ambrose put a trip to Harlem high on his agenda. And consequently a visit to the already famous Cotton Club, from where Duke Ellington was attracting an extensive popular following due to nightly radio broadcasts. It wasn’t just the quality of the band’s playing that made Ellington so popular but also the unique kind of music that they produced. Much of this was original and composed by Ellington and others to accompany the floorshows that were a feature of the Cotton Club. Apart from blues-inspired ‘mood’ numbers, Ellington’s music included unique instrumentals with impeccable jazz credentials, and the famous ‘jungle sound’. Cootie Williams (from Fletcher Henderson’s band) replaced Ellington’s star trumpeter Bubber Miley, originator of the ‘growl’ technique - a key factor in the ‘jungle sound’, in 1929. Williams continued to develop Miley’s style and became equally influential. Other significant players at this time were clarinettist Barney Bigard, altoist Johnny Hodges and baritone player Harry Carney. Carney was particularly influential in defining the role of the baritone, because the inclusion of this instrument in reed sections was considered highly desirable when the tuba started to be phased-out in the late 1920s. Apart from individual examples from within the twelvepiece band it was the so-called ‘Ellington Effect’ that would be of lasting influence, especially on jazz composers and big band arrangers. Ellington’s novel composing/arranging skills essentially involved key members of the orchestra to the extent that it’s difficult to say exactly who was responsible for what. Although Ellington’s work owed much to classical music – particularly harmonic structures – it is significant that he refused to undertake formal studies in music theory, despite the pleadings of Luckey Roberts and others. Although Ambrose certainly made at least one visit to the Cotton Club at this time it is not known for certain whether he actually met Duke Ellington there, but it seems probable. Duke had a significant following among white audiences due to his nightly radio shows but his main impact was on other bandleaders, musicians and arrangers. Apart from the fact that most of his compositions originated as tunes rather than songs, their true worth was not generally appreciated at the time. Duke Ellington’s manager and mentor, the music publisher/impresario Irving Mills, did arrange for lyrics to be added to most of his tunes and consequently several became hits in the best traditions of Tin Pan Alley (TPA). Irving Mills also published the music of pianist/composer Hoagy Carmichael. Until 1927 Hoagy had been studying law at Indiana University as well as writing music and occasionally jamming on piano with Bix Beiderbecke and other jazz stars. In 1927 Red Nichols had a big hit with Hoagy’s Riverboat Shuffle and Hoagy then abandoned his law studies and moved to New York. It was also in 1927 that Hoagy Carmichael composed an up-tempo ragtime number that he called Stardust. Mills published it as an instrumental in 1928 and the same year Don Redman’s band recorded a lively jazz version. The tune later came to the attention of Isham Jones who passed it over to his arranger Victor Young. Young transformed it into a lilting bluesy number, which Jones then used.

Mills. This became a big hit. ‘THE LITTLE SHOW’ was a review that starred actor/dancer Clifton Webb. the pop version was sufficiently close to the original to avoid coming under the heading ‘jazzing the classics’. After obtaining a copy of the original score of Bolero Ambrose orchestrated a condensed version for the May Fair band. which came from a ballet sequence in the Ziegfeld production – ‘SHOW GIRL’. an all-black show that included Louis Armstrong. again on radio. Two other major hits also came from Broadway shows – With A Song In My Heart (‘SPRING IS HERE’). he was intensely patriotic and from early on in his career became identified with the British Establishment. Although something of a libertine in private. Ambrose introduced Star Dust as an instrumental on his radio shows (the orchestration was by Sid Phillips. Waller’s first big hit – Ain’t Misbehavin’ – came from this show. The multi-talented Coward had an odd love/hate relationship with America. Ambrose had already recorded two songs in Britain in July 1929 that would become hits in America later the same year. naturally. Lyricist Mitchell Parish (who worked for Mills’ publishing concern) put some words to the music and in 1929 it was re-published as the song Star Dust. and torch singer Libby Holman who sang Moanin’ Low. but nevertheless resenting the ‘creeping Americanisation’ of British popular culture. Ambrose probably saw some of the current shows on Broadway. During his stay in New York.a classical theme that became a popular hit without lyrics. Hoagy Carmichael’s Star Dust is an example of the very best that Tin Pan Alley produced during its legendary existence. which he broadcast the following year. However. and prior to this a number of plays. Ziegfeld had already arranged to bring Coward’s show to Broadway by the time Ambrose arrived in New York. agreed and speeded-up the normal process whereby his American hits were subsequently published in Britain by Lawrence Wright. but never recorded. at the time Lawrence Wright’s chief arranger) and it was subsequently published as a piano piece. after being popularised as such. On the other hand Ravel’s Bolero was that rare commodity . These were I’ll See You Again and Dear Little Café both of which were featured in the Noël Coward stage musical ‘BITTER SWEET’ that had opened in London earlier in the year. and Without A Song (‘GREAT DAYS’). Both Stravinsky and Ravel were greatly admired by Ambrose who retained a keen interest in the kind of music for which he had originally been trained. Ambrose approached Irving Mills with a view to using it when he got back to London. by the cabaret singer Leslie Huthinson (Hutch) and others. but it had to be turned into a song before becoming a really big hit. played the ‘show girl’ in the title. As it had not yet been published in Britain. for American hits to reach Britain and there was very little traffic in the opposite direction. One that had originated in Harlem was Fats Waller’s ‘HOT CHOCOLATES’.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 73 Mills heard this version on the radio and immediately recognised its potential as a TPA song. However. and so did another song from the same show – I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan. Although Bolero had to be shortened so as to fit on a 10” record. Something similar had happened to Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring after its introduction some years earlier. Ruby Keeler. Another big hit of 1929 was George Gershwin’s An American In Paris. It usually took a year. Like most people Ambrose became personally attached to certain tunes and Star Dust was one of those tunes. . Not until 1930 did it appear in Britain as a song. sometimes longer. not really anti-American. who co-starred with Jimmy Durante. A year earlier Coward had successfully staged his first musical on Broadway.

and anyway the revenue generated by playing Tin Pan Alley items over the airwaves was considerable. By 1929 Gene Austin. By the late 1920s the number of Americans with access to a radio was approaching sixty million. Of course there was the temptation for small local stations to substitute records for live performances although the networks and their local affiliates were discouraged from doing this by the threat of legal action on the part of the record companies. All had important network radio shows that equalled those of the name bands in popularity if not the number of weekly programmes. composed by his mentor Con Conrad. still convinced that record sales would be aversely affected. A new entrant to the ranks of top female vocalists was Mildred Bailey. By 1929 this new genre had become well established if not exactly perfected. particularly the galaxy of stars who contributed to Coward’s successes on Broadway. Ruth Etting and Annette Hanshaw also broadcast regularly and remained hugely popular as a result. The most successful radio bands remained so for many years. Most of this music was broadcast live – it had to be because the art of pre-recording programmes was still at the experimental stage.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 74 Because Ambrose had a quick wit and a nice line in repartee he was popular with Coward and his immediate entourage. Another major factor contributing to the decline of vaudeville was the film musical. essentially by giving the public just what it wanted. around half the country’s population. Evelyn Laye. Vincent Lopez. The decline of vaudeville and the increasing sophistication of musical theatre in America meant that declamatory singers like Al Jolson and Sophie Tucker were obliged to adopt a more intimate style in order to succeed on radio. The last three were almost entirely committed to ‘sweet’ dance music. even though this changed over time. listeners could tune-in to an average of a dozen local stations. . These two did just that – others didn’t and declined in popularity along with the vaudeville theatres. Guy Lombardo. essentially a product of the ‘talkie’ era. some affiliated to one or other of the network companies. Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee had been joined by the latest singing heartthrob Russ Columbo. Another influential film musical of 1929 was ‘ON WITH THE SHOW’. others quite independent. Fred Waring and Wayne King led the most popular network radio dancebands. Paul Whiteman. By the year’s end this song had clocked-up record sales exceeding two million. A sequel in 1928 was followed a year later by three films all of which were ‘talkies’. The music publishers didn’t care how their songs were broadcast just so long as they were – mass exposure always led to increased sales of sheet music. Jack Buchanan. These included: Gertrude Lawrence. However the big film musical hit of 1929 was undoubtedly MGM’s ‘BROADWAY MELODY’ – the ‘all talking – all singing – all dancing…sensation!’ This essentially set the standard for hundreds of film musicals that emanated from Hollywood over the next thirty years. Apart from the three major networks. About 30% of programmes broadcast consisted of dance music ranging from obscure local bands to the big ‘name bands’. Lower down the scale the tradition of British variety acts appearing in American vaudeville continued throughout the 1920s although by 1929 American vaudeville was in decline due to the spread of radio and talking pictures. In New York there were around twenty local stations by the late 1920s. Not bad going since it was only two years previously that Al Jolson had startled movie audiences by suddenly bursting into song in the partially silent film ‘THE JAZZ SINGER’. who came to prominence after joining Paul Whiteman. Florence Desmond. and dancer Tilly Losch. Isham Jones. Colombo’s big hit of 1929 was Prisoner Of Love.

By the late 1920s the blues was much less in evidence in mainstream pop music. Piccolo Pete. Hollywood’s formula for its own requirements even simpler. Now the BBC had until this time been quite content for bandleaders to formulate and present the contents of such broadcasts without undue interference. He also got in some golf with Benny Goodman. Another film musical released the same year was ‘SALLY’. Just You Just Me. . Pagan Love Song. However. the fact that Ambrose was on the spot must have been an advantage. Although Ambrose did not yet warrant celebrity status in America his visit was of sufficient interest to attract the attention of at least one minor gossip columnist who not only told of the above vacation exploits but also revealed that he had been seen in the company of: ‘A delectable sixteen-year old chorus girl called Constance Cummings’. Painting The Clouds With Sunshine. Of course there were a number of regulations that had to be complied with. Film musicals became an additional source for popular songs after 1929. Louise.Am I Blue. As well as Tin Pan Alley. You Were Meant For Me. and he undoubtedly made a note of titles likely to catch-on back home. Puttin’ On The Ritz. like the blues. and some of this filtered through to the networks. The standard formula for Tin Pan Alley numbers was simple enough. Mean To Me. Broadway Melody. Rather than cater for the tastes of well-heeled white audiences in Harlem clubs (as did Ethel Waters). but on the whole bandleaders were left to their own devices. again in Technicolor. Radio stations in country areas were broadcasting a lot of live hillbilly music by the late 1920s. Broadway and Hollywood were obliged to take note. had an indirect though profound effect on some aspects of popular music. The white equivalent to the blues was country (hillbilly) music. Honeysuckle Rose. Although most of the top British bandleaders kept abreast of American hits before they were published in Britain. Ambrose took some time out for purely pleasurable pursuits during his stay in America. and this. as songs written specifically for cabaret and musical theatre got steadily more sophisticated throughout the decade the output of Tin Pan Alley didn’t. in early September Ambrose was obliged to return to London and pick-up where he had left off…or perhaps not! In mid-September Ambrose resumed his Saturday night radio broadcasts.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 75 Apart from the use of an early form of Technicolor this film featured black singer Ethel Waters. With country music there was a reverse process – the popularity of dancebands on network radio gave rise to a new country music style (later called Western Swing) that was just beginning to emerge in the late 1920s. an occasional sporting partnership that would last for decades. And so. Basin Street Blues. Apart from the titles already mentioned. Bessie preferred to tour the South with a tent show and despite the best efforts of the Ku Klux Klan proved as popular with white audiences as with her own people. and featuring Ziegfeld star Marilyn Miller. Liza. True Blue Lou. new regulations were now issued and these forbade the disclosure of song titles and prohibited the inclusion of vocal choruses. although sudden ‘crazes’ always had to be accommodated. Singin’ In The Rain. Why Was I Born. with blues artists like Bessie Smith relegated to Race Records and radio programmes that had large AfricanAmerican audiences. Green Eyes. the other big hits in America in 1929 were: . You Do Something To Me. including a trip to the Catskill Mountains in the company of Jimmy and Jane Dorsey. Jericho. Delectable liaisons notwithstanding.

of course. Lou Aberlardo functioned as MC/announcer . however. but who its personnel were is not known. On the other hand Ambrose (in particular) had used his allocated time to present a radio show that went beyond a mere succession of dance tunes and/or pop songs and. As before. But of course it would wouldn’t it? After all they were taking ‘plug’ money. but both in their way were facilitating Ambrose’s ambitions. Ambrose made his position clear by withdrawing the bands at the May Fair and Café de Paris from the airwaves. An all-male vocal trio was also featured on a regular basis. after all. As well as taking care of the routine vocals. He had. these new regulations – which only applied to late night outside broadcasts – caused consternation among the handful of bandleaders concerned. content to leave the running of the corporation to the Director General. As usual the BBC was caught between a rock and a hard place – or two opposing interests. and a large number of listeners who made their views known by writing to newspapers and the BBC. at his own expense. And anyway they were supposed to be providing music to dance to and not a 1920s version of ‘TOP OF THE POPS’. who was partial to ‘hot’ dance music and friendly with Jack Hylton (a Labour Party supporter). Moreover Mrs Philip Snowden. the bandleaders. and was later joined by Florence Oldham. Ambrose recommenced Saturday night broadcasts in early November.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 76 The BBC made it clear that any bandleader who dared to flout these new regulations would be banned from the airwaves. moreover. was spearheading the campaign against. remained critically hostile – the dedicated dancers. One section of the listening public. and one that was growing increasingly appreciative. it was not so much the actual deed itself that bothered them but rather the tarnishing of its own image as an upholder of national probity. A deadly combination of religious fundamentalism and socialist conviction. her interventionist outlook was quite different to that of the average BBC governor. as before. A combination of Lansbury’s intervention and ripples from the Wall Street crash (which occurred in October. was obliged to bear the cost of these extras himself. And many radio listeners had indicated their appreciation of Ambrose’s efforts by writing to the BBC – a quaint tradition of the time! Although the BBC had been concerned for some time about reports in the press regarding ‘plug’ money. Neither the BBC nor the hotel management made any financial contribution. Before the kafuffle got out of hand wiser councils prevailed. This was the peculiarly named Ancient Order of Fox-trotters. The Labour government (in power since the previous June) had within its ranks George Lansbury. a Saturday night audience numbering millions. who objected to the inclusion of vocals and ‘hot’ solos because they tended to divert the concentration of dancers away from the intricacies of ‘correct’ dancing. both girls being experienced broadcasters. Ambrose. The opposing side comprised the venue owners. or at least their most fanatical representative organisation. the band was augmented with a string section and an additional percussionist. . 1929) put the matter to rest and at the end of October the new regulations were rescinded. Predictably. The objective was to curb the payment of the ‘plug’ money previously referred to. Perhaps they had a point – at the time some people did actually roll up the living room carpet and dance to the strains of the radio. no doubt introducing any new numbers that he brought back from America.Ambrose being ‘microphone shy’ at this time. Betty Bolton also made occasional contributions. the wife of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

but they weren’t – at least not for Ambrose! The arrangements were superb. At a stroke the last weak link in its armoury of talent had been eliminated and from this time on Sam Browne became one of the select few upon whom Ambrose placed almost total reliance and in whom he had absolute confidence. With A Song In My Heart and Painting The Clouds With Sunshine – were songs as yet unpublished outside America. clarinettist Starita had recently left the Piccadilly Hotel where he had led a danceband and was now working as a session musician. The other possibility is that he didn’t even know he was under consideration. a rather odd assignment to say the least. they should have been sure-fire hits. so Ambrose may have been the first to record them in Britain.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 77 By the autumn of 1929 Decca had released over twenty Ambrose titles and between October and December he cut around another twenty. Starita’s brief was to advise Ambrose on how to overcome his lack of recording success. One of three Italian-American brothers who had worked in Britain since the early 1920s. particularly if account is taken of his prolific session work in addition to vocalising for Ambrose. and regardless of cost. this was not the case – he was competent to the extent required for a singer. both loosely associated with other bands but essentially freelance session vocalists. Also. Of the man who did get the job – Sam Browne – it is almost impossible to exaggerate his significance to the success of the Ambrose band. Starita attended a Decca recording session in early January and immediately came to two conclusions . Decca was incapable of making records of sufficient quality to justify the price being asked. the instrumental work excellent. but this seems unlikely given that the salary on offer was £30 a week [about £1. inferior sound quality and high prices prevented Ambrose from joining the ranks of the top British recording artists. Ambrose hired a musician/bandleader with a great deal of recording experience – Al Starita. Ambrose quickly acted on both conclusions. in America if necessary. Joe Brannelly was ordered to find a vocalist with clear ability in the recording studio. but a combination of poor vocal work.200 now]. Ambrose also approached the two major British recording companies – Columbia and HMV – with a view to switching labels when his contract with Decca ended in March. So far as a new vocalist was concerned. Despite these advantages. Even before negotiations were completed Ambrose notified Decca of his intention to depart. and could transpose from one key to another when necessary. he had worked with Fred Elizalde and some of the ad hoc recording groups comprising Ambrose sidemen. Given that he probably ‘plugged’ them on the radio. Al Bowlly had a distinct singing style and was a competent rhythm guitarist. Although some profiles of Sam suggest that he couldn’t read music. Three of these – Pagan Love Song. And he was not best pleased! To assist him in fashioning a more satisfactory recording career.firstly. Bowlly did not get the job – of course he may not have wanted it. a much better vocalist must be used and secondly. . Joe soon reduced the shortlist of possibilities down to two names – Al Bowlly and Sam Browne. Of course employing people on a ‘can’t do without’ basis doesn’t come cheap and Sam Browne was probably the highest paid band vocalist in Britain throughout the 1930s.

(Special provisions existed for interchange between Canada and the USA. back in residence at the Café de Paris after a successful tour of variety theatres. ‘take-three’ from the first session was inadvertently used instead of ‘taketwo’ from the second session. and one of his first to benefit from Sam Browne’s vocal talent. was a song that became indelibly associated with Ambrose over the years – Body And Soul. One of the last titles to be recorded by Ambrose at Decca. Both the United States and the United Kingdom had introduced restrictions on so-called ‘alien’ workers after the First World War. and there might have been some truth in this because Lally had made known his intention of leaving when his contract expired in the spring. Around this time there was some speculation that Al Starita would soon be taking over leadership of the Blue Lyres from Arthur Lally. For some reason Decca became dissatisfied with the third ‘take’ and the song was re-recorded at a subsequent session. an American composer and society bandleader. the Blue Lyres. Ambrose’s recording was only a minor hit at the time but sold steadily and remained in the Decca catalogue for twenty-five years! About the time he recorded Body And Soul. At this time the May Fair ballroom was not fitted with loudspeakers so he was only on duty during the weekly broadcasts. but not before the first batch of records had been released. had written it for a West End review in which she was then appearing.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 78 The loss of the Ambrose band must have been somewhat daunting for Decca’s dynamic boss Sir Edward Lewis. Johnny Green. (During broadcasts ballroom patrons could scarcely hear the vocal contributions. All she had was Johnny Green’s hand-written music. but by the end of March this function also had been taken-over by Sam. sketched-out an arrangement (later refined by Bert Read) and after obtaining Johnny Green’s permission performed the song at the May Fair – all within the space of twenty-four hours! If the circumstances under which Ambrose gained access to Body And Soul were somewhat unusual its recording history was equally so. However. Sam Browne made his first broadcast with the May Fair band.) Sam Browne also broadcast with Ambrose’s other band. Many of these became steady sellers rather than instant hits.) . Legend has it that Ambrose first heard it sung on the radio by musical theatre star Gertrude Lawrence. Subsequently Ambrose included it in a Decca recording session in February 1930. at least so far as the British government was concerned. Ambrose may have been the first bandleader to perform Body And Soul in public. This mistake was eventually rectified. In the American case such restrictions applied to anyone not classed as a ‘citizen of the USA’ – in Britain they applied only to those outside the boundaries of the British Empire. And so there are two versions of Body And Soul both bearing the same catalogue number. Normally this would be of little interest. Ambrose immediately fell in love with the song and contacted Gertrude Lawrence for details. After three attempts (‘takes’) a recording was produced that was considered acceptable. so Ambrose borrowed this. but something rather odd occurred when the title was eventually released. but the first recording was made by Jack Hylton. Apart from Sam Browne’s excellent vocal this version included a rare violin solo by Ambrose himself. and a few remained in the Decca catalogue for several years. it was not to be – Starita had outstayed his welcome. Lou Aberlardo continued as MC/announcer for a few weeks. but at least he had fifty odd titles the recordings of which remained the property of Decca. who also partly financed the review in which it was featured.

the British government declined to retaliate despite the pleadings of the MU. Had this gone ahead.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 79 Because these restrictions were not really aimed at either set of ‘transatlantic cousins’ the issuing of work permits was little more than a formality when someone from Britain wanted to work in America…and vice versa. Public opinion in both countries would have been hostile to such actions. An early casualty was Jack Hylton who had rashly accepted an engagement for his band in Chicago. there was also an imbalance in the number of ‘alien’ musicians working in the two countries. but only 140 Americans in Britain. a tacit ‘closed shop’ system was enforced. even if only part-time. The MU issued a set of minimum rates and working conditions but these were really recommendations and not enforceable in many cases. the attitude of a home country’s workers and trade unions another. Unlike their stage equivalents. Although the American government announced early in 1930 that no further work permits would be issued for British musicians. at least in the big cities. It would have been inconceivable to deny Gertrude Lawrence a work permit to appear on Broadway. For musicians it was quite different and from the mid-1920s antagonism between the respective unions – the Musicians’ Union (MU) in the UK and the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) in the US – accelerated. Similarly with vaudeville (US) and variety (UK) – the stars of both regularly crossed the Atlantic. and strike action was taken whenever the AFM deemed it necessary. The same year the AFM reported record unemployment among its members and apart from placing an embargo on British bands playing in America brought pressure to bear on the US government to stop work permits being issued to ‘alien’ musicians. the MU and AFM were entirely different in structure and outlook. Even if the MU had wished to adopt such policies by the late 1920s this would have been difficult because following the 1926 General Strike a Conservative government had introduced a Trades Disputes Act that made such militancy difficult to put into effect. Public opinion is one thing. However. at least for the foreseeable future. In 1929 it was estimated that over 500 British musicians were working in America. and many Broadway shows and plays regularly transferred to the West End. The AFM ensured compliance with its rates and conditions by militant action – members were not permitted to work with non-members. and the respective unions (Equity and the Variety Artists Federation in the UK – Actors Equity in the US) concluded agreements that were accepted by the two governments. So far as show business was concerned there was a long tradition of interchange between the two countries. Membership of the AFM was restricted to full-time musicians and applicants were obliged to pass both reading and performance tests before being admitted to membership. This militant approach had paid-off and only musicians working on the fringes (like in jazz clubs!) remained outside the union. In the case of stage workers there doesn’t seem to have been a great problem. Moreover permit holders who had worked in Britain for three years or more would have to apply for British citizenship or face having their permits revoked. . In the early years of the 20th Century the Broadway stage had been dominated by British productions. the entire AFM membership in the Windy City would have been brought-out on strike. This was known because of the work permit systems. Apart from the differences in trade union practices. or Fred Astaire in the West End. it was decided that the automatic renewal of work permits would no longer be allowed and that a good case would have to be made for such renewals. Membership of the MU was open to anyone who claimed to play a musical instrument for a living.

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These were general provisions and not directed specifically at musicians or the show business fraternity. Essentially, the door was still left open for American musicians to work in Britain and for American bands to cross the Atlantic, just so long as they didn’t outstay their welcome. So far as the MU was concerned they weren’t welcome at all. However the British public disagreed and booking agents were well aware of the drawing power of American artists and bands. Al Starita was an early victim of the new regulations and as he did not wish to relinquish his American citizenship had little choice but to bring his career in Britain to a close. Arthur Lally went to the Berkeley Hotel in March and Ambrose asked Peter Rush (Lally’s second-in-command) to lead the Blue Lyres. The same month Sir Francis Towle offered Ambrose a further three-year contract to supply bands for Gordon Hotels, and also a renewal of the contract for the May Fair band (which was negotiated annually). Of course both contracts really involved Ambrose’s company, which was now a big player in the band supply business. As well as the Café de Paris and other restaurants, clubs and dancehalls, the well-known Kit-Cat establishment now came within Ambrose’s orbit. The Kit-Cat had a definite jazz bias, or at least a reputation for ‘hot’ dance music. Ambrose brought over two American bands for limited summer engagements, Hal Kemp’s for the Café de Paris, and Ted Lewis’ for the Kit-Cat. It was also in March 1930 that Ambrose returned to HMV. On this label he would have some distinguished stable mates, including Jack Hylton. HMV also featured some of the output of famous American artists through an agreement with RCA-Victor. These included Paul Whiteman, Rudy Vallee and Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians (a popular band and choral group). Given HMVs formidable publicity and marketing clout – and the fact that he had negotiated better terms than previously – Ambrose’s entry into the mainstream of British pop records was at last possible if not actually guaranteed. Between March and June 1930 a dozen or so titles were cut under the direct supervision of Al Starita. By the end of July most had been released and immediate acceptance by the record buying public showed that Ambrose had achieved the desired break-through. The fact that Ambrose was able to feature songs on his radio programmes just before they were released on record didn’t go unnoticed, but this was part of Starita’s plan and fortunately the HMV recording executive responsible for Ambrose’s output supported this strategy. However, there was no chance of recording any of the jazzoriented instrumental arrangements that were also broadcast, and this tends to affect our present perspective of the Ambrose band circa-1930, which is a pity. It was certainly more than purveyor of Tin Pan Alley pop music. Both Hal Kemp and Ted Lewis arrived with their bands for eight-week stints at their respective venues at the end of May. Hal Kemp was a noted sax player and his band a highly acclaimed jazz-oriented outfit. During his tenure at the Café de Paris the Blue Lyres undertook a tour of variety theatres in the London area. Ted Lewis was a veteran clarinet player who had been one of the first white musicians to adopt a justabout-genuine jazz style in New York before the ODJB took the town by storm in 1917. However, even then his flamboyant comedy routines tended to overshadow any jazz content and down the years his playing had become increasingly perfunctory. Despite this he was hugely popular, at least in America. Apart from the music his other weakness was booze, and this proved to be his undoing, at least so far as his British venture was concerned.

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Although both Hal Kemp and Ted Lewis were well known in Britain, it was one of Lewis’ sidemen who caused the greatest flutter of interest especially among jazz fans. This was Jimmy Dorsey who had joined Lewis’ band especially for the London visit. By now Jimmy Dorsey and his wife were personal friends of Ambrose and they stayed at the May Fair as his guests. It must almost have seemed like a home-fromhome for Jimmy Dorsey because he knew all Ambrose’s American contingent and had worked with most of them in New York. It was during his visit that Dorsey took part in a ‘jam session’ at Pop’s Club (a high-class West End jazz venue) that turned into a ‘cutting contest’ between himself, Danny Polo and Joe Crossman. It was probably a draw, but afterwards Jimmy Dorsey maintained that Joe Crossman was the best jazz altoist he had come across outside of America. Poor old Ted Lewis ran into trouble on his second day at the Kit-Cat. That evening the restaurant was scheduled for the BBCs late-night dance music slot and Lewis took on the role of MC/announcer. Apart from the peculiarity to British ears of his Lower East Side patter he was clearly ‘sloshed’. In fact Lewis spent most of his spare time staggering from one bar to another unable to get enough of what was then not so easily obtained in America – good quality liquor. Usually it didn’t matter too much because his prancing comedy routines performed in front of the band masked his inebriated state. Such behaviour over the sacrosanct BBC airwaves was quite another matter. For the rest of the band’s engagement at the Kit-Cat Ambrose was obliged to supervise its late-night radio slots, and may even have fronted the band on these occasions. About the time the American bands arrived in Britain, Ambrose hired his first regular (although essentially part-time) girl vocalist. This was sixteen-year-old Ella Logan. She had been born into a well-known Scottish theatrical family and first appeared on stage at the age of three. Throughout the 1920s she toured Britain and Europe as a child performer in various stage shows. Although she had sung on the radio with various bands, including Jack Hylton’s, it was the regular broadcasts from the May Fair that gained her national recognition. Although she sang scores of different songs during her eighteen month stint with Ambrose only a half dozen or so ever got to be recorded (anonymously) with the May Fair band, possibly because she had her own separate recording contract. Ambrose also used an established vocal group called the Three Ginx for broadcasts. This group comprised Eric Handley, Ivor Robbins and Jack Joy. In June 1930 the top West End bandleaders attended a meeting at Pop’s Club called by Jack Hylton to discuss the formation of an association to protect their interests. That such ‘protection’ was thought necessary was indicative of the general feeling that bad times were on the way. In America the Great Depression was rapidly taking hold and its British equivalent – the Slump – just beginning to be recognised as more than a temporary glitch. Apart from the wealth and power he derived from years at the summit of British show business, Hylton was important because he had links to the Labour government and trade union movement. In some respects he was a political animal and even considered standing for parliament on more than one occasion. The association was duly formed with Hylton as president and Ambrose as chairman and immediately sought discussions with the already established association that represented West End hotel, restaurant and club owners. Some owners had been threatening to hire less expensive bands from outside London unless the regular bandleaders lowered their financial expectations.

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This doesn’t appear to have happened on a large scale so some compromise was probably reached. However, the squeeze was definitely on. Another sign of the times was the gradual elimination of the big independent hotels. Most of the top London hotels now belonged to conglomerates like the Gordon group. For example the Savoy and Berkeley hotels and Claridges were part of one group, the Ritz, Grosvenor House and Embassy Club another, and so on. One of the last big independents was the Piccadilly Hotel, and in June 1930 this was taken over by Gordon Hotels. The Piccadilly boasted two salon orchestras (one led by a youthful Max Jaffa) and two dancebands. Provision of the bands now became part of Ambrose’s remit. Times might have been getting harder but this doesn’t seem to have stopped Ambrose’s empire expanding. Whether it remained as profitable is another matter. The part that supplied bands for private functions certainly seemed to be taking a knock, probably because the era of the Bright Young Things and their wild and wildly expensive partying had all-but disappeared, along with the Roaring Twenties. At the time Ambrose lamented in the Melody Maker: ‘The gig world as we knew it hardly seems to exist anymore’. Those experiencing the economies of the Slump might be forgiven for not feeling much sympathy for Ambrose in this respect, at least the non-musicians among them. Ambrose was a keen all-round sportsman. Occasionally, on summer Saturdays, he would play cricket for the village team near his country retreat in the Weald of Kent. But his favourite sport was golf, for which most Sundays were reserved. He was quite good and as with the violin it was only lack of practice that militated against even better performance. Ambrose’s passion for golf was shared by quite a few of the sidemen who played in the various bands under his control. In the May Fair band Bert Read, Ted Heath, Sylvester Ahola, Joe Brannelly and Joe Crossman were keen players and others like Sam Browne and Joe Jeannette dabbled in the game. In the summer of 1930 Ambrose organised the first of many annual golf tournaments for his musicians. Apart from a substantial cash prize the winner held the Ambrose Band Golf Cup until the next tournament. Another nice touch was the annual dinner that Ambrose organised for the boys in the main band, and this too was held just before the summer vacations came into effect. For this event wives and girlfriends were invited and usually some notable guests. Hal Kemp and his wife, and Jimmy and Jane Dorsey were guests at the1930 dinner. (Presumably poor old Ted Lewis was otherwise engaged!) Towards the end of July musicians in the May Fair band started to take their annual vacations. In most cases these were staggered over six weeks because the band – or rather an emasculated version – continued to operate. All the musicians were entitled to two weeks paid leave, but could take additional unpaid leave. This was so in the case of the American contingent and Danny Polo, Sylvester Ahola, and Joe Brannelly returned to America for extended vacations. In fact they travelled to New York on the same ship as the Kemp and Lewis bands homeward-bound after their London stints. Ambrose did not go to America that summer; he had a one-week engagement in Paris that extended into the first week of August. This undertaking involved an unknown Parisian venue and a studio broadcast, but no details have come to light. Nor is it clear what band Ambrose took over – possibly an ad hoc one. After this Ambrose spent about four weeks in the South of France, returning to London in early September. Ernie Lewis supervised what was left of the May Fair band during Ambrose’s absence.

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The substitute musicians engaged that summer included Ted Heath’s brother Bert on trumpet. Broadcasts ceased over the summer, but resumed on the first Saturday in September. Danny Polo was the only musician who failed to return after the summer break. As a replacement second altoist Ambrose hired Jack Shields. He was also a noted ‘hot’ clarinettist, but henceforth Joe Crossman would play the baritone solos. Apart from these reed section changes the band remained the same as before. One parttime addition to the arranging team around this time was Sid Phillips. Although not a regular component of the May Fair band, the string section that Ambrose used for recording and broadcasting purposes was beginning to attract attention due to the quality of its contributions. This was due partly to the outstanding skill of the players, and partly to the unique scoring of the arrangers, particularly Lew Stone. Ernie Lewis was the only full-time fiddle player and his primary function was to deputise for Ambrose on the May Fair bandstand. He was also the nominal first violin when a string section was used, but he was not really a virtuoso so didn’t usually play any violin solos that might be required. This task usually fell to one of the part-time fiddle players. They came exclusively from the pool of top session violinists, or from other orchestras within Ambrose’s jurisdiction. The number used on any particular occasion varied from two to four, although it usually sounded as though more were being used. Two of the violinists that Ambrose used in the early 1930s could play in ‘jazz mode’ – Peter Rush and Teddy Sinclair. The others were essentially classical musicians, the best-known being – Jean Pougnet, Eric Siday, Reginald Leopold, Max Jaffa, Hugo Rignold and Reg Pursglove. Although Ambrose’s recording career had taken off he was still relegated to the ‘second eleven’ when it came to recording titles for HMV. The following were the big hits of 1930, with those recorded by Ambrose being denoted in bold type: A Bench In The Park, Blue Again, Body And Soul, Cryin’ For The Carolines, Dancing On The Ceiling, Falling In Love Again, Georgia On My Mind, Get Happy, I Got Rhythm, Little White Lies, Love For Sale, Rockin’ In Rhythm, Sweet And Hot, St James’ Infirmary, The Free And Easy, Ten Cents A Dance. Jack Hylton and other artists undoubtedly got first choice when it came to recording the best of Tin Pan Alley’s output for HMV, but at least Ambrose had his foot in the door. Listeners to Ambrose’s Saturday night radio shows would have fared better when it came to the latest hit tunes, and Ambrose usually included a sprinkling of jazz classics and speciality numbers. According to Joe Crossman the band was still using the arrangements that had been commissioned four years earlier from Fud Livingston, so numbers like Bugle Call Rag, Dippermouth Blues and Doctor Jazz were occasionally featured. So too were some of Duke Ellington’s compositions like Black and Tan Fantasy and East St Louis Toodle-oo, especially after Sid Phillips joined the arranging team. As such output was never recorded we cannot now fully appreciate the true worth of the band at that time from a purely instrumental point of view. Also the lack of extended solos on the recorded titles tends to mask the abilities of individual players. This was something else that could be rectified on the radio, and each week at least one soloist was featured in a speciality number.

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Sylvester Ahola, Dennis Ratcliffe (trumpets), Ted Heath (trombone), Joe Crossman (alto), Danny Polo (clarinet), Arthur Lally (baritone), Joe Brannelly (guitar), Bert Read, Max Bacon (xylophone) and various violinists were specially featured at one time or another. Lew Stone sometimes played a featured piano solo with the band during broadcasts and occasionally celesta and tubular bells. Max Bacon could already play the xylophone when he joined Ambrose and was subsequently badgered into learning the vibraphone. Around this time, encouraged by Ambrose, Max took parttime theory lessons at the Guildhall School of Music. Within eighteen months he had acquired sufficient skill to try his hand at composing and wrote a popular song – Too Good To Be True – that Ambrose broadcast in the spring of 1930. During the autumn of 1930 the May Fair band continued to record and broadcast much as before. In November Ambrose presided over a big charity dance at the Olympia ballroom - the first time that the band had played in a public dance hall. The event was a sell-out, and in some respects marks the end of Ambrose’s professional exclusiveness. The Roaring Twenties had come and gone…the Triumphal Thirties were beckoning - at least so far as the Ambrose Orchestra was concerned.

III 1931-1933
By the start of 1931 the American Depression that followed hard on the heels of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 had become a world-wide phenomenon. The Crash was a single event; the Depression a process. Of the former, one example will suffice – the pauperisation of the great American showman Florenz Ziegfeld. By the late 1920s he had accumulated a vast fortune almost all of which was invested in stocks and shares. On that fateful day in October 1929 when shares plummeted in value Ziegfeld could not be immediately reached by his stockbroker. By the time Ziegfeld authorised the sale of his holdings it was too late – they were virtually worthless. Ironically, the popular song Happy Days Are Here Again was published around the same time that the stock market crashed! The generalised misery among the American people, of all classes and all races, which came with the Great Depression must be acknowledged but not dwelt on. It went from bad to worse until the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Presidency in 1932 and the launch of his New Deal recovery programme the following year. Of course many Americans escaped the worst ravages of the Depression – but very few remained unaffected by its psychological consequences. Popular culture reflected this but primarily in an escapist way and so far as music was concerned it wasn’t Tin Pan Alley, Broadway or Hollywood that provided the most authentic themes but rather the jazz, blues and country singers who lived and worked in the midst of the despair. In Britain only a relatively small number of investors were affected by the Wall Street Crash. Among them was Winston Churchill who had a similar experience to Ziegfeld, although the sum involved was a great deal less. In a way this is ironic because some of the financial problems that afflicted Britain in 1931 had their origins in measures introduced during Winston Churchill’s tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1924 and 1929. On the other hand, Churchill was one of the most pro-American politicians around at the time and undoubtedly held-out against those who advocated economic retaliation against America due to its policy of keeping out imports.

Apart from bringing pressure to bear on the US government to stop issuing work permits. As the Depression took hold after 1930. To some extent the AFM acted as a filter. particularly large concerns. The AFM’s militancy worked not only because its membership remained loyal but also because it was in the interests of musicians’ employers to work with the union. A similar fate befell vaudeville theatre bands as radio replaced live variety in the affections of the populace. This was not entirely because of US government policy. In fact it was not possible for a musician to merely ‘join’ the AFM – he (rarely she) had to be ‘accepted’ into its ranks. Of course special provision was made for foreign virtuoso performers to appear on American concert platforms but these were invariably of the classical kind. Of course there was an increase in the number of musicians required for film production and radio work. From the late 19th Century to the start of the First World War millions of people were allowed entry into the United States. and these included standards of behaviour. And it wasn’t only establishments like hotels and restaurants that were cutting-back . but rather restrictions imposed by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). musicians started to be laid-off in ever increasing numbers. The AFM considered that it had good reason to adopt the approach it did and it’s difficult not to sympathise. America had never subscribed to the Free Trade ethos of the British. This combination of ‘carrot and stick’ was a clever strategy. and it worked at a time when many mainstream unions in the United States were in a weak position due to anti-union measures introduced after the First World War. but when the United States replaced Britain in this role after the war. and satisfying a range of personal criteria deemed essential for a ‘professional’ musician. ‘alien’ danceband musicians and entire dancebands were definitely unwelcome. . In 1920 the door started to close. then. particularly ‘cheap’ labour. One good example of this was labour. Little wonder. And that meant passing both performance and music reading tests. Added to these Depression-linked problems was the end that came to live movie theatre music as the ‘talkies’ rapidly replaced silent films after 1929. particularly for those not possessing Anglo-Saxon credentials. the trade union concerned. In return for minimum rates of pay and specified working conditions the AFM guaranteed minimum professional standards. British musicians who wished to work in the United States after the late 1920s had a particularly hard time. which covered central New York.session work in recording studios was also in decline. but this hardly matched the numbers being jettisoned. This mattered little before the First World War when Britain was the principal creditor nation. After the war the need for labour diminished dramatically and the ‘huddled masses’ were no longer welcome. it mattered a great deal. and even those that did could not always obtain work permits. and when it didn’t want it any more kept it out. had around two thirds of its membership either unemployed or under-employed. Without such immigration the fantastic expansion in American productive industries would have been impossible. the AFM had a great deal of influence over major employers of musicians. America imported what it wanted when it wanted it. keeping out ‘undesirable elements’ and so making its membership an attractive proposition to those hiring musicians. rather than against it. One thing’s for sure. Around this time the AFM’s Local 802. that the AFM felt compelled to take action against foreign incursions even though this remained a token gesture until the mid-1930s. And any concessions on the part of the AFM rarely extended to large orchestras of whatever type.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 85 And it so happened that the more the United States withdrew behind economic and social barriers the more dangerous the world became.

in 1931 five-million! The other major companies suffered a similar fate. Britain was much more of a class society than America and that strata of society in Britain that could clearly be defined as ‘middle class’ suffered less than its approximate equivalent in America…if indeed it suffered at all! Generally. and a substantial proportion of the workforce benefited from such factors as the continuing buoyancy of certain light industries and a suburban house building boom that not even a world-wide depression could stop. In London and urban areas of the South East and Midlands unemployment was much lower. Since the late-1920s the MU had become increasingly concerned about the success that the AFM was having in keeping-out ‘alien’ musicians and bands and continually pressed for retaliation. this included ‘semi-professionals’ – musicians who might well be employed elsewhere when they were not playing music for remuneration. Of course. but at different rates vis-à-vis the respective total work forces. The problems that beset the AFM and MU were also somewhat different. but apart from the fact that both operated as trade unions they were very different organisations. Membership of the MU was open to any ‘musician’ who could claim to be working as such in virtually any capacity. in the US high unemployment was generalised throughout the country and affected almost every class of worker. in America the record industry served a truly mass market – in Britain it didn’t. the MU used whatever influence it could to obtain minimum rates and working conditions and was not entirely unsuccessful. Of course. By 1931 unemployment was increasing in both the US and the UK. but on nothing like the same scale. I don’t’ know about you lot but I’ve got work to do!’ The onset of the Great Depression was accompanied by a catastrophic collapse in the American record industry. the cost of gramophones and records was beyond the means of most of the working class (around 80% of the population). and so work permits continued to be issued to visiting American musicians. It got so bad that for a time the production of phonographs ceased altogether. the AFM’s counterpart was the Musicians Union (MU). In Britain the Slump also led to reduced record sales and cut-backs in production. professional musicians in Britain were paid rates that put them firmly in the middle class bracket and on the whole it was middle class audiences that they catered for. The Americans now held the whip hand in matters financial. Why the difference? Well. The MU did its best to change the government’s mind by sending a deputation of unemployed musicians to meet with the minister concerned. Apart from upholding the principles of Free Trade the UK government was also anxious to avoid any kind of confrontation with the US government because of the heavy imbalance in debt between the two countries. Record buying in the UK was essentially an upper and middle class pursuit. And as mentioned above the middle class (around 15%) was not affected by the Slump to the same 1929 thirty-five million. Take for example sales of Victor records . . Moreover. Essentially. In the UK really heavy unemployment (up to 75% in some localities) was confined to rural areas and large industrial cities. she cut short the meeting with the immortal words…‘Well. but it never achieved the same rapport with major employers in Britain as did the AFM in America. Miss Margaret Bondfield.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 86 In Britain. But the MU lacked the necessary influence in government circles.

Despite the Depression radio continued to expand in the United States. The fact that the initial cost of radios in the US was lower and there was no licence fee to pay were contributory factors to the widespread success of broadcasting there. British variety theatres would remain a force to be reckoned with until the mid-1950s. This was also the case in the United Kingdom. all-dancing’ film musical in the late 1920s Although British variety stars also worked in broadcasting in increasing numbers from the late 1920s. this was far removed from the American experience – in the early 1930s around one-third of all radio programmes were devoted to dance music. Even so. The decline of American vaudeville virtually dried-up what had been for decades a flourishing exchange of variety artists between the US and UK. . The trend accelerated throughout the 1930s. And the reason was much the same as that applying to records…it was just too expensive. although the live stage shows in America from which radio variety emanated were known as ‘vaudeville’. The other great attraction on American radio was ‘variety’. Indeed. could attract listening audiences of around fifteen million. while in Britain it was again mainly the middle class that annually purchased approximately five-million radio licences. was under threat by the mid-1930s. the live variety show did not go the same way as its American counterpart. undoubtedly helped by the fact that the quality of radio sets continued to increase while prices remained virtually static. The major networks between them had twenty-six weekly coast-to-coast programmes featuring ‘name’ bands. like Paul Whiteman and Guy Lombardo. Even the very best of vaudeville. although it took much longer for broadcasting to penetrate the aforementioned working class. but so too was the wider appeal of American broadcasting to a mass market. but also the annual licence fee of ten shillings (about £20 now) that put people off. It wasn’t just radio that brought this about – Hollywood had much to do with it after the invention of the ‘all-talking. It wasn’t only the initial cost of the set (after all second-hand sets were available). Oddly enough. This term was used in both countries. so the question of restricting such exchanges never arose. the BBC took note of the fact that its audiences were becoming more culturally diverse and that a substantial proportion craved less highbrow fare. Perhaps reluctantly.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 87 Listening to the radio was also a mass phenomenon in America. it was the demand on the part of British radio audiences to see radio stars performing that kept the theatres open. by the early 1930s – and despite the Slump – the upper echelons of the working class began to join the ranks of ‘listeners-in’ (as they were then called). all-singing. In fact variety and light music programmes did increase substantially up to the mid-1930s. Just as well because after 1930 the number of vaudeville theatres in America started to decrease at an alarming rate. The big stars of American vaudeville gravitated to radio in ever increasing numbers after the mid-1920s. Top bandleaders. such as the famous Ziegfeld Follies. Even so. British films of the time simply could not cater for this in the same way that Hollywood did.

but this was probably off-set by those drawn to dancing by Hollywood musicals. Again. radio. it is not necessary to avoid all references to Ambrose’s non-musical activities. This was due as much to the lack of investment funds as to the output of Hollywood. like radio and films. lack of genuine evidence the latter. Hollywood musicals certainly had a detrimental effect on live Broadway musicals and the number of shows produced annually declined dramatically after 1930. Indeed. theatres. Inevitably. Over time new evidence comes to light and additions and corrections to previous accounts can be made. singers and dancers available than jobs in ‘the business’. we will be able to use the terms ‘swing band’ and ‘jazz combo’ in addition to ‘danceband’. In both countries. neither will it be possible to provide any meaningful account of Ambrose’s personal life. many of the top Broadway stars. there were always more actors. but not just yet. both of shows and individual performers. and a whole host of related genres depended on popular music for their success. This has to be accepted in any area of investigation involving much diversity and a degree of controversy. continued to flourish despite the Depression was dancing. there were differences between the British and American experiences.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 88 Unlike the tension that came to exist between the AFM and the MU. like Fred Astaire. There are important aspects of Ambrose’s career that are not known for certain and can either be ignored or speculated upon and this inevitably results in glaring omissions and factual errors. Just as we cannot keep referring to the great events that dominated newspaper headlines and preoccupied (most) people at the time. However. their musical theatre counterparts – Actors’ Equity Association (US) and Equity (UK) continued to enjoy an excellent relationship throughout the 1930s. dance halls. Later. was too strong to succumb to external pressure. All the above will be expanded as necessary during our continuing investigation into the career of Bert Ambrose. but for a different reason. Obviously…but what is not always appreciated now is fact that the musical entity that concerns us – the danceband – was an important component in major parts of popular entertainment not immediately concerned with the dance floor. . As with musicians. gravitated to Hollywood after 1930. The tradition of exchanges. In one respect the British approach to ballroom dancing was unique – the degree of formality that had come to exist among its really serious devotees. in some respects it was being turned into a competitive sport rather than merely being a means of having a good time. who was last encountered preparing for the busy festive season that would herald-in the 1930s. particularly as certain of these do have a direct bearing on his career. and speculation in this area is usually pointless. films. and by implication musicians and singers and others to produce that music. public dance halls were established in all cities and major towns and elsewhere ad hoc dances were regularly organised. Records. Of course listening to the radio must have kept some potential dance hall customers at home. Even so. Another aspect of popular culture that. it is unlikely that any meaningful details about Ambrose’s private life in the 1930s will now emerge. but this time not so great. Space restrictions preclude the former.

Before taking a look at Ambrose’s output around this time we must consider the line-up of the band as it was in early 1931: AMBROSE & HIS MAY FAIR ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Reeds: Rhythm: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Sylvester Ahola (trumpet) Dennis Ratcliffe (trumpet) Ted Heath (trombone) Joe Crossman (alto/clarinet/baritone/tenor) Jack Shields (alto/clarinet) Joe Jeanette (tenor/clarinet/flute/+arranger) Bert Read (piano/+arranger) Joe Brannelly (guitar/banjo) Max Bacon (drums/xylophone) Dick Escott (string bass/tuba) Ernie Lewis (violin) Eric Siday (violin)* Reg Leopold (violin)* Sam Browne Ella Logan* The Three Ginx* Lew Stone (co-ordinator) Sid Phillips Arthur Lally *Occasional additions. Of course Ambrose was still obliged to preside over what came to be called the ‘Starlight Room’ of the May Fair Hotel. However. attracting increasingly appreciative audiences. Saturday night radio shows continued as before. it was broadcasting and stage appearances that enabled the combined talents of the band to shine. He was generally regarded as ‘second-in-command’ and Ambrose made no secret of his reliance on Lew’s advice when it came to formulating musical policy. and the demand to see and hear the band perform ‘live’ was becoming irresistible. and this restricted his sphere of operations somewhat. and 1931 was a very significant one indeed. Although Lew Stone was essentially a freelance arranger. much of his work at this time was for Ambrose and related either to the main orchestra or bands that came within Ambrose’s orbit. Strings: Vocals: Arrangers: . most importantly in America. This came about primarily through the release of some of Ambrose’s HMV records outside the UK.the years between 1931 and 1939 were the most meaningful in Ambrose’s fifty-year career. Nevertheless after 1931 no single venue would be able to claim his exclusive attention. However.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 89 One thing however is certain . it was Ernie Lewis who deputised for Ambrose at the May Fair as and when required. This was the year that the Ambrose Orchestra began to achieve international success.

it becomes expedient to specify vocalists alongside the recorded titles to which they contributed. HMV also had a very good. Consequently. house band under the direction of Ray Noble. Something that should be emphasised at this stage is that Ambrose only recorded a fraction of his current library of arrangements. Unlike under previous labels his record sales were now becoming significant. and the fact that such a large proportion of them are worthy of consideration. This was a precursor to returning full-time later in the year. Is this unfair to the arranging/instrumental talent also involved in danceband recordings? Yes – but perhaps the fact that danceband vocalists were (usually) the lowest paid members in any band mattered more at the time. but for now he played saxophone with the Savoy Orpheans (the principal danceband at the Savoy Hotel). By early 1931 Ambrose had around thirty titles listed in the HMV catalogue and could now be said to have made it into the mainstream of recorded popular music. to listen to it. The titles of some of the unrecorded arrangements are known and although we can’t be sure what they sounded like there is no doubt that much of significance has been lost to posterity. Moreover a number of American bands that recorded for the Victor label had some of their titles issued in the UK under the aegis of HMV. and Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians. it has to be appreciated that by this time dancebands had come to be accepted by the record buying public as part of the pop music mainstream. Rudy Vallee’s Connecticut Yankees. these arrangements were ‘exclusive’ rather than ‘stock’ and he is known to have attended the arrangers’ conferences that Ambrose held on a regular basis. . The big problem with this is the shear quantity of recordings that were issued after 1930. Also. So far as dancebands under contract to HMV were concerned pride of place went to Jack Hylton who exercised almost absolute control over what he recorded (and probably what other bands could record). Duke Ellington. Despite all this. The best way to appreciate Ambrose’s recorded output is. This particularly applies to the band’s instrumental output from the mid-1930s to the end of the decade. whether provided exclusively for the dance floor or also for radio audiences. there remains the need to put at least a representative sample of them into some kind of context.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 90 Sid Phillips was also in a somewhat unique position in the arranging team as he was also staff arranger for the Lawrence Wright music publishing concern. Whereas until the end of the 1920s the vocal content in danceband recordings was a side issue. and increasingly popular. These included – Paul Whiteman. The best estimate that can be made is that approximately 25% of the arrangements that were commissioned between 1931 and 1939 got to be recorded. of course. Ambrose had little to complain about and he was certainly getting a much better deal than during his previous stint with HMV in 1928/9. Also. but in the early 1930s what Ambrose did record was quite representative of his overall output. It seems probable that arrangements he made for Ambrose at this time were under the aegis of the publisher. it’s worth noting that very few band vocalists got record label or catalogue credits until the end of the decade. although there seems little doubt that he was relegated to a somewhat subsidiary position in the pecking-order of recording artists at HMV. by the early 1930s it had become of prime importance. And while it is true that as the years go by more and more Ambrose titles are being reissued in the form of CD compilations. Even so. Arthur Lally returned to the arranging team on a part-time basis having patched-up any differences between himself and Ambrose.

The resulting conglomerate was established under the name of Electrical & Musical Industries (EMI) and encompassed all kinds of electronic equipment manufacture as well as record production. HMV was obliged to cut back and the extensive pressing facilities at Hayes were scaled down after 1930.000. A Bench In The Park. the inclusion in the band of top jazzmen like Sylvester Ahola. There was no chance of recording any of the jazz-oriented instrumental numbers that Ambrose may have included in his broadcasts. Shoo The Hoodoo Away (+ Ella Logan). Inevitably. The Love Waltz. However. Such output maximised profit in the short term…and it was in the short term that a cash-flow problem was rearing its ugly head.000. A reduction of over 90%! Many American record companies went out of business. HMV’s approved dealers were having difficulty in shifting the higher priced labels that represented the more esoteric end of the market. A Japanese Dream. A Girlfriend Of A Boyfriend Of Mine (+Three Ginx).000 records – in 1931 the figure was 7. I Want A Little Girl. Despite all this admiration it has to be admitted that they were essentially commercial recordings . Even so. ‘Leven Thirty Saturday Night. My Sunshine. I’m In The Market For You. And it’s doubtful whether any ‘authentic’ jazz band on either side of the Atlantic could improve much on the band’s version of ‘Leven Thirty Saturday Night (a Lew Stone arrangement). The need to produce records that would be instant hits was a pressing one for HMV. Danny Polo. it was something of a surprise when the two biggest record concerns in Britain – Columbia and HMV – announced a merger in 1931. [Vocal by Sam Browne…Moanin’ For You. . Good Evenin’. What Good Am I Without You. I’m Doin’ That Thing. Others survived because their business interests extended beyond the production of records – for example like Columbia’s into radio and films. On the whole these HMV recordings are representative of the very best that British dancebands were capable of in the early 1930s.000. And it was only these higher prices that justified the production of relatively small batches of records at any one time. The ‘Free And Easy’. Blue Is The Night. and this means that what the band achieved at the time compares favourably with the best output of the top American commercial bands. Catering for a huge range of minority interests – as HMV’s prolific catalogue always had – was now less of an option. the fact that record buying in Britain had remained an essentially middle class pursuit saved the industry from the catastrophic collapse experienced by its American counterpart. If I Could Be With You (+Ella Logan). My Baby Just Cares For Me. Cryin’ For The Carolines.part of the pop culture of the time. More Than You Know. Ambrose certainly gave Jack Hylton a run for his money. Joe Crossman and Ted Heath was not entirely wasted despite the commercial limitations in force at the time. Bye Bye Blues. Even so. In 1928 American record companies had produced 107. Increasingly. Nine independent record companies could no longer be justified and pressure for mergers and take-overs came from the financial interests that underpinned these concerns. starting right now with those in the HMV catalogue in early 1931. In Britain the need for a degree of consolidation in the record industry had long been recognised.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 91 This will be done at intervals throughout the rest of this account of Ambrose’s recording career. Nor is this tribute to the Ambrose outfit made entirely with the benefit of hindsight…record reviewers at the time said much the same thing. A Little Love Song.

This small outfit was led by West Coast cornet player Roy Fox. not impossible) for British bands to appear in America the opposite was less so. although he remained a major recording artist with that label…for the time being. but no longer co-ordinated the arranging team. and for a time worked in Hollywood as a musical director. and early in 1931 undertook a Continental tour that included a celebrated concert in Paris at which a specially commissioned work by Stravinsky. Ambrose had not been instrumental in bringing-over Noble Sissle’s band. and after November 1931 new recording studios at Abbey Road. In many ways Lew Stone was as influential in establishing Roy Fox’s British orchestra as he had been with Ambrose’s. After the merger the Columbia record label and catalogue were retained and also Columbia’s wholesaler-based distribution system. was performed. Fox (and his glamorous wife) reckoned that London had more to offer than California and decided to stay. In mid-January 1931 Ambrose arranged a cocktail party for African-American bandleader Noble Sissle. The new EMI Research Department under Isaac Shoenberg had the services of a number of notable scientists including Alan Blumlein who developed a highly efficient recording system that bypassed the American patents and also successfully experimented with stereophonic recording. . both of which were making significant progress in a number of areas vital to the continuing success of the British electronics industry. Undoubtedly Jack Hylton was the only British bandleader at this time with a truly international reputation and a serious rival for Paul Whiteman. Sissle had spent much of the 1920s working in association with ragtime pianist Eubie Blake and together they had written and performed in the highly acclaimed all-Negro stage show ‘SHUFFLE ALONG’. although they remained on friendly terms for the rest of the 1930s. However.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 92 Just as important was the amalgamation of the respective research departments. The establishment of EMI essentially ended the influence that Jack Hylton had been able to exert over HMV executives. However. were used by both HMV and Columbia recording artists. no less. whose band had just completed a successful short-term residency at Ciro’s restaurant. in theory. However. Ambrose became friendly with Sissle in the early 1920s along with other members of Harlem’s black show business ‘aristocracy’. Once in Britain. incursions into United States show business were always high on Jack Hylton’s agenda and he wasn’t likely to welcome British rivals also seeking a slice of the action. but in connection with his band booking interests did engage another American band for an eight-week residency at the Café de Paris. In the early 1920s Fox had played in Art Hickman’s band. Apart from an interest in the American scene. Ambrose’s cocktail party was attended by the Prince of Wales whose interest in jazz remained undiminished. the end-results were different in each case. Hylton was building a solid reputation in Europe. Ambrose’s involvement with Roy Fox ended at the same time as the Café de Paris engagement. St John’s Wood. and Roy Fox’s reputation hinged (mainly) around the ‘smooth-as-silk’ sounds associated with the ‘sweet’ American bands. record production was transferred to Hayes. Hylton’s band was the best known British outfit in America although an attempt to play a live date in Chicago in 1929 had been thwarted by the AFM. After forming a British band Fox secured a residency at the newly opened Monseigneur Restaurant and engaged Lew Stone to provide arrangements and play piano. If it was now difficult (though. Lew Stone continued to provide arrangements for the Ambrose band.

Ambrose was to be bypassed…for the time being. Nothing that might upset American sensibilities could be contemplated. Despite the Depression significant numbers of Americans still made the five-day (minimum) voyage across the Atlantic to vacation in Britain. Ambrose put out feelers among his New York contacts and came up with the name of Phil Arnold. In this respect it differs from the May Fair. the exterior of which is elegant but plain. Fortunately. Ambrose also had a separate contract to supply bands for other establishments within the Gordon Hotels group. both hotels were partially (but still importantly) aimed at the American market. Like the May Fair. the managing director of Gordon Hotels. Now Arnold was no stranger to the London scene. However. the Dorchester was part of the Gordon Hotels group and construction work had been going on since early 1929. To avoid a collapse of the UK banking system a big US loan would be essential. This was the Dorchester Hotel and it occupied a site in Park Lane that had previously been a Georgian mansion. . Essentially Towle wanted an American outfit led by a singing bandleader…something along the lines of Rudy Vallee & His Connecticut Yankees.) Consequently it was assumed that Ambrose would supply the band for the Dorchester when it opened in April. (Strictly speaking this contract had been awarded to Ambrose Orchestras Ltd. After returning to the US he had formed a band that had good jazz credentials but still kept dancers happy. hotels in the Art Deco style. stone-clad. The Dorchester would be the last great hotel to be opened in Central London before the Second World War and is typical of steel-framed. Given the circumstances of the time it was perhaps less than auspicious that a brand new hotel was nearing completion not far from the May Fair. and as 1931 progressed such a collapse seemed ever more possible. Of course the British licensing laws were somewhat quirky. and had contributed a couple of classy solo vocals around the same time. Negotiations with Phil Arnold proved unfruitful and because Sir Francis and Ambrose were unable to agree on a suitable alternative the distinguished hotelier took it upon himself to handle the appointment. And it was the financial aspect that induced caution. The main attraction was the availability of high-quality alcohol at reasonable prices. however trivial in the wider scheme of things. With unemployment spiralling and a financial crisis looming these were difficult times for the British government. all to no avail. Sir Francis Towle. In each case at this time the interiors matched the exteriors. indeed he had been part of the vocal group that Ambrose used on some of his Decca recordings in 1929.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 93 American bandleaders and musicians may have been welcomed by the patrons of the venues where they appeared but certainly weren’t by members of the MU. The MU made strenuous efforts to persuade the Ministry of Labour to reject American musicians’ applications for work permits. the funds for its construction had been raised before the onset of the Slump and by the time the current financial difficulties hit the business world it was nearing completion. did indeed discuss this matter with Ambrose but had his own ideas about the kind of band required. As well as fronting the band at the May Fair. but at least everyone spoke more or less the same lingo. and at high-class venues where it wasn’t necessary to ‘knock twice and ask for Joe’.

Melville Gideon was unable to please the dancers at the hotel and at the end of October he was axed. only its lead trumpet player – Max Goldberg – could lay claim to outstanding jazz credentials. his undoubted theatrical talents. The band that Ambrose put into the Dorchester was the Blue Lyres and once again it was led by Arthur Lally.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 94 About six weeks before the Dorchester was due to open it was announced that its resident bandleader was to be Melville Gideon…a man with no previous experience in the danceband world. and by the late-1920s they had become extremely popular. Indeed. Here’s the line-up: AMBROSE’S BLUE LYRES Arthur Lally (alto/clarinet/tenor /+arranger/+leader) Peter Rush (alto/clarinet/+violin) Eric Linden (tenor/baritone/clarinet) Arthur Niblo (trumpet) Tony Thorpe (trombone) Eric Walker (piano) Bert Hadley (guitar) Dave Exford (bass) Maurice Zaffer (drums) . Their speciality was ‘review’ (songs. travelled to New York in March ‘in order to recruit three key players and a vocal group’. there was never any doubt as to who actually controlled it. Although Ambrose never fronted the Blue Lyres and Arthur Lally ran it on a day-to-day basis. according to press reports. They don’t appear to have had much success because the band that eventually opened at the Dorchester doesn’t appear to have contained any star American jazzmen. He had returned full-time to the Ambrose fold in the spring of 1931 when the Blue Lyres was re-formed for an engagement at L’Hermitage Restaurant (formerly the New Princes Restaurant). After the First World War he transferred his talents to the British stage and eventually formed a theatrical troupe called The Co-Optimists. or perhaps because of. accompanied by a Gordon Hotels publicity executive. No recordings of this band have come to light. Despite. Gideon had also brought his brand of wit to radio audiences and in 1930 a feature-length film called ‘THE CO-OPTIMISTS’ was released. although some late-night broadcasts from the Dorchester did take place in the summer. Rather than risk a further fiasco Sir Francis ate humble pie and awarded the Dorchester contract to Ambrose’s organisation. Fifty-three year old Gideon was an American who had become a successful vaudeville artist in the early years of the 20th Century. sketches and dances loosely based on topical events). Melville Gideon.

despite the international downturn in trade. The time allocated to each broadcast varied between 45 and 105 minutes but they always ended at midnight. The programmes were transmitted from the Daventry National transmitter and some Regional transmitters. were making things for which there was still a demand. including a large section of the working class. Industrial areas based on coal. In the South East and parts of the Midlands unemployment was much lower because in these areas light industries. Sam Browne acted as compère as well as performing vocals. . According to Ambrose almost everything was left to his discretion. The point is that this particular 20% wasn’t the same 20% that tuned-in to hear late-night dance music from the May Fair Hotel. Also. but of course in the early 1930s there was little choice. there was no BBC producer responsible for content. Some caution has to be exercised over quoting figures for the number of listeners but it was thought to peak in the winter at around eight-million after 11pm when people arriving home after a night-out joined less adventurous souls who had stayed at home. newly established during the 1920s. and in the early 1930s poverty of a kind we now associate with Third World countries was rife in some parts of Britain.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 95 Ambrose’s Saturday night broadcasts from the May Fair continued on a weekly basis. To have a radio audience approaching 20% of the population would be considered pretty good by today’s standards. London also possessed a huge workforce involved with commercial services that the world simply couldn’t do without despite the Depression. such as for a Christmas show. Over the 1931 Christmas break Ambrose was allotted Christmas Eve in addition to Boxing Day (which was a Saturday). particularly late at night. Ambrose’s Blue Lyres also broadcast from the Dorchester on a weekly basis. For most of the middle class. A poor household was no more likely to have a radio than a telephone. Few significant details of Ambrose’s radio broadcasts from the May Fair are available. textiles and shipbuilding – and most agricultural areas – suffered disproportionately. Radio at this time catered for the middle class and the more prosperous section of the working class…it was not yet part of a mass media. Around 20% of the workforce was unemployed at this time. the 1930s were not filled with the despair so graphically described in George Orwell’s saga The Road to Wigan Pier. Ambrose nevertheless managed to include a fair proportion of instrumental material that it would have been commercially impossible to record. and that part of the working class involved with new industries. Additional vocalists were added especially for these broadcasts – Ella Logan and the Three Ginx on a regular basis and others occasionally. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some broadcast items that were popular songs of the time were treated as instrumentals by the Ambrose band. but this overall figure masks the unevenness of the phenomena. However at this time the May Fair band was only instrumentally augmented on special occasions. or the film ‘LOVE ON THE DOLE’. most of the top hits of the time were covered – many more than those allocated to Ambrose for recording purposes. Although radio was no longer considered to be a ‘miracle’ for many it remained out of reach. Despite having to primarily provide music for dancing. steel. Of course programmes that coincidentally went out on ‘special’ days attracted even bigger audiences and there was a seasonal factor that ensured fewer listeners in the summer. although play-lists were prepared by the BBC each week to cover performing rights regulations.

Ho Hum. But. of course. Weekly broadcasts continued until the end of July and recording sessions for HMV at intervals over the first six months of the year. Wabash Moon. [Vocal by Ella Logan… Would You Like To Take A Walk. PA systems also started to be used when bands were not broadcasting. Like Body And Soul and a few other tunes. all his arranging work at this time was confined to titles owned by the publisher Lawrence Wright. Amplified vocals did not become widespread overnight. a swing arrangement with a vocal chorus was recorded by the Ambrose band. One essentially unique title among these releases is Sid Phillips’ instrumental arrangement of Star Dust. but Ambrose continued to feature his instrumental version and it became very popular among dancers at the May Fair. Star Dust remained in Ambrose’s repertoire for the rest of his band leading career. and even at the May Fair a girl on the bandstand was still something of a novelty in 1931 and only occurred during broadcasts. Ambrose had been using this in his broadcasts since late 1929 at which time he was the first bandleader to introduce the tune to British audiences. Half Caste Woman. The Peanut Vendor. When Your Lover Has Gone. The recorded version also appears to be the only pure instrumental that Ambrose was allowed to cut while under contract to HMV…a rare privilege indeed for 1931. and he also undertook session work on a range of saxophones and clarinet. which released vocalists from the need to use megaphones. This in turn led to the appearance of female vocalists on a regular basis because it had previously been considered unedifying for a woman to use a megaphone. Smile Darn Ya Smile (+Carlyle Cousins). From within the band Bert Read and Joe Jeanette provided many fine arrangements. I’m An Unemployed Sweetheart. Other bands and solo performers also benefited from Sid’s arranging skills. But this was not the only arrangement of Star Dust that Ambrose used – others included one by Bert Read featuring a prominent piano solo. not just because of the excellence of his orchestrating technique but also because he established a distinct and instantly recognisable ‘sound identity’ for the band. Later. Ambrose’s contract with HMV was renewed for a further year in March 1931. but the introduction of special microphones and correct positioning of microphones and speakers largely solved the problem. Leave The Rest To Nature. Little Girl. I’m Through With Love (+Ella Logan). [Instrumental…Star Dust (Ambrose-violin). Arthur Lally. In 1930 the song version was published in Britain. Moonlight Saving Time. another important contributor of arrangements recorded by Ambrose. I Surrender Dear.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 96 By this time audio technology had advanced to the stage where it was feasible to use a public address system and also broadcast from the same enclosed space in which the loudspeakers were functioning. just before the formation of EMI. . for whom Sid was staff arranger. When first tried a couple of years earlier feedback and distortion problems had arisen. Although Sid Phillips’ contribution to Ambrose’s library of arrangements was no doubt much appreciated. Just One More Chance. and another by Ambrose himself for solo violin. Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams. also worked in a freelance capacity. Out Of Nowhere. Whistling In The Dark. it was Lew Stone who made the most significant contribution. Of the twenty or so titles released in the first half of 1931 the following were particularly successful: [Vocal by Sam Browne… Blue Again.

waltz and foxtrot. Unlike other Latin American dance crazes of the late ‘twenties and early ‘thirties (such as the ‘guajira’ and ‘danzon’) the rumba was more than an overnight wonder. Perhaps some people did actually roll-back the living room carpet and dance to music on the radio at this time. quickstep (fast foxtrot). A combination of African and Caribbean rhythms. Spanish music had always been popular but after an abridged version of Ravel’s Bolero became a hit around 1930 others followed. couples did dance an authentic version of the rumba but the steps for this were far too flamboyant for export and a refined version called the ‘son’ got taken-up by professional dancers. ‘beguine’. the rumba had to be transformed into foxtrot mode in order to make it widely acceptable. So far as competitive ballroom dancing was concerned they had a point. it was the rumba that really caught-on and became an essential component in the repertoire of ‘thirties dance bands. Of course there were some dancers who were far from ‘ordinary’ and both amateur and professional ballroom dancers who took what they did very seriously indeed were by this time a force to be reckoned with. other musical forms emerged around this time and either quickly came and went. but it’s a fair bet that most didn’t. so the popularised version of the rumba was in fact the ‘rumba-foxtrot’. were standardised by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) and just as the Vatican had the Jesuits. the rumba originated in Cuba and was popularised in Hollywood musicals. So far as the latter were concerned dance orchestras were too much part of mainstream pop for the vocal to be dispensed with. Occasional inclusions such as the ‘slow blues’. One thing that recording executives did pay particular attention to was tempo. tango and the dances mentioned on the previous page could all be danced using foxtrot steps. a big hit in 1931. foxtrot (proper) and slow foxtrot. In Cuba. so in essence there were only two distinct dance steps in use . and any kind of vocal. Correct steps for mainstream dances. The AOF concerned itself with such ‘heresies’ as incorrect tempo and inappropriate arrangements of dance tunes. so too did the ISTD have an equally formidable offshoot called the Ancient Order of Fox-trotters (AOF). . but their objections became generalised and any band deemed to play music for dancing became fair game for the attentions of the AOF. or remained as essential parts of the danceband repertoire. and correct tempos for the dance tunes serving them. Like the tango. such as Lady Of Spain. mainstream ballroom dancing in the early 1930s still revolved around the waltz. but as a basis for colourful dance routines. Apart from the addition of the rumba-foxtrot.a ‘rumba’. Not as a ballroom dance. and ‘pasodoble’. and bands who had the temerity to record numbers that didn’t comply with standardised tempo requirements risked having such recordings rejected. at least for ordinary dancers.the inclusion of ‘hot’ instrumental solos. Even this was too complex for the average dancer. Two phenomena against which it continually railed were . but there is no doubt that exuberant improvised jazz solos came to be regarded as ‘exhibitionist’ unless kept within strictly defined limits. the AOF used a variety of effective tactics to make its various objections known and could not be ignored by either the BBC or record companies. Apart from Latin American rhythms. However. Other exotic rhythms also appeared in the early 1930s (all usually translatable into foxtrot mode) including the ‘bolero’.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 97 Nor was Lew Stone slow to introduce new sounds. like his arrangement of The Peanut Vendor . Be that as it may.

Broadway and Hollywood. Even so.When It’s Roundup Time In Texas. the musical essentials of both jazz and blues influenced much of what came out of Tin Pan Alley. Paul Whiteman found it quite impossible to transcend the style that had brought him fame and fortune over the preceding ten years. Cowboy – or ‘hillbilly’– songs had been reasonably popular with urban audiences since the early 1920s. retained their jazz credentials despite drifting into general entertainment. Whiteman remained a force to be reckoned with in American popular music. and because of this dancebands could no longer ignore them.their saccharine sounds complemented the dulcet tones of the multitude of radio crooners with whom they competed for domination of the airwaves. continued to function in semi-obscurity. The Caribbean ‘calypso’ also had a brief fling in the early 1930s. a notable example being Mama Don’t Want No Peas An’ Rice. How these disparate musical genres were adapted for dancing remains a tribute to the skills of band arrangers of the time. A few. managed to buck the trend towards sweeter sounds. Few top white jazz instrumentalists could afford to keep the ‘pure jazz’ flag flying. black bands had the advantage of catering for a less-conservative African-American clientele. Most top black bands. Wayne King and Fred Waring . those who sought to make a good living from performing authentic jazz and blues in the land from which these musical forms sprang had rather a hard time. Fletcher Henderson and Don Redman continued to lead excellent bands that extended the innovations they had introduced in the 1920s. often became bitter in the process. due mainly to Hollywood musicals supposedly set South of the Border. if only because he retained the loyalty of a large number of fans who weren’t particularly interested in new developments. Inevitably. and She Lived Next To A Firehouse. Those who did. . in some cases with a reasonable degree of authenticity. the AOF clearly had a point! ‘Jazz’ and ‘blues’ were terms that came into their own in popular music during the 1920s but rolled a lot less easily off tongues in the early 1930s. On the whole. or at any rate the emasculated versions emanating from Tin Pan Alley such as the 1931 hit . Of course. this produced a significant minority interest among white Americans. and a few white ones.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 98 Mexican tunes also came into vogue. turned compromise into an advanced art form. Some top American jazz instrumentalist (both black and white) unwilling to compromise with the trend towards ‘sweeter’ sounds. at least partially. like Mez Mezzrow and Eddie Condon. like Duke Ellington.Yours (Quiréme Mucho). Examples from this time are . So far as American radio shows were concerned in the early 1930s Whiteman’s only serious challengers were the unashamedly ‘sweet’ bands led by Guy Lombardo. like King Oliver. Examples from 1931 were Eleven More Months And Ten More Days. but after 1930 they became very popular indeed. Nor was he prepared to ‘abdicate’ as King of Jazz (a film with this title featuring his band had been released in 1930). and Adios. because those who didn’t reaped the rewards that usually come from compromise. Even so. With four major network broadcasts a week and still healthy record sales. And it was these bands that essentially paved the way to the Swing Era. Others. To some extent it was a conservative approach that ‘saved’ jazz-oriented dance music from the complete embrace of ‘sweet’ music in the early 1930s. Novelty songs had also been around for a long time but only recently started to feature in the danceband repertoire. like Louis Armstrong.

particularly those relating to minimum rates and working conditions.000 readers who either were or aspired to be semi-pro musicians. the AFM. The paper first appeared in 1926 and at first was little more than a house journal for music publisher Lawrence Wright. Ambrose recalled how it had been necessary to undertake a year of intensive training and study in New York before obtaining his AFM ‘ticket’. With little or no radio exposure (Redman’s band was an exception) there was little appreciation among the general public of what these bands were achieving at the time. Now Ambrose was himself a member of the MU and supported most of its aims. Presumably the ‘star’ Ambrose considered most worthy of following was himself! This article generated a great deal of heated debate at the time and didn’t exactly endear Ambrose to a significant proportion of the Melody Maker’s 80. Among the many services that the Melody Maker provided for its readership was a stream of articles by top performers and arrangers. According to Ambrose many of these were part-time semi-professionals most of whom actually had jobs outside the music profession. and for aspiring jazz and dance musicians these must have been of estimable value. In July 1931 Ambrose wrote an article for the Melody Maker in which he lambasted those who suggested that dance musicians in Britain were facing a crisis due to the large numbers ‘supposedly’ out of work.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 99 Another African-American talent to emerge in the early 1930s was Chick Webb who presided over one of the finest jazz-oriented dancebands of all time at New York’s Roseland Ballroom. Two white proto-swing bands of the early 1930s were the Casa Loma Orchestra and the Isham Jones Orchestra. much of what they did went a long way to matching their black counterparts. Its first editor was the somewhat enigmatic Edgar Jackson who at this stage in his long jazz-related career subscribed to the theory that while African-Americans had undoubtedly originated a crude form of jazz the future development of this musical form rested with white musicians. and as usual it was white copycats who reaped the commercial rewards. Unlike other top bands of the era. . these two outfits were not afraid to innovate and although commercial considerations predominated in both cases. There were a few others.) The Melody Maker soon became an influential trade paper for musicians working in popular music and apart from danceband matters also catered for brass and military bands. This might well have been the case. Ambrose’s unhelpful polemic was in distinct contrast to the entirely positive contributions that many of his sidemen had made to the Melody Maker over the years. and: ‘The duds must be dumped’. Having disposed of the semi-pros Ambrose then turned to bandleaders in general: ‘Unfortunately in England we suffer from a terrible dearth of leaders who have any quality or consistency’. and it was radio rather than records or live appearances that counted most in the popularity stakes at this time. He clearly felt very strongly about all this and the article is peppered with phrases like: ‘We must weed-out the beachcombing element’. However. light music orchestras and accordionists. (Another notable advocate of this theory was Fred Elizalde. because the MU admitted semi-pro musicians into membership. The article finished with an epigram: ‘Those who aspire to stardom must be able to follow a star’. but these two reached radio audiences to a greater extent. he made little headway in arguing against the inclusion of semipro players and the MU never adopted the stringent entry requirements of its American counterpart.

and objections were duly made to the Lord Chamberlain.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 100 Members of the Ambrose band who contributed between 1926 and 1931 included: . Hylton was not the kind of person to take this laying down and campaigned to have these restrictions lifted. a government official whose duties included the oversight of theatre morality. Joe Jeanette and Arthur Lally. In the summer of 1931 the Labour government had more important matters to consider than whether dance music could or could not be played in public on a Sunday. restaurants and clubs but appears to have avoided the kind of society work that might have tarnished his image as a ‘man of the people’. Ambrose also continued to control bands at other venues. a partnership between society bandleaders Jack Harris and Abe Aaronson. and the concerts banned. The financial crisis that had been looming for some months came to a head in August when a run on the pound threatened to destroy the entire banking system. Press reports of this project came to the attention of the Lord’s Day Observance Society. His band booking agency – Ambrose Orchestras Ltd – was by now one of the ‘big two’ concerns in the West End undertaking this kind of work. The Ritz and Grosvenor House hotels came within their sphere of interest and their regular ‘one-off’ specialities included the annual Chelsea Arts Ball. and for a time in the 1920s had played sax and clarinet in Ambrose’s Embassy band. and moreover one of the best in the world.Joe Crossman. Laws dating back to Oliver Cromwell’s time were duly invoked. Sylvester Ahola. the Melody Maker had a small but significant readership in America. a Sabbatarian pressure group. Hylton’s social conscience led him to suggest in the spring of 1931 that a halfdozen or so of the top bandleaders organise a series of Sunday afternoon charity concerts at the Dominion Theatre (in which he had a financial interest). . Eventually he was successful. Joe Brannelly. Jack Hylton also supplied bands for hotels. Apart from the bands at the May Fair and Dorchester. Ambrose readily agreed to participate in this endeavour and joined the organising committee. import tariffs and (supposedly temporary) cuts in unemployment benefits. and many other jazz-related activities over the years. And with good reason. Controversy over how to tackle the problem led to the fall of the government and its replacement by one willing to impose drastic economic measures. Hylton was doing very nicely by catering for audiences at the less esoteric end of the market. particularly in New York. Interestingly. including devaluation of the pound. because apart from his sincerely-held left-wing convictions. Henry Levine. Max Bacon. He was also interested in extending his interests into the wider reaches of show business. the proceeds of which would go to relief funds in areas worst hit by unemployment. By now Hylton was essentially leading a ‘show band’. and to supply bands for special ‘gigs’ such as balls and parties. but it took almost three years to achieve. Aaronson was also an American. a position he obtained after Ambrose relinquished control. The other was the Harris-Aaronson Organisation. Although basically a trade paper it also appealed to jazz and dance music fans and was largely responsible for initiating the ‘rhythm club’ movement that emerged in the early 1930s. Harris had come over from America in 1927 to lead the band at the Embassy Club. Jack Miranda. Some commentators at the time (and after) reckoned that it was a more innovative band than Paul Whiteman’s. and was becoming something of an impresario.

Only a few people at the time. Ambrose made no secret of his gambling peccadilloes and didn’t try to hide his lavish life-style. Even so. There were no real equivalents to venomous American gossip columnists like Alexander Woollcott. that his wife was a beautiful Irish-American girl called Kitty and by the mid-1930s they had two daughters. Ambrose also took the whole of August off and spent most of it in Monte Carlo. and their replacement at L’Hermitage with another band. or both. As usual the boys in the May Fair band took staggered holidays with subs being brought in for those on leave.000 [about £40. . Even if entirely true. all that can be said here is that it may have taken place in the summer if 1931. For starters. At this time celebrities in Britain were permitted to enjoy a private life relatively free from press scrutiny. Whether entirely or partly true. There is no evidence that Ambrose ‘soaked’ his own company. that almost nothing is known for instance about Ambrose’s marriage is rather surprising. Indeed.000 now] during the 1930s.120. it is important to note that these gambling losses affected his personal – not business – finances.000 [about £1. there would be the transfer of the Blue Lyres to the Dorchester.000. none of whom had draconian libel laws to contend with. His golfing exploits occasionally got some attention. He would be off the air for six weeks and the Saturday night slot was temporarily allocated to Melville Gideon’s band at the Dorchester. About this.000 now] at the gaming tables in Monte Carlo in the summer of 1931. a remarkable degree of prosperity was enjoyed by those fortunate enough to inhabit the expanding economies of the Midlands and the South East. Sometimes it was a huge loss on a horse in the Derby. there were times when he took little or nothing in the way of a director’s fee and on at least one occasion had to pump money in from his personal earnings in order to keep it from going under. Ambrose is supposed to have gambled away approximately £1. In all. Only Sylvester Ahola exercised the option to take additional unpaid leave in order to vacation in America. seem to have known that Ambrose actually was married and over the years speculation sometimes arose as to whether he would marry this or that girl he was assumed to be dating at the time.000. the Argentinean champion. such exploits were reported-on at regular intervals. and it didn’t exactly go unnoticed when he changed from a Bentley to a Rolls Royce…or was it the other way round? As the 1931 summer holiday season drew to a close Ambrose had much to occupy his attention. Ambrose ceased broadcasting from the May Fair at the end of July as the summer break approached. at other times a marathon poker game was the scene of financial carnage. Although unemployment (and its attendant poverty) remained high in parts of Britain throughout the 1930s. Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper. returning briefly in mid-August to take part in the finals of a pro-celebrity golf tournament in which he was matched against José Jurado. Other aspects of his personal life were quite another matter. Whenever the press turned the spotlight on Ambrose it was usually in connection with some outrage that he claimed had been perpetrated on him by some heinous person. or organisation. Legend has it that Ambrose lost £28.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 101 These measures did alleviate the immediate crisis and a combination of exceptionally low interest rates and some aid for ‘distressed areas’ gradually eased the worst aspects of the Slump. and later.

Ambrose immediately snapped-up Max Goldberg who was leading the brass section in Melville Gideon’s ill-fated orchestra at the Dorchester. Originally he had intended to return to London after vacationing in America. Dennis Ratcliffe (trumpet) and Jack Shields (alto). the May Fair band was due to make a number of important stage appearances in the autumn. The most significant player to leave the former line-up was Sylvester al* Sam Browne Phyllis Robins* The Carlyle Cousins* Peter Yorke Arthur Lally Sid Phillips Lew Stone Ronnie Munro *Occasional additions... Moreover. but problems over the renewal of his work permit cast doubt over his long-term future in Britain and he wired his resignation to Ambrose at the end of August. Reeds: Rhythm: Strings: Vocals: Arrangers: . The line-up for the reconstituted band in September 1931 was as follows: AMBROSE & HIS MAY FAIR ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Max Goldberg (trumpet/mellophone) Harry Owen (trumpet) Ted Heath (trombone) Joe Cordell (trombone)* Joe Crossman (alto/clarinet/baritone/+vocals) Billy Amstell (alto/clarinet) Joe Jeanette (tenor/clarinet/flute /+arranger) John Walker (baritone/bass clarinet)* Bert Read (piano/+arranger) Joe Brannelly (guitar/banjo) Max Bacon (drums) Dick Escott (string bass/tuba) Neville Bishop (timpani/xylophone)* Eddie Carroll (piano accordion)* Ernie Lewis (violin). Lew Stone had also been obliged to scale-down (though not completely abandon) his involvement with the May Fair band since becoming pianistarranger in Roy Fox’s band at the Monseigneur Restaurant. widely regarded as one of the finest American jazz trumpeters working in Europe at the time.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 102 Also a number of changes in the May Fair line-up would have to be made following the resignations of Sylvester Ahola (trumpet).

Billy returned to London and joined the band at the Grosvenor House Hotel. Along with his brother Mick. At this point in the band’s history the trombone(s) remained part of a unified brass section. B. but again for concert purposes Ambrose brought in Neville Bishop (who also worked for Jack Hylton). and Joe Cordell. and nominal deputy. Eventually she went to America and after a spell with Fred Waring’s band became successful as a solo artist on American network radio. It was in connection with these two latter activities that he became associated with Spike Hughes. he also undertook session work and played in jazz clubs. on any recordings that required ‘straight’ fiddle playing. reinforced notated passages. He also played base clarinet in the flute/ clarinet ‘choir’ that was noted by commentators at the time but has so far proved difficult to detect on available recordings. and later starred on Broadway and in Hollywood musicals. Dennis Ratcliffe also quit in early September. Subsequently he played saxophone in Herman Darewski’s large orchestra and then for a time played sax and clarinet in the resident band at the Glasgow Playhouse Ballroom. Hughes was a jazz musician. Jack Shields for some unknown reason also quit the band at the end of August (destination unknown). Billy learned to play sax and clarinet while still a child in East London and after leaving school worked in a juvenile band. Ratcliffe’s replacement – Harry Owen – was brought in at the suggestion of Max Goldberg. In the vocal department Sam Browne remained the only full-time vocalist. As before. Additional strings (sometimes including a harp) were invariably engaged for broadcasts. To provide additional timbre to the brass section’s sound Ambrose added an occasional second trombone. Ted Heath continued to provide improvised solos. At the time he was working for the theatrical impresario C. along with two additional violinists. . who had been on the stage since the age of twelve. Another attempt to add depth to the overall sound of the band when playing in concert-mode was the occasional inclusion of John Walker on baritone sax (presumably playing in tandem with the tenor. Ernie Lewis functioned as Ambrose’s stand-in at the May Fair. composer arranger and (occasional) bandleader with advanced ideas. but lower). Billy Amstell’s alto style was somewhat different to Joe Crossman’s and in both his sax and clarinet playing resembled Jimmy Dorsey. His replacement was a twenty-year old all-round reed player called Billy Amstell. Ella Logan was no longer available as a regular part-timer due to show business commitments. an attribute more appreciated by variety audiences than danceband aficionados. Cochran and playing bass in his own jazz club band. the two having worked together intermittently since the late 1920s. Apart from playing in the hotel band. and also a major contributor to the Melody Maker. when present. Moreover. It was while jamming in Hughes’ band that Billy Amstell first came to the attention of Joe Brannelly and subsequently Ambrose.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 103 Possibly disappointed over not being promoted to first trumpet. He also played. Neville Bishop was the proto-typical ‘clown-musician’ and although his musical abilities were never in doubt he was quite irrepressible when performing in public. Although Joe tended to ‘hog’ all available sax solos. At the invitation of Jack Harris. The regular rhythm section remained unchanged. Apart from playing timpani and xylophone he provided additional percussion for the increasingly popular Latin American numbers. Billy did get some featured spots on clarinet and occasionally tenor (because Joe Jeanette didn’t do ‘hot’ solos). Her replacement was a young glamorous blonde from Sheffield called Phyllis Robins.

Then. Now the Palladium was essentially a variety theatre although its traditions were somewhat unique. George Black. a viola player and a cellist. Other vocal contributions were provided by the Carlyle Cousins. The orchestrations were supervised by Peter Yorke and Arthur Lally. Unlike most provincial variety theatres. for a while. Sam Browne acted as compère. and it was usually only thirty. Ronnie Munro. Lew Stone’s full-time position in the Roy Fox band made it impossible for him to continue the relationship with the May Fair band that had existed since its formation in 1927. Like the Three Ginx. some of which were recorded. The band had its full complement of players and the string section included ‘hot’ fiddlers Peter Rush and Teddy Sinclair. Ambrose hired a virtually unknown vocal trio called the Carlyle Cousins. Even so. To a great extent Ambrose had developed. as we shall see. sixteen performances were undertaken over the two weeks – two separate ‘houses’ each weekday evening and two weekly matinees. in a musical sense. Lew Stone continued to provide orchestrations for the band but his main function as co-ordinator of the arranging team and guardian of the band’s ‘sound identity’ was now taken over by Ambrose himself. anyone wanting to see their favourite artist perform at the Palladium would be obliged to sit through a number of ‘turns’ that might or might not be of interest. now rejoined the arranging team.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 104 After working in Australia and South Africa Phyllis returned to Britain and joined a touring review called ‘CLAP YOUR HANDS’. Now he would be obliged to co-ordinate the work of seven part-time arrangers (two also working in the band). Whether it would have been wiser to have appointed a regular chief arranger at this time is arguable…later it would become less so. The ‘top-of-the-bill’ turn would be allocated forty-five minutes at most. . This was Peter Yorke who had recently left Jack Hylton’s arranging team to go freelance. That relationship had been a particularly close and fruitful one. As the Three Ginx vocal group was not always available. An equivalent situation in big band history is the role that Don Redman played in the development of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers between 1927 and 1930. Yorke also wrote a number of arrangements for the regular May Fair band. and George Black himself devised and directed Ambrose’s contribution. and it was his talent that gave the shows there a degree of overall coherence usually lacking elsewhere. and a guest bass-baritone singer called the Great Bernardi. Conscious that the coming stage shows would require a different approach to the presentation of the band’s music Ambrose hired an arranger with a proven trackrecord in writing material for a show band. Apart from contributing vocals. 8 and his time allocation forty minutes. the Carlyle Cousins worked independently but it was Ambrose who gave them their first big broadcasting and recording chances. Apart from preparing arrangements for the augmented orchestra that Ambrose proposed to take out ‘on the road’. Ambrose & His May Fair Orchestra opened for two weeks at the London Palladium on 12th October 1931. Ambrose was Turn No. In all. Ambrose saw her in this show and subsequently supported her first recording efforts for the Filmophone label. along with the orchestra and by now possessed a greater degree of professional confidence. The ‘show band’ experience of both these arrangers was put to immediate use. she sang part-time with the Ambrose Orchestra. who also specialised in concert arrangements. and harpist Harry Chapman. the Palladium had a resident producer.

. Eventually Bert did. Ambrose now had an orchestra that could function as a show band when required. And with only a few exceptions the requirement would occur at regular intervals throughout the decade. Because there were many variety artists who played an instrument as part of their act this posed no great problem and agreements between the unions concerned had been reached in the late 1920s when dancebands. Although by this time the appearance of dancebands on variety theatre stages was an established practice.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 105 Ambrose was somewhat apprehensive on opening night. preferably of the slapstick kind. But Ambrose need not have worried. and all ended well. One of the sax players facing him hissed: ‘For God’s sake. Only Ambrose appeared to be ill-at-ease… pretending to conduct the band with a baton was not his preferred stance. Bert…take a bow…take a bow’. During ensemble passages the brass players moved their instruments either up and down. The format that George Black devised for Ambrose’s 1931 Palladium stint set the pattern for most future stage shows involving the full band. credit for the excellence of their work. However it would be some years before Ambrose developed even a modicum of ‘stage presence’ and he never really enjoyed participating in stage shows. The ingredients changed but the formula remained essentially the same.. it remained controversial. Another point worth noting is that variety audiences had virtually no interest in instrumental virtuosity without some form of funniness being involved. Or perhaps he remembered the time in 1929 when a Palladium audience turned against American bandleader Abe Lyman. Trombones weaving from side to side. The clown-musician was now achieving celebrity status within the danceband firmament. The Carlyle Cousins had three spectacular dress changes. The show ended to tumultuous applause and a roar of acclamation. or from left to right. The pit bands at the London Palladium and Holborn Empire were two examples and there were others in the provinces with similar reputations. Apart from the music. As always with George Black’s productions. for the entire two weeks the evening performances were completely ‘sold-out’. throughout the 1930s and beyond. the show was a complete success. trumpets waving up and down. possibly recalling his previous appearance at the Palladium in 1927.all in best show band fashion. which was only moderately successful. started to appear on variety stages in ever increasing numbers. and horn players stood up during their spotlighted solos. jumping up and down and thrashing the air with a two-foot long baton were of much greater interest than the actual sounds emanating from a ‘successful’ show band. a tuba waggling about and a ‘conductor’. Variety theatre audiences knew what they wanted and if they didn’t get it reacted accordingly.. following Jack Hylton’s lead. regular vocalists and guest artists. Some pit bands deserved. They were not the same people who dined and danced at the May Fair Hotel. Many musicians working in pit orchestras resented the intrusion of ‘name’ bands into their domain and so did some pit band conductors. and got. a great deal of effort went into the visual aspects of the show. Everything went according to plan on the opening night. in particular taking advantage of the Palladium’s advanced stage lighting facilities. One important point is that musicians appearing on-stage were obliged to obtain membership of the Variety Artists Federation. there was constant and fastpaced action. and this unsettled Ambrose even more and he remained rooted to the spot facing the orchestra. Indeed. while band members and Sam Browne wore white tuxedoes.

The theatre (or the chain to which it belonged) got paid in advance by the impresario whose profit (or loss) came from the difference between his or her outlay and what came in at the box office. It was the overall profitability of an entire tour that mattered rather than the weekly takings. Much to Ambrose’s embarrassment some of these came to be indelibly linked to his name and (presumably less unwelcome) clocked-up huge record sales. and knowledge of what pleased variety audiences. the shows continued to attract capacity audiences that were as appreciative as those at the Palladium. which might be good or bad for any number of reasons. except that Bernardi was replaced by Phyllis Robins who. The shows remained essentially the same. but the sentiment was the same! What variety audiences craved wasn’t just variety but also excitement.tearjerkers like Sonny Boy. Often. Ambrose was well aware of these things. Other bandleaders. not surprisingly. with various ‘turns’ coming and going according to availability. The troupe would then usually tour for a season. cat-calls.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 106 Following two weeks at the Palladium the show transferred to the Holborn Empire for one week. who was essentially a speculator. and also that as the years went by a greater percentage of radio audiences consisted of the same kind of people. In the 1930s it was considered more acceptable to call them hoi polloi rather than ‘the lower orders’. sought to follow suit. . including Ambrose. The best that he could do to accommodate such uncouth requirements was the inclusion of comedy and novelty songs (both of which he usually loathed) and these soon made an appearance in the recordings and radio shows. to mount a successful tour. ‘Funny-peculiar’ was just as acceptable as ‘funny-ha-ha’. makingup a ‘troupe’ (later called a ‘package’). preferably accompanied by a good belly-laugh. followed by one-week stints at Brixton and Finsbury Park. the Holborn Empire was a true variety theatre insofar as it hired-out theatrical facilities on a weekly basis to independent impresarios who then engaged various ‘turns’. slow hand-claps and sometimes being pelted with pennies. However. (One exception to this rule was the rendering of ‘heart’ songs . It was by taking-on the task of impresario for his own band’s forays into variety that helped propel Jack Hylton to the summit of show business in Britain. Ambrose entered the less sophisticated territory of common-or-garden variety.) Turns that didn’t please variety audiences would almost certainly be given ‘the bird’ which meant jeers. Just as the variety theatre emerged from the Victorian music hall. All the risk was taken by the impresario. sang different songs. The difference between the London Palladium and the Holborn Empire was one of tradition rather than class of audience because Holborn was actually on the fringe of the West End and attracted much the same crowd as the Palladium. and despite the fact that the format remained almost the same. so too did variety audiences spring from the same class of people who had frequented music halls. hiring a number of ‘supporting turns’ and relying on their own drawing-power. Although once away from the Palladium. but the absence of either usually spelled trouble for the ‘turn’ concerned. an impresario and top-line variety artist would be one-and-the-same person.

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Ambrose’s Saturday night broadcasts from the May Fair continued during his five-week variety tour (how this was achieved is not clear) and he also held two recording sessions for HMV in November. Some of Ambrose’s most notable record releases during the second half of 1931 are shown below. [Vocal by Sam Browne…I Don’t Know Why (+Phyllis Robins), Love Letters In The Sand, Cuban Love Song, Yes Yes (+Carlyle Cousins), If They Ever Had An Income Tax On Love [+Carlyle Cousins], If You Were The Only Girl In The World (+Carlyle Cousins), They Didn’t Believe Me (+Carlyle Cousins), Sweet And Lovely, Joey The Clown, Close Your Eyes, The Queen Was In The Parlour, In The Jailhouse Now, Nevertheless, Carry On, Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey. By late 1931 four Ambrose records had been issued on HMV’s American ‘Gramophone’ label. These are the titles concerned: I Want A Little Girl/A Little Love Song, Blue Again/Star Dust, Out Of Nowhere/ Thank You Most Sincerely, I Found You/Leave The Rest To Nature. Not exactly the ‘best of the bunch’ but at least Ambrose now had his foot in the door, and soon it wouldn’t be Jack Hylton pushing against him on the other side. Jack Hylton left HMV at the end of 1931 apparently due to a difference of opinion with EMI boss Sir Louis Sterling, though over what aspect of his HMV contract is not known. Hylton then bought his way into the Decca Record Company and this ensured him a great deal of influence over his own recorded output and at least some over that of other Decca artists deemed to be rivals. For Decca boss Edward Lewis it was an important acquisition, and Hylton’s reputation and cash input undoubtedly improved the fortunes of Decca at a time when the Slump was at its height. As a member of the Decca board of directors, Hylton became involved in Decca’s attempt to take over Brunswick/UK, which had an important connection with Brunswick/US. This was achieved in 1932 and subsequently provided an American outlet for Decca’s top recording artists including, of course, Jack Hylton. In the early 1930s Jack Hylton was one of only two British bandleaders to have a sizable following in the US, the other being Ray Noble. In December 1931 Hylton was chosen to make the first live broadcast by a British danceband to America via the transatlantic cable. The hook-up was between the BBC in London and NBC in New York, and from New York by landlines to various radio stations across the country. In order to accommodate the various time zones and reach American listeners at reasonable times (early evening on the West Coast – late evening on the East Coast) Hylton was obliged to broadcast his twenty-five minute show at 3am. The broadcast was sponsored by the Lucky Strike cigarette company and was deemed to be a great success. Later, other bands would take part in these live hook-up programmes all of which required working in the small hours in order to overcome the time difference problem. Of course, the same problem affected transmissions within the United States and were only solved by the introduction of transcription recording a technique that wasn’t perfected until the mid-1930s.

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Finally for the year 1931 we take a look at the top hits for that year not recorded by Ambrose but likely to have been featured by the band: Adios, As Time Goes By, Blues In My Heart, Dream A Little Dream Of Me, Goodnight Sweetheart, Heartaches, Lady Of Spain, Lazy River, Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries, Mama Inez, Mood Indigo, Ooh That Kiss, Oh Mona, Penthouse Serenade, Shadrack, Singin’ The Blues, Someday I’ll Find You, Till The Real Thing Comes Along, Twentieth Century Blues, When I Take My Sugar To Tea, Where The Blue Of The Night Meets The Gold Of The Day, Yours. Ambrose’s first big event of 1932 was a charity ball at the Empress Hall in early January – another sell-out! Routine broadcasts and a recording session the same month were the least of Ambrose’s concerns because he had two major tasks in-hand. Firstly, the launch of his own variety production, and secondly his first studio-based radio show for the BBC. The stage show was essentially an alternative to taking the main band out ‘on the road’, which could only be done on a limited scale due to the residency at the May Fair. An entirely separate entity could tour at will and would not be restricted to the London area. As before, it was to be part of the usual variety theatre ‘package’ with a time allocation of thirty minutes. The show featured Teddy Sinclair, Phyllis Robins, the Three Ginx, a six-piece band and a four-girl dance troupe. Teddy Sinclair fronted the band on ‘hot’ fiddle, sang and danced and acted as compère. Phyllis Robins, along with the girl dancers, provided the mandatory glamour. By all accounts, Ambrose’s first effort as an independent producer was a complete success, and the show toured provincial variety theatres for eight weeks. It had long been expected that Ambrose would be given the chance to present a studio-based radio show. Although leaving little to be desired, the broadcasts from the May Fair were not acoustically ideal and despite the best efforts of BBC technicians a certain amount of background ‘mush’, comprising shuffling feet, popping champagne corks, clattering plates and shrill laughter, inevitably got to be transmitted. Hotel managements were more concerned about the effect on patrons when the band played louder than usual during broadcasts than about extraneous noises being transmitted to listeners. At the May Fair on broadcast nights little notices were placed on the tables apologising for the fact that the band would have to play louder than usual during transmissions. Given the acoustical and presentational advantages of broadcasting from a studio it might be wondered why it had taken Ambrose four years to do so. The main problem, lack of financial incentive, will be discussed later but there were also problems relating to transmission times. Virtually all programs went out live because recording techniques for broadcasts were still in their infancy. In Ambrose’s case the band at the May Fair went on at 9pm which made anything other than early evening broadcasting difficult to achieve without the added expense of providing a substitute band at the May Fair. Another problem was the greater degree of planning required for studio broadcasts. Presenters had to ensure that their material did not clash with that already approved for other shows and rehearsals prior to a broadcast were deemed essential for timing purposes.

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Ambrose’s first studio broadcast was scheduled for Friday 22nd January 1932 at 8pm on the National Programme and given the title – ‘AN HOUR OF MUSIC BY AMBROSE & HIS ORCHESTRA’. Here’s the play-list: Sunshine And Roses Oh Mona I Don’t Know Why Carmelita In The Jailhouse Now Medley of tunes from ‘SCANDALS’. Star Dust Tom Thumb’s Drum Dancing In The Dark San Sue Strut Just Friends Eleven More Months And Ten More Days La Rosita Mona Lisa Those participating included regulars Sam Browne, Phyllis Robins, the Three Ginx, and the Carson Sisters. A guest artist – possibly popular singer Elsie Carlisle – was also included. The show was compèred by comedian/actor Naunton Wayne. As usual for broadcasts the orchestra was augmented to eighteen players. Only one instrumental (San Sue Strut) truly reflected the jazz potential of the band. The rendition of Star Dust differed from that on Ambrose’s record of the previous year. For this broadcast it was presented as a piano concerto featuring Bert Reid. During the broadcast only one hitch occurred – Phyllis Robins missed her cue during a duet (I Don’t Know Why) with Sam Browne. As always in such cases a number of irate listeners considered it their God-given duty to put pen to paper and complain to the BBC. Following the broadcast Ambrose sent her out on the road with the stage show. Ambrose might well have been less inclined to do this had it not been for the fact that a rather remarkable replacement was ready, willing and able to take over broadcasting duties. Remarkable, not only for what she could do, but also because her talents extended far beyond what would normally be required for band vocalising - and this was widely recognised at the time. Elsie Carlisle grew-up in Lancashire and after performing in working men’s clubs and in provincial musical theatre, came to London in the early 1920s. By 1925 she had her own recording contract and was broadcasting regularly. In the late 1920s she caught the attention of Cole Porter who gave her a leading part in his West End production - ‘WAKE UP AND DREAM’. Further stage shows followed and in 1930 she appeared in a couple of British film musicals – ‘AL FRESCO’ and ‘BLACK AND WHITE’ with the Ambrose-sponsored Hal Swain band. Elsie Carlisle was one of the very few British pre-war vocalists who could blend rhythmically with a jazz band, and came close to achieving an authentic blues singing style. Many of her songs were, by the standards of the time, rather risqué – acceptable on stage, but not on radio or in the recording studio. Regrettably, much of what she did on radio for Ambrose was never recorded by him.

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Ambrose’s studio broadcast was well received but it would remain a ‘one-off’ in the immediate future. The cost of providing special arrangements, hiring extra musicians and vocalists and a guest compère had been huge and only slightly off-set by what the BBC paid for such a studio broadcast…£40/hour [about £1,600 now]. The late-night broadcasts from the May Fair attracted no fee whatsoever, and so whenever Ambrose brought-in guest vocalists or instrumentalist (which was most weeks) he again had to bear the additional costs. Of course Ambrose was potentially a wealthy man…but only potentially! His lavish life-style and habitual gambling devoured much of what came in from record royalties and similar sources of income. Because he was able to borrow money against (virtually guaranteed) future earnings he appeared to be rich. In reality, he was living ‘on the margin’…and would continue to do so for the rest of his life. In good times it didn’t matter so much - in bad times it did. And in 1932 times were going from bad to worse. In October 1931 a general election had returned a Conservative-dominated National government with a mandate to do things previously thought reprehensible like taking Britain off the Gold Standard and introducing tariffs on certain imported goods. Although the financial crisis that had hit the UK the previous summer was alleviated these and other measures related to indirect taxation helped to cause a down-turn in West End trade. Hotels, restaurants and (most) clubs were starting to feel the pinch. Had the Slump been foreseen by the management of Gordon Hotels the Dorchester would never have been built let alone opened, and merely changing the band in the ballroom wasn’t going to alter its essentially White Elephant status. At least the Dorchester stayed open – other establishments went under, or went decidedly ‘down market’. Soon the race was on to cater more for the tastes - and pockets - of the middle class rather than High Society. Although Ambrose’s company – Ambrose Orchestras Ltd (AOL) – managed to stay solvent it was becoming more difficult to obtain (and then retain) band supply contracts. So many came and went around this time that it’s difficult to say which hotels, restaurants, clubs and dance halls came within Ambrose’s orbit. In this line of work Ambrose was at a distinct disadvantage because he insisted on MU minimum rates and conditions at the venues he dealt with. Most booking agents weren’t so scrupulous. Anyway, around this time he was less involved with supplying bands for West End venues. One interesting addition to AOL’s list in March 1932 was the Embassy Club. Since Ambrose relinquished his control of the Embassy band in the summer of 1927 the band contract had been in the gift of the Harris-Aaronson Organisation and the band as such fronted (most of the time) by Jack Harris. Early in 1932 the Embassy changed hands and for some reason the new management wanted to change the band contract, hence Ambrose’s new involvement. As he couldn’t front a band there himself, he brought over an American bandleader called Lou Simmonds to lead an eight-piece band (four horns/four rhythm) made-up of British musicians. It was also early in 1932 that the Ambrose band appeared on film for the first time. The film concerned was made by the Empire Marketing Board and called ‘THE VOICE OF THE WORLD’. It was essentially a promotional documentary based on the recording activities of HMV and intended for inclusion in cinema programmes in Britain and the Dominions. Apart from Ambrose, other HMV celebrities took part but regrettably it has not been possible to obtain additional information.

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In July 1932 Ambrose gave a concert at the open-air theatre in Regents Park attended by Louis Armstrong (in Britain for an engagement at the London Palladium). Not long after this, broadcasting from the May Fair ceased for the whole of August. Also, as usual, the boys in the May Fair band took staggered holidays and Ambrose left Ernie Lewis to cope as best he could. At the Dorchester a small substitute band covered for the Blue Lyres, away touring Holland for four weeks. Where Ambrose spent his summer vacation that year is not known, but wherever it was band business was not likely to have been entirely banished from his thoughts. One important change in the May Fair line-up would be necessitated by Joe Crossman’s imminent departure. Peter Yorke also left the arranging team at this time having been appointed chief arranger for the Keith Prowse music publishing concern. When Ambrose received Joe Crossman’s notice he contacted Joe Brannelly who was on vacation in New York to see whether there was any chance of obtaining the services of a top jazz sax man, preferably Jimmy Dorsey! This was not as farfetched as might be imagined. Times were even harder in the US than in Britain and some top musicians were obliged to eek out a living in pit bands and suchlike. In fact Dorsey had commitments that made it impossible to accept, even for a limited engagement. However, another top sax man who was available found the offer too tempting to refuse – Danny Polo. He returned to Britain with Brannelly in early September and immediately assumed leadership of the sax section. Although the rest of the band’s personnel remained the same, Ambrose decided that the sax section needed revamping and switched Joe Jeanette over to second alto and Billy Amstell to tenor, complementing Danny Polo’s first alto role. Once again it has to be emphasised that these were principal roles, each member of the section was required to perform on a range of instruments. For augmentation purposes Ambrose added Sid Phillips on baritone sax/clarinet. Note, though, that baritone solos were the responsibility of Danny Polo, and that only on rare occasions would Sid provide solos on clarinet. When playing with the band his role was primarily to reinforce the section’s bass-line and clarinet choir. Sid’s other duties included the supply of arrangements as before, but now he worked mainly for Ambrose, having relinquished his post at the Lawrence Wright organisation. To replace Peter Yorke, Ambrose hired Freddy Bretherton, again on a parttime basis. He had formerly been an arranger for Jack Hylton and was currently playing piano in a jazz band resident at the Spiders Web, a famous road-house on the outskirts of North West London. Lew Stone now severed whatever remaining arranging connection he had with Ambrose as he was about take over the band at the Monseigneur Restaurant following Roy Fox’s departure. And we can also remove Arthur Lally from the arrangers’ list in anticipation of his imminent departure from the Ambrose fold (for reasons that will be explained in due course). In the brass section, Ambrose added an additional full-time trombonist to work alongside Ted Heath, although Ted continued to provide most of the solos. As before, scoring for trombones was seen essentially in terms of an overall ‘brass sound’ for which the first trumpet provided the essential overall leadership.

KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 112 In the rhythm section the tuba and banjo were removed from regular use. The ‘swamping’ problem associated with the acoustic guitar both as a rhythm and a soloing instrument in large bands could only be solved by using some form of amplification. by the early 1930s recording and broadcasting technicians had overcome most of the difficulties associated with both instruments. cylindrical records and crystal sets! Here’s the line-up in the autumn of 1932: AMBROSE & HIS MAY FAIR ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Max Goldberg (trumpet) Harry Owen (trumpet) Ted Heath (trombone) Tony Thorpe (trombone) Danny Polo (alto/clarinet/baritone) Joe Jeanette (alto/clarinet/flute /+arranger) Billy Amstell (tenor/clarinet) Sid Phillips (baritone/clarinet)* Bert Read (piano/+arranger) Joe Brannelly (guitar) Max Bacon (drums/+vocals) Don Stuteley (bass) Neville Bishop (timpani/xylophone)* Ernie Lewis (violin)…et al* Sam Browne Elsie Carlisle The Three Ginx* The Carlyle Cousins* The Carson Sisters* Sid Phillips Freddy Bretherton Ronnie Munro *Occasional additions. Certainly. Reeds: Rhythm: Strings: Vocals: Arrangers: . Of course there were those who regretted the passing of the tuba and banjo – no doubt the same people who still yearned for silent films. The string bass suffered in the same way although modifications in the way the strings were mounted and alternative ways of playing (for example -slap bass) went some way to alleviating the problem. These Jazz Age stalwarts had largely been replaced by string bass and guitar for recording purposes. but their more percussive contributions had remained popular for live performances.

Under normal circumstances he would have been a brilliant leader. It would be pointless to reiterate the problems that arose due to Arthur Lally’s mental state. Arthur Lally’s contributions to the success of both bands were substantial but there were reasons why he could not be left entirely to his own devices when it came to leading the Blue Lyres. Broadcasting from the May Fair resumed in October and continued at weekly intervals. Peter Rush continued to provide ‘hot’ fiddle solos and the occasional vocal. Away from the restrictions required to keep the dancers at the Dorchester happy and contented. For the 2nd alto chair he obtained the services of Harry Hayes.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 113 The Blue Lyre’s tour of Holland (which included some radio dates) during August was a complete success. somehow combining this with normal duties at the Dorchester. . This was something of a new venture. In October. items under his own name for contractual reasons. This rather confusing set-up reflects Ambrose’s problem of not being able to record jazzier. Ambrose’s Blue Lyres commenced an eightweek tour of London variety theatres. Although not as lucrative as normal variety theatre work. but by the late summer it had become clear that he would need residential treatment. Peter Rush took-over the Blue Lyres in September. And so this brilliant saxophonist and arranger had to be replaced. although the arrangements and direction at recording sessions were undertaken by the Dorchester band’s leader Arthur Lally. less commercial. this band was able to show what it could really do when given the chance. Having transferred the band’s trombonist (Tony Thorpe) to the May Fair orchestra. These reasons will be discussed later and it is merely sufficient to note here that Arthur Lally was involved with both the Dorchester and May Fair bands. and this time confined to a chain of cinemas run by the GaumontBritish Corporation. The evidence for the success of the Blue Lyres is almost entirely anecdotal because recordings attributed to this band in record catalogues of the time actually refer to a unit composed mainly of star players from the May Fair band. but his personal circumstances were not normal and from time-to-time this became all too apparent. Ambrose was obliged to find two replacements. who also doubled on clarinet and baritone. Ambrose took the May Fair band out on the road during the autumn. Even at the Dorchester the brilliance sometimes shone through. Sid Phillips was given responsibility for rehearsing the band and supervised the orchestration requirements. consolidating its reputation as one of the most accomplished British jazz-oriented bands of the early 1930s. Guest vocalists and instrumentalists were regularly included. with different vocal groups participating according to availability. but it fitted-in well with requirements at the May Fair because the cinema stage shows were confined to one early evening performance and the band could be whisked back to the hotel in time for the 9pm start in the ballroom. cine-variety shows continued as an intermittent extra-mural activity for the next fifteen years. again only in the London area. particularly when the band was broadcasting. There is no record of who replaced Tony Thorpe. BBC play-lists from this time only indicate the titles of the musical items and not the performers. Everyone who came into contact with him agreed that this was a rotten shame. Unfortunately. Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle were the regular vocalists. none more so than Ambrose.

For recording artists outside the US the situation was reversed. Ambrose was Jack Hylton’s replacement so far as HMV’s American releases were concerned throughout 1932. We’re A Couple Of Soldiers (+Anona Wynn). Got A Date With An Angel. This arrangement was very important for American recording artists because it gave them an indirect world-wide outlet at a time when US tariff policy was highly unpopular and attracting retaliatory action against the United States. Until he left HMV. HMV had been an international concern since the early 1900s and by the late 1920s had become the largest record supplier in the world. Tell Me Tonight. ‘Leven Pounds Of Heaven. Shadows On The Window. Dixieland {1&2} (+Elsie Carlisle/Three Ginx). . records bearing the name-tag ‘Ray Noble & His Orchestra’ were issued. Tom Thumb’s Drum. Foxtrot Medley {1&2}. Ich Liebe Dich. Goopy Geer. The Voice In The Old Village Choir (+ choir/boy soprano). HMV’s famous ‘Nipper’ trade-mark was known throughout the world (although in some countries the dog was replaced by a cobra listening intently to the gramophone horn). Although EMI was obliged to sell-off its interests in Columbia/US (due to anti-trust laws) the former HMV agreements with RCA-Victor and its subsidiaries continued. Most of Ambrose’s recorded output during 1932 was released in America as well as world-wide. Too Many Tears. Song Of The Harp (+Harry Chapman .harp). In The Jailhouse Now {1&2}. US releases shown upright. You Rascal You. Day By Day. and they could hardy do so when their own efforts were also being exported. Open Up Dem Pearly Gates. [Vocal by Joe Crossman… Minnie The Moocher. Only US-based recording artists had any grounds for complaint. Eventually. Let’s Put Out The Lights And Go To Sleep (+Anona Wynn). The following are the major titles for 1932: [Vocal by Sam Browne… Mona Lisa. including in America. Many of Ambrose’s British releases were also issued in the fifty or so countries in which HMV operated. Songs That Are Old Live Forever (+Three Ginx). I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan. Soft Lights And Sweet Music. not on the records because these were manufactured in the US. Old Man Of The Mountain. Dancing In The Dark. The Queen Was In The Parlour. Eleven More Months And Ten More Days {1&2}. . Paradise. Lets All Sing Like The Birdies Sing. You’re Blasé. Duty only had to be paid on the metal dies used to stamp-out the records.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 114 Recording sessions for HMV also kept the band busy until the end of the year. although Ray Noble wasn’t far behind. but usually HMV owned factories and distribution organisations in the countries concerned. Just Another Dream Of You. The ‘Oi’ Song (+Max Bacon). After leaving the BBC Dance Orchestra in 1930 (for which he was staff arranger) Ray Noble joined HMV as arranger and leader of the New Mayfair Orchestra – HMV’s house band. Auf Wiedersehn. In some cases it worked through agreements with other companies (such as in America). [Vocal by Elsie Carlisle… The Clouds Will Soon Roll By. and these sold exceptionally well. These were now being done at EMI’s Abbey Road studios in St John’s Wood. Rain On The Roof. Wherever You Are. Jack Hylton enjoyed the lion’s share of American releases by British bands contracted to HMV. Later he was appointed Head of Light Music and continued in this role after the formation of EMI.

The Song Is You. Hollywood’s contributions were a spin-off from film musicals and like Broadway occasionally shared the same song writing talents with Tin Pan Alley. However. Depression related songs like Brother Can You Spare A Dime and A Shanty In Old Shanty Town (both hits in 1932. A fair comment in many cases but in some respects the best popular songs of this era stand out as the best of all time insofar as durability is concerned. He was an occasional contributor to the band’s book and although past efforts like Charleston and Ravel’s Bolero had been broadcast. to realise their full stylistic potential. I’ve Got The World On A String. From this time on the American connection would grow in importance. Coward was as famous in America as in Britain and this item merely one in a string of hits in both countries. and his own HMV recording was a big hit in America. This was Ray Noble’s first big success as a songwriter. Before leaving Slump-ridden 1932 behind we should take a look at those top hits that Ambrose didn’t record but most of which would have been featured by the band: Adios. but the most poignant protest songs were being written and performed by artists well away from the bright lights of Broadway. Tin Pan Alley continued to churn out songs good. It was Noel Coward who has a character in one of his plays refer to ‘the potency of cheap music’. How Deep Is The Ocean. but at least Ambrose had some inkling that the potential existed. One American release did particularly well – Mona Lisa b/w You’re Blasé (arranged by Lew Stone and Sid Phillips respectively). it would take a later generation of arrangers and singers. Louisiana Hayride. but all aimed at a mass market. Despite the Depression. Underneath The Harlem Moon. All the records on which the above titles appeared sold well and most remained in the HMV catalogue for many years. Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley. including the two with words and music by British songwriters Ray Noble (By The Fireside) and Noel Coward (Mad About The Boy). Ambrose’s arranging skills were limited to fairly simple and basically ‘straight’ interpretations of the tunes concerned.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 115 It is interesting to note that the arrangements for Paradise and Fox Trot Medley were written by Ambrose. April In Paris. You’re An Old Smoothie. Try A Little Tenderness. True. It was probably because since Lew Stone’s departure he had taken on the role of co-ordinating the arranging team himself that he felt the need to make a token effort in this direction. Like his fiddle playing. the current ones appear to have been the first to be recorded. Creole Love Call. Some of these titles now rank as ‘standards’. True. Somebody Loves You. By The Fireside. it was from the musical theatre that most of the really sophisticated songs of the era emanated. Have You Ever Been Lonely. I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues. Mad About The Boy. Granada. Fit As A Fiddle. Some of these would become standards in time. but usually shunned by bands playing society dates) proved that popular culture was not entirely indifferent to current events. Willow Weep For Me. Nor did the music he presented come particularly cheap! . bad and indifferent in a variety of genres. freed from the constraints imposed by most danceband leaders. Ambrose now joined Jack Hylton and Ray Noble in that rare category .British bandleaders making it big in the United States. but on the whole what the public still wanted in the early 1930s was escapist fare. Darkness On The Delta.

For example Jack Hylton left HMV at the end of 1931. The greater an artist’s royalties. and the Dorsey Brothers – rather a tall order! Nevertheless he accepted the offer. Most HMV and Columbia recording artists appear to have accepted all this. And so towards the end of 1932 he announced that he would not be renewing his recording contract.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 116 In the autumn of 1932 EMI put into effect a new policy relating to royalties paid to artists under contract to the record companies (including HMV and Columbia) that came within its orbit. The loss of HMV’s formidable world-wide distribution network and superior recording techniques was not to be taken lightly. although sales of his previous HMV releases continued regardless. and consequently the more pressure on the artist to record commercial items. This was standard practice. along with other matters. by tradition. and not releasing it at all was always an option. was always able to negotiate more favourable terms than a less popular artist. i.e. So far as Jack Hylton was concerned this was a breach of contract under English law. Someone like Jack Hylton. and he sued EMI/HMV accordingly. The company could usually do as it liked regarding release of a particular title. Eventually Jack won the day. Once a recording had been made it became the property of the record company. but EMI subsequently ensured that new contracts (including renewals) reflected their revised policy. a matter of negotiation between a record company and an individual recording artist and enshrined. In October 1932 EMI announced that future contract renewals would have to be negotiated with the expectation of reduced royalties (as well as the reduction in existing royalties that was later blocked by Jack Hylton’s injunction). This sometimes occurred if the company deemed the recording ‘un-commercial’. Ambrose could not start recording for Brunswick until his EMI/HMV contract expired in March 1933. Because royalties were a contractual matter settled at the time of negotiating the contract it should have made no difference whether or not an artist was still under contract to the company when the title concerned was released. Guy Lombardo. and perhaps in a fit of pique made no further recordings for HMV. but did the royalties have to stay the same? Could they possibly be reduced? EMI thought that they could. unlikely to sell sufficient copies to make a reasonable profit. but continued to enjoy royalties on records subsequently released by HMV. what was ‘reasonable’ depended in part on how much would have to be paid in royalties. Clearly. in a formal contract. Ambrose was immediately approached by Brunswick (by this time part of the Decca set-up) with a view to joining that label in the spring of 1933. Nor was the fact that at Brunswick he would have to compete with Duke Ellington. the more need to make a quick return on sales. which was due to expire in March 1933. but Ambrose – like Jack Hylton – would have none of it. whose record sales were in the millions. The sting in the tail for the artist was that recording costs were off-set against royalties (how this came about is too complex to relate here) so it was never in the interests of an artist to have his or her items rejected for release. The amount paid in royalties was. and did so in the case of Jack Hylton whose HMV record sales (including titles first released in the 1920s) remained buoyant. Don Redman. Ambrose’s (second) one-year contract with HMV had been concluded in March 1932. . and royalties as per original contract were paid to artists.

she participated in Ambrose’s autumn cine-variety tour. Ambrose as a bandleader might have been on a par with Jack Hylton. . The gamblers among them formed a particularly long-lasting friendship circle. but as an impresario he had some way to go. she had her own recording contract with Decca and rather mischievously recorded elsewhere under an assumed name. the Carlyle Cousins were appearing at the Embassy Club with the Ambrose-controlled Lou Simmonds band when Cecile’s services were required at the May Fair. according to Mills. Although still only featured at the May Fair on broadcasting nights. moreover each member had instrumental talent and so. Early in 1933 Ambrose brought over from Austria the Dajos Bela Orchestra for a short term engagement (venue unknown). and a more socially acceptable coterie of bandleaders met regularly for golf dates at one or other of the exclusive clubs to which only their kind of income and celebrity status would allow entry. Mills wanted a lot of money. was what most copy-cats failed to achieve. including Jack Hylton. and only someone with Hylton’s resources could guarantee the sum involved. Mills happened to be dining with friends at the May Fair during a Saturday night broadcast and was completely bowled-over by Ambrose’s band. Mills was also interested in Ambrose’s impresario activities in connection with bringing over some of his American artists. Ambrose enjoyed good relationships with most of the top British bandleaders. the arrangements ensured a distinct ‘sound identity’ for the band. Eric Handley (drums). and an appearance at the London Palladium. which by now was routinely featuring arrangements of numbers popularised by Duke Ellington.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 117 In January 1933 Elsie Carlisle had to be temporarily replaced due to ill-health. but any possibilities in this direction were nipped in the bud when someone else got wind of what was going on. Another vocal group – the Carson Sisters (a duo) . and this. both venues coming within the AOL band supply orbit. Ivor Robbins (saxes/clarinet). with Ambrose’s support. Professional rivalries aside. including the promotion of the music he published and the possibility of the artists he represented appearing in Britain – one of whom was Duke Ellington. Mills had several missions in hand. At the time of Mills’ visit to London. On becoming aware that Mills was seeking backing for his British ventures Hylton rushed back to London and made an immediate offer to finance and organise a tour by Duke Ellington. With such a heavy work schedule it comes as no surprise that her illness was of the ‘nervous exhaustion’ kind. and was appearing regularly as a solo act in cabaret. Although essentially cover versions. among other things. Although this threegirl vocal group was not under exclusive contract to Ambrose. they functioned as a three-piece band called the Rhythmic Three – Jack Joy (piano/vocals). Also. Cab Calloway. By coincidence. This small band appeared regularly at Murray’s and Romano’s restaurants. Don Redman and the Casa Loma Orchestra. its first taste of major success came after appearing in the Palladium show in the autumn of 1931. The Three Ginx also occasionally appeared at the Embassy. Jack Hylton was appearing with his band in Paris. Also in London at this time was Irving Mills who headed the MillsRockwell Corporation. a powerful American concern involved with music publishing and artist management. and so too did the Three Ginx. and variety and cabaret appearances helped to consolidate the group’s success. Her temporary replacement was Cecile Petrie of the Carlyle Cousins. an all-male group. Subsequent broadcasts with Ambrose and other bands.participated in the May Fair broadcasts on a regular basis at this time.

The favourite tipple of High Society was euphoria-inducing champagne. eschewing moreish champagne and making a bottle of house wine last a whole evening. and gradually many of those establishments that catered for the ‘ordinary rich’ moved down market in an attempt to attract middle class customers. middle class patrons weren’t inclined to quaff champagne. This was also the month that he started to record for Brunswick. did so frugally. No doubt Ambrose agreed. The consequences of government financial policies were now affecting the entertainment business in general and the West End in particular. but as before the reluctance of Brunswick/UK to allow any deviation from what Tin Pan Alley was churning out was all too obvious. at the same rate as their ‘betters’…if at all. So far as British record buyers with more sophisticated tastes were concerned. Some even had the effrontery to order a carafe of water from the wine waiter! Many of those who did imbibe. but both ‘Detector’ and Ambrose – if not the record buying public – were to be sadly disappointed. As these were among the bands from which Ambrose routinely ‘lifted’ material it is difficult not to sympathise with hard-pressed Brunswick/UK executives obliged to keep at least one eye firmly fixed on what we would now call ‘the bottom line’. the standard of musicianship remained excellent and there was no lack of jazz-inspired ensemble and solo playing where appropriate. or guzzle caviar. Meanwhile they danced to the strains of a big name band and enjoyed the luxurious ambience of it all.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 118 In March 1933 Ambrose celebrated his fifth year of broadcasting from the May Fair. but because large concerns like Gordon Hotels purchased such huge quantities from suppliers they could negotiate substantial discounts. Now a bottle of good quality champagne retailed at two guineas [about £80 now]. caviar and smoked salmon could just about match the returns on their liquid complements. still insisting in the early 1930s that what he was trying to do could only be based on American creativity and originality. And it was the same with other delights such as fine table wines and the alcoholic ingredients of cocktails. Brunswick could argue that their needs were catered for by those American bands in the Brunswick/US catalogue whose output was selectively issued in Britain. It was also in the spring of 1933 that faint rumblings of a gathering storm could be detected by those with perceptive antenna. restaurants and hotels catering for ‘outside trade’ made their best profits by buying booze cheap and selling it dear. As ever. Food was far less profitable. The trouble was that middle class enjoyments were relatively parsimonious – they simply wouldn’t spend enough! Clubs. Record reviewers. although exotic dishes like lobster. High Society (except for a ‘super rich’ coterie) had started to economise within a few months of the Wall Street Crash. However. like ‘Detector’ in the Melody Maker. scurrying away at midnight to catch the last train back to the suburbs. expressed the hope that from this time on Ambrose’s recorded output would match the quality and innovation of his broadcasts and show what the band was really capable of. To a great extent Ambrose was hoist on his own petard. .

Ambrose gave some credibility to Towle’s rantings years later when he stated: ‘In some respects we were too successful at the May Fair. Sir Francis insisted on sweeping cuts both across the board and at the May Fair. Harry Roy’s band wasn’t in the same league as Ambrose’s but it was still quite good. but still only half what Ambrose had cost. and to blame a bandleader for it was ludicrous. including the provision of ‘free’ music. and the May Fair weathered the storm well enough. Perhaps Sir Francis Towle had a point after all. Managing Director of Gordon Hotels called on Ambrose at the May Fair Hotel to discuss the crisis (for such it was) that now engulfed the Dorchester Hotel. and Ambrose’s personal one-year contract to front the band at the May Fair. Ambrose’s contracts were due to expire at the end of July and in mid-July it was announced that Harry Roy would replace Ambrose at the May Fair with a twelvepiece band. In the year since its opening it had failed to attract sufficient custom to break-even. The regular outfit at the May Fair (12 instrumentalists + 1 vocalist) cost £500 [about £20. not hoi polloi…but still the kind of people more used to a Lyon’s Corner House with a string band playing selections from ‘THE MERRY WIDOW’…and all for the price of sardines on toast and a pot of tea! They drove the others – Society – away’. Cuts would have to made. Certainly. Towle now wanted this sum reduced to £150 a week! No doubt Towle’s figure was a negotiating ploy.000 now] a week (excluding broadcasting ‘extras’ which were personally covered by Ambrose). In early July negotiations finally broke down and then things started to get nasty. The downturn in trade at the Dorchester. and Jack Jackson the Blue Lyres at the Dorchester with an octet. Indeed. a salon-type outfit that played light classical music in the afternoon and early evening. and asked his business manager to continue negotiations (a wise move given Ambrose’s volatile nature). May Fair and other Gordon venues was. For the new May Fair band Towle was obliged to pay £250 a week . Ambrose’s fault. They all flocked in from “the sticks”…nice people.more than he originally said was necessary. according to Towle. let alone make a reasonable profit. As expected Ambrose wasn’t having any of it. the Blue Lyres would have to cost less – and this could only be done by a cut in size.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 119 In March 1933 Sir Francis Towle. Also. He had attracted the wrong kind of people and driven away the Big Spenders! Although this was indeed happening (as outlined above) it was part of a social trend. . Ambrose reluctantly agreed . The hiatus at the Dorchester did not auger well for the negotiations that began in May. First to go would be the Moschetto Orchestra.and axed the guitar from the lineup! Now it so happened that Ambrose’s two contracts with Gordon Hotels were soon due for renewal . a try-on…or perhaps it was actually intended to drive Ambrose/AOL away.the three year contract between the hotel group and AOL for the supply of bands to establishments within the group. Even so. Towle gave an interview to a reporter from the Evening News in which he lambasted ‘greedy’ bandleaders in general and Ambrose in particular. only a very second-rate fullsize band could be had for £150 a week – or a tiny first-rate outfit like the Rhythmic Three.

was far from amused! . this concession came just at the right time so far as Ambrose was concerned. As we shall see. kept a firm grip over who could or could not meet Duke and his band during their stay. Ambrose had instigated secret discussions with the BBC aimed at securing a weekly studio-based Saturday night show in place of the usual outside broadcast. which Towle mistakenly thought could be transferred to the new bands without consulting the BBC. Towle may have been delighted with his new low-cost bands at the May Fair and Dorchester but he made one fatal error when announcing their impending arrival. Also. Duke Ellington commenced a national tour starting at the London Palladium. By the time Ambrose left the May Fair arrangements were in place for his first broadcast in October. Barney Bigard. These had been paid at the flat rate of £40 an hour. Joe Nanton. But this was only a temporary measure. and Duke himself was an unforgettable experience for the boys in the Ambrose band. especially the attention shown by ‘serious’ music critics in the press. who demurely left the bandstand after counting-in the first number. much more satisfactory at least for a small or even medium-sized band. Ambrose. because unbeknown to Towle. music provided of course by the Ambrose band.000 now]. there was by now in Britain an embryonic network of ‘rhythm clubs’ sponsored and partly organised by the Melody Maker. Johnny Hodges. and at a time when Ambrose had some idea of the kind of residency he was likely to get after the May Fair (a residency from which broadcasting would not be possible). the BBC announced a concession over payments for studio-based band shows. This error concerned the weekly late-night broadcasts from both venues. To have a captive audience that included Cootie Williams. or a prince…I felt like a king!’ Jack Hylton. irrespective of the size of the band. These discussions took place after the break-down in contract negotiations with Towle. Ambrose dusted-off a range of jazz classics and let the band go to town. who organised the tour. The BBC’s Head of Light Entertainment informed him otherwise and broadcasting ceased from both venues at the end of July. Ambrose’s Saturday night spot was takenover by the BBC Dance Orchestra and broadcast from a studio in London. later told Sid Phillips that experiencing the reaction of Duke Ellington’s band to his own was one of the proudest moments in his career: ‘The band was at its very best…I didn’t feel like a duke. This tour was a huge success. After this tour Duke Ellington started to take his work even more seriously than he had before. Harry Carney. however. Ambrose would be able. The new figure was to be £100 [about £4. Although Jack Hylton. Far from losing his popular Saturday night broadcast. Much to Hylton’s annoyance the party was held after hours at the May Fair. During Ambrose’s final few weeks at the May Fair some distinguished Americans descended on Britain. he could hardly refuse to let them attend a party organised by Lord Beaverbrook (a powerful press baron) at the behest of the Prince of Wales. at long last.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 120 Just as the owners of West End night spots were putting the screws on bandleaders. to present a regular show more like his highly acclaimed special studio broadcast in January 1932. and took Duke somewhat by surprise. and wherever Duke went there was a substantial body of ‘true believers’ to greet him and the boys in the band. Carefully avoiding any of Duke’s own numbers.

Ambrose’s final broadcast from the May Fair took place on Saturday 29th July. Ambrose. Fortunately some openings were found in the variety tour schedules. promising to be back on the air in the autumn. For the revamped Blue Lyres. Elsie Carlisle. and this coincided with his last night playing at the hotel. It was merely necessary to transfer Lou Simmonds’ band somewhere else. Joe Jeanette was given the unenviable task of reorganising and up-dating the band’s library of orchestrations during that long hot summer. By the time the broadcast started the ballroom was filled to capacity and a greater than usual party spirit in evidence.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 121 Shortly before Ambrose left the May Fair another well-known American musical celebrity arrived in London – Hoagy Carmichael. This problem was compounded by the fact that Ambrose had arranged to go to America for six weeks. The patrons of the Embassy had far more adventurous musical tastes than their middle class counterparts at the May Fair. Unlike the May Fair. and a reconstituted Blue Lyres absorbed some of the ex-May Fair sidemen. Another variety troupe comprising Sam Browne. provided the vocal content. Ambrose would now have to provide music for the Embassy’s floor show. which posed a problem for Ambrose having lost not only the May Fair contract but also that for the Dorchester and other Gordon Hotels establishments. Hoagy had met Ambrose in America. and during his visit to London attended a rehearsal at which his own song Lazybones just happened to be on the schedule. reflecting no doubt a more adventurous approach to life in general. Not all had to be accommodated because Joe Brannelly and Danny Polo were also vacationing in America. Like Duke Ellington.for Ambrose ‘going quietly’ wasn’t an option! Although Ambrose had already secured his next residency before leaving the May Fair he did not immediately disclose where it would be. Interestingly. the Carson Sisters and the Three Ginx recalled some of the tunes and songs that had been broadcast over the past five years. and take over the residency himself. and not that surprising considering that Ambrose already had the contract for supplying the band there. briefly returning to the Ambrose fold. And one memorable night Hoagy also sat in on piano with the May Fair band for an impromptu rendition of Star Dust. Since the late 1920s Hoagy had been a member of The Family. Don Stuteley was quitting the band and Ted Heath opted to take additional unpaid leave. And. the Embassy shut down for eight weeks in the summer. of course. Joe was obliged to dust-off some of the old jazz-inspired arrangements dating back to Ambrose’s sojourn at the Embassy Club in the 1920s. which included an exotic dance troupe. it was rumoured that a return to the Embassy Club was on the cards. had at least a nodding acquaintanceship with the jazz fraternity there. The immediate difficulty was how to keep his two principal bands – the main orchestra and the Blue Lyres – employed throughout the summer. Sam Browne. The augmented orchestra. This group maintained close links with black players in Harlem where a degree of integrated ‘jamming’ occurred in jazz clubs. Before the final number Ambrose made a short speech. when in New York. the group of musicians that fostered New Yorkstyle jazz. Phyllis Robins. This was in fact the case. What then followed was just like the Last Night at the Proms. . Elsie Carlisle and two pianists (Bert Read and Slim Wilson) were engaged for a tour of London theatres. However. and had very little time to organise alternative engagements. After the broadcast the farewell party spirit continued .

Possibly. Hyde Park Corner (+Elsie Carlisle/Max Bacon). and the Boswell Sisters. which indicates that Ambrose. Bom-Ba-Diddy-Bom-Bom. This was about to change and Ambrose was wise to keep his American options open. ten records in all. The previous policy whereby the arranger of a number worked closely with the band and vocalist(s) during the rehearsal and recording stages continued after Lew Stone. of course. I Can’t Remember. Commenting on these releases Ambrose singled out Farewell To Arms as: ‘The loveliest record I have ever made’. Body And Soul (+Ambrose violin). successfully carried forward Lew Stone’s policies regarding the ‘sound identity’ of the band. who instigated this policy. When Gimble Hits The Cymbal (+Max Bacon). [Vocal by Elsie Carlisle… You’ve Got Me Crying Again. Farewell To Arms. All Over Italy (+Max Bacon). . Chewing Gum. who had introduced it at the Cotton Club earlier in the year. Early in August. Butterflies In The Rain. Brunswick/UK had released twenty of his band’s titles. This departure from the norm caused so much consternation at the time that the song’s publisher had to threaten legal action against certain bandleaders who rearranged its format so that their rhythm sections could cope more easily. . These recordings show the same degree of consistency in arranging style as before. Maybe I Love You. Another factor was the wealth of home-based talent contracted to Brunswick/US. and the Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler number . and is one of the very few songs to deviate from the rigid Tin Pan Alley structure and still become a hit. Ambrose departed for the United States. .Stormy Weather. Ruth Etting. did quite nicely with the original. One factor in Ambrose’s favour was his still-extant membership of the AFM’s Local 802.You’ve Got Me Crying Again. Although it was getting difficult to arrange band exchanges it was still possible under certain circumstances and even if the AFM objected to entire foreign bands working in America their leaders were still being given ‘guest conductor’ status fronting American sidemen. What Would Ja Like For Breakfast (+Elsie Carlisle). Guy Lombardo and the Casa Loma Orchestra. When Your Little Pomeranian Met My Little Pekinese (+Elsie Carlisle). Sylvia. Under My Umbrella (+Elsie Carlisle). At this time the Atlantic crossing had to be made by sea and took at least five days. who now co-ordinated the orchestration effort. This last song was specially written for Ethel Waters. US releases shown upright. Note that only two titles were released in America. but in America only one of the ‘minor’ kind. departed the scene.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 122 By the time Ambrose left the May Fair. Apart from Duke Ellington. Ambrose’s rhythm section. probably reflecting Jack Hylton’s determination not to allow a British rival to steal his thunder. top solo artists included Bing Crosby. Cunard’s ‘White Star’ Line was Ambrose’s preferred means of travel and when in New York he usually stayed at the luxurious Whitehall Hotel on Broadway – a favourite haunt for visiting show business celebrities. but who remembers it now? Apart from the revived Body And Soul. Chasonette. Sweetheart. the only two titles that have stood the test of time are the Isham Jones song . Here are the Brunswick releases up to the end of July 1933: [Vocal by Sam Browne… I Wake Up Smiling. his first trip there since 1929. Stormy Weather. By now Ambrose was a celebrity.

The unprecedented drop in record sales has already been mentioned. Indeed. Another factor was the introduction of a low-cost electrical record player that could be plugged into an ordinary radio receiver. However. and along with the jukebox contributed to an increase in record sales from this time on. Eventually. particularly for musicians. and another statistic along the same lines merely rubs salt in the wound – in 1928 forty new musical shows opened in New York. American listeners could. radio and film production steadily increased throughout the 1930s. it would take over thirty years to achieve the mass market for records that US companies enjoyed before 1929. Had this not been so. This device also appeared around 1933. Lesser bands filled in the rest of the network time devoted to dance music. Fred Waring. at least in part. but this wasn’t the case. and not far behind him. . This wasn’t their choice but due to pressure from the AFM and the threat of legal action by the record companies. the record companies gave way and allowed records to be played over the air. In 1933. on average. unemployment within the entertainment industry. Had all branches of show business experienced such downturns then it would have been totally catastrophic. choose from among twelve local radio stations – in New York it was twenty-two. Hard on Whiteman’s heels was Guy Lombardo. would have been far worse than it was. though. By 1933 the two major radio networks (NBC and CBS) were broadcasting twenty-five shows a week based around ‘name’ bands. the widespread popularity of the ‘disc jockey’ was still some way off. At this time records were not used by the radio networks to any great extent. but at least it wasn’t total catastrophe. Radio and movies. Not so the ‘jukebox’ – an electrical multi-selector type had just been introduced and would be one of the factors leading to a gradual increase in record sales after the low point of 1932. But network radio had to compete with hundreds of independent radio stations also broadcasting live music and giving work to thousands of musicians as a result.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 123 When Ambrose arrived in New York in the summer of 1933 the lowest point in the Great Depression had been reached. Local independent radio stations largely ignored the pressure and threats and used records as ‘fillers’ between live programmes. This still left many lesser mortals in the music business out in the cold (almost half the members of the AFM’s Local 802 in New York City were unemployed in 1933). Across America average personal income was just about half what it had been immediately prior to the Wall Street Crash in 1929. All this represented a lot of music. even supplying radio stations with complementary copies provided they paid royalties to the songwriters (recording artists didn’t get radio royalties in the US). offset the decline in live theatre and record sales. and it meant that top-flight white musicians (regardless of style) could make a reasonable living out of radio. In 1932 the greatest vaudeville theatre in America – New York’s Palace Theatre – closed-down and was replaced by a movie house. with four weekly shows attracting around a quarter of the listening public. Such a catastrophic drop in purchasing power could hardly fail to have an impact on the entertainment industry. The most popular radio band that year was Paul Whiteman’s. The early years of the Depression also saw a decline in vaudeville (although a sleazy variant of it known as ‘burlesque’ grew in popularity). in 1932 it was only five.

Other stalwarts included Guy Lombardo at the Roosevelt Grill and Vincent Lopez at the Taft Hotel.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 124 Not long after arriving in New York. it seems surprising that Kapp showed such interest in Ambrose. but he also had some serious business to attend to. Most of the big names of New York-style jazz spent the early 1930s freelancing. Most spent at least some of their time jamming at jazz clubs like the Onyx. Ironically. Benny Goodman. Out of twenty titles cut during his first three months with Brunswick/UK only two had been released in America. Ambrose attended a cocktail party given in his honour by Brunswick/US boss Jack Kapp. Red Norvo and Gene Krupa there was no shortage of work. Ambrose had around twenty records currently on release in America (dating from his time with HMV) on the Gramophone. Eddie Duchin. All these were essentially ‘society’ bands and without exception sported tinkling twin pianos. and whoever could claim to have introduced such a hit to unsuspecting British audiences usually gained a commercial advantage. Most of these were selling quite well and some were getting the all-important exposure on (mainly local) radio. Glenn Miller. Victor and Bluebird labels. Not. tenor-led sax sections and virtually beatless rhythm sections. Some became loosely attached to big name bands and at the same time worked in ad hoc groups for recording sessions and/or radio dates. . the Dorsey Brothers. No doubt looking-up old friends and acquaintances and generally socialising took up a good deal of Ambrose’s time in New York. Famous Door and Jack White’s. hiring American musicians – he already had a full complement of star players – but talent spotting of a different kind was on the agenda because his new responsibilities at the Embassy Club included the engagement of cabaret artists for the club’s floorshow. Ben Bernie. Even so. radio audiences and (what was left of) the record-buying public. Another task that preoccupied him was seeking-out new material for the band. A good start. It usually took several months for a popular American hit to cross the Atlantic. and black jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams. Roy Fox and Lew Stone also had to be accommodated in the catalogue. this time. For top musicians like Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey. permanently muted brass. but it’s a safe bet that he did. the British bands of Jack Hylton. Given that under the agreement with Decca. Artie Shaw. highly popular with the patrons of their respective venues. Whether Ambrose sampled the delights of the smarter jazz clubs on 52nd Street isn’t known. even though a fair percentage of it must have been somewhat routine. but Ambrose had quite a way to go in order to catch-up with Jack Hylton and Ray Noble – the two British bandleaders with significant reputations in the United States. Bunny Berigan. They were. of course. Ambrose was much more likely to have turned his attention to the sounds emanating from Harlem and 52nd Street than the top society venues. Apart from the top bands and singers mentioned previously. these bandleaders could have learnt much from British counterparts like Carroll Gibbons and Roy Fox who worked in similar circumstances but usually with greater flair and style. The bandleaders who played at the top New York hotels at this time ranged from veterans like Emil Coleman at the Waldorf-Astoria to newcomers like Eddie Duchin at the Central Park Casino. the Brunswick/US roster also included the bands of Don Redman.

. wholly owned by the musicians who played in it. Certainly. Another superb arranger with the band was tuba player Joe Bishop. and anyway some of the finer points of band showmanship were by now also important to Ambrose. these were two white bands that paved the way to the Swing Era. Few other commercial bandleaders of the time could match Jones’ jazz credentials and some of his blues-based output is just about the best achieved by any white band before the mid-1930s. Ambrose paid close attention to the work of Duke Ellington. As an arranger Gifford ranks among the very best of the early 1930s. but mostly conducted the band with the aid of a baton and fully notated scores. Artie Shaw later cited the Casa Loma band as having a great deal of influence over his own musical aspirations. who also contributed several jazz-based compositions. Other white bands that also interested Ambrose around this time included that of his old acquaintance Ben Pollack. Jones enjoyed the services of Gordon Jenkins. The Casa Loma Orchestra was somewhat unique because it was a co-operative venture. Ambrose made it his business to experience their bands in person (they were all playing at Harlem venues in 1933) and by this time would have formed at least a nodding acquaintanceship with their leaders. had set the standard to which Ambrose had aspired since the early 1920s. Don Redman. by the early 1930s he was beginning to falter as a bandleader. Isham Jones. but the principal influence over its musical policy was guitarist and chief arranger Gene Gifford. Although Fletcher Henderson’s arranging talents remained formidable.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 125 Two white bands that had a particular influence on what Ambrose did back in Britain were the Casa Loma and Isham Jones orchestras. Throughout most of the 1930s he remained an important Tin Pan Alley tunesmith (and occasional lyricist) with several big hits to his credit. the band split from Goldkette’s control. and the fact that ten years on Jones had lost none of his sparkle is testament to something very special about this rather strange man. and was responsible for the Pollack band’s up-to-date Dixieland style (much admired by Sid Phillips). In time. Jones always ensured that his star players were given plenty of soloing opportunities. Benny Carter. but it was the unique power of the ensemble work and driving rhythm that set this band aside. Cab Calloway was part showman . As an instrumentalist Jones made occasional contributions on tenor. including those of the Dorsey Brothers. A year later. Apart from his own still formidable orchestrating skills. This band managed to maintain credible jazz credentials despite being essentially commercial. and there seems little doubt that Ambrose would have concurred so far as his jazz-oriented output was concerned. Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. Tenor player/flautist Deane Kincaide wrote most of the arrangements. other white bands would profoundly influence the Ambrose Orchestra. The orchestra’s elected president was Glen Gray one of the sax players. It had started off in 1929 as a band formed by Jean Goldkette and originally called the Orange Blossoms. of course. became a corporation and adopted the ‘Casa Loma’ tag. but had an excellent band. So far as African-American bandleaders of the early 1930s were concerned. an arranger in the same category as Gene Gifford. Significantly.part vocalist. Fletcher Henderson and Cab Calloway.

Reeds: Rhythm: Strings: Vocals: Arrangers: . Here’s the complete line-up: AMBROSE & HIS EMBASSY CLUB ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Max Goldberg (trumpet) Harry Owen (trumpet) Ted Heath (trombone) Tony Thorpe (trombone) Danny Polo (alto/clarinet/baritone) Joe Jeanette (alto/clarinet/flute/+arranger) Billy Amstell (tenor/clarinet) Sid Phillips (baritone/clarinet)* Bert Read (piano/+arranger) Arthur Young (piano/celesta)* Joe Brannelly (guitar) Dick Ball (bass) Max Bacon (drums/+vocals) Jack Simpson (timpani/xylophone/chimes)* Reg Pursglove (violin)…et al* Sam Browne Elsie Carlisle* Harry Singer* The Three Ginx* The Carlyle Cousins* The Three Rhythm Girls* Sid Phillips Bert Barnes Ronnie Munro Van Phillips *Occasional additions Names shown in bold type formed the actual Embassy Club band. This was because the Embassy bandstand could only accommodate a nine-piece unit without becoming intolerably crowded. and Joe Jeanette remained on full salaries and were allocated ‘other work’ while their colleagues played at the Embassy. Tony Thorpe. As indicated above the band that played at the Embassy Club was smaller than the aggregation used when away from it. Elsie Carlisle seems to have been employed as a part-timer but attended broadcasting sessions on a regular basis. The Three Ginx also took part in broadcasts on a weekly basis as well as putting in occasional appearances at the Embassy and functioning elsewhere as an instrumental/vocal group (the Rhythmic Three).KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 126 Ambrose returned from America in late September with barely a week in hand to complete the reorganisation of the orchestra before taking-up his new residency at the Embassy Club and launching the weekly studio-based broadcasts. Harry Owen.

As before. About vocalist Harry Singer nothing is known. he also did work for various bands where his expertise was occasionally called for. Ambrose’s new series of broadcasts commenced on Saturday 7th October. His main influence was American bassist Steve Brown. Dick Ball was regarded as one of the best jazz bassist then working in Britain. He popularised the use of the three-quarter size ‘king bass’ among jazz players in Britain and also formulated playing techniques that avoided harmonic problems still affecting some rhythm sections during recording sessions. his was the last scheduled item of the evening and usually lasted for 1½ hours. the Carlyle Cousins had become extremely popular on the variety and cabaret circuits and could now only take part in broadcasts on an irregular basis. In addition to timpani he played the xylophone and marimba and also tookover the drum stool when Max Bacon contributed vocals during broadcasts. Consequently Ambrose used an alternative group called the Three Rhythm Girls comprising Kaye Munro-Smythe and two others. Much in demand for duties with classical orchestras. Here’s the play-list for the first show: Get Hot Foot Under A Blanket Of Blue That’s How Rhythm Was Born Was My Face Red The Vision Of Salome The Last Round Up The Man From Harlem Constantly Wedding Of The Dragon Flies What Are Little Girls Made Of? Rockin’ In Rhythm Sweet Dreams Pretty Lady Cage In The Window Talk Of The Town Wah De Dah Empty Days. That Means You’re Falling In Love Moonlight Madonna Blue Rhythm Ah But Is It Love? Holiday Shadows On The Swanee Lay Your Head On My Shoulder Time To Go . He was an experienced bass player who had previously worked at the Embassy with Orlando’s band and at the Empress Hall with Eddie Gross-Bart. Dick Ball came from Howard Jacobs’ band. presumably due to his prowess at ‘scat’ singing and rendition of the song The Man From Harlem. He had started his career as a boy bandsman in the army and later taught drumming at Eaton College. being one of the leading percussionists of the era.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 127 Since their broadcasting debut with the Ambrose band. Jack Simpson was also a significant part-time addition. He had certainly appeared in variety and was billed as ‘the man from Harlem’.

and others. as with announcements. Holiday was also an original composition/arrangement by Bert Read. Elsewhere the problem of timing during live programmes was usually solved by means of ‘continuity’ between the items being broadcast (in this case musical numbers). Ambrose had virtually complete control over the choice of material for his broadcasts. were more original in their approach to jazz. Another was a concert version of Solitude – another Ellington tune. but this would have required the services of a skilled announcer and also production standards of greater complexity than Ambrose could provide. an original composition by Sid Phillips. In many ways this limited freedom was highly commendable but really had more to do with saving money than benevolence. The closing number. This made commercial sense at the time because it was the only approach that could ensure financial success. Other items broadcast around this time were the jazz classics Down South Camp Meeting (arranged by Bert Barnes) and Shake Your Hips (a Jack Teagarden composition arranged by Van Phillips). However there were many ‘do’s and don’ts’ that had to be observed and. the producer of the show. was faded-out just in time for the midnight chimes of Big Ben and the ‘close-down’ announcement. The charge that any jazz the Ambrose band did include was almost entirely derivative is harder to refute. failure to comply would bring down the full wrath of the BBC onto the unfortunate offender. Whether Ambrose would have wanted to lead a purely jazz orchestra (like Duke Ellington’s) in 1930s Britain is debatable – the fact that he couldn’t have done so is not. The format that Ambrose adopted for most of his broadcasts reflected his avowed ‘something for everyone’ musical policy that held sway for most of the 1930s. Hughes. instead they commenced after the band had started the first number. Also played in jazz mode was Voo Doo. The careers of those who tried to – including Fred Elizalde and Spike Hughes – bear witness to this fact.he was. In essence the music never stopped – quite a feat for ninety minutes! Ambrose must have been sorely tempted to hand-over control during broadcasts to an experienced musical director but usually he didn’t. Time To Go. and so too does common sense (notably lacking with some later commentators on Ambrose’s career). and their presentation . in effect. and it has to be admitted that Elizalde. There was also an interruption at 11. Although strings were usually included for broadcasts they were invariably absent on the jazz-inspired numbers and in this respect some of Ambrose’s output at this time does reflect playing styles that would come to prominence in the Swing Era. At this time announcements made by non-BBC staff were strictly regulated – any ad libbing could result in subsequent banishment from the airwaves! Sam Browne made the announcements between numbers over background music provided by the second pianist (an improvised passage modulating between the keys of the numbers concerned). .30pm for a time signal (the famous ‘pips’).KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 128 These programmes did not start with Ambrose’s famous signature tune When Day Is Done. Ambrose’s cover version of Rockin’ In Rhythm (a Duke Ellington composition dating from 1930) was one of several jazz-inspired numbers specially arranged by Sid Phillips for broadcasting purposes.

This was a continuation of a policy he had adopted since making his first broadcast from the May Fair in 1928. but the studio-based nature of the current shows seemed to give the guest spots added significance. Another important feature of Ambrose’s broadcasts was the use of guest performers. The range of styles was also ‘standard’ insofar as certain types of song were usually included. Sometimes a seasoned performer like cabaret singer Frances Day or musical comedy star Anona Wynn would be included. eventually attracting a listening audience of many millions in Britain and on the Continent. This was extended somewhat when all the vocalists present formed a ‘choir’. At least one number was allocated to whatever group was taking part and a couple more numbers when it provided backing for one of the solo vocalists. Ambrose had few qualms about using female vocalists but was still inclined to restrict their presence to broadcasts. In some cases broadcast titles corresponded to recorded titles but the arrangements and vocalists were not always the same. before forming her own group. and helped propel the band towards its legendary reputation as one of the finest popular music aggregations in Britain. both as lead singer and arranger. She had been largely responsible for the choral content of Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians. lewdness and practical jokes that were best not witnessed by members of the ‘gentle sex’. Certain stage and cabaret artists became regular (though intermittent) guests on Ambrose’s radio shows including – pianist/singer Turner Layton. These radio shows undoubtedly had a knock-on affect so far as Ambrose’s record sales and tours were concerned. Elsie Carlisle (who had her own recording contract with Decca) sometimes broadcast vocals that were recorded for Ambrose by Sam Browne. In most cases the vocal was confined to one chorus so there would have been some scope for solos by instrumental players as well as improvised obbligatos. although this was becoming less of a problem because electrical amplification of the voice was catching-on fast. cowboy songs and comedy/novelty items. . A vocal group was also an essential ingredient in Ambrose’s broadcasting menu. and the same approach to vocal numbers is also evident. the songs corresponded to current (and occasionally anticipated) hits – standard Tin Pan Alley fare. an idea Ambrose got after hearing Kay Thompson’s Rhythm Singers perform in New York. Another reason was the supposed unseemliness of a female using a megaphone. singer Elisabeth Welch. The formula remained essentially the same throughout the 1930s. hence Sam Browne being the only regular vocalist at the Embassy for routine work. Ambrose’s new Saturday night band shows were highly acclaimed from the start and eventually became institutionalised along with other Saturday night fare like ‘IN TOWN TONIGHT’. In some cases this was because the all-male camaraderie of bands generated horseplay. like the American cabaret pianist/singer Hildegarde. At other times it would be a relatively unknown performer. At this time many bandleaders were still reluctant to hire a regular female vocalist. show tunes. for example Latin American numbers. and it was a winning one. and comedian/singer Leslie Sarony.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 129 Ambrose’s instrumental numbers presented a range of rhythmic styles. ‘MUSIC HALL’ and ‘SATURDAY NIGHT THEATRE’. recording sessions and stage appearances. On the whole.

Everything I Have Is Yours. Lazy Bones. The Old Spinning Wheel. I Cover The Waterfront. Sweetheart Darling. There’s A Cabin In The Pines. here are some of the notable hits of that year that Ambrose didn’t record but which might have been routinely featured: Blue Prelude. Experiment. It’s Only A Paper Moon. now reconstituted to absorb some of the fulltimers not normally working at the Embassy. We’re In The Money. Love Locked Out. Shadow Waltz.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 130 With the new residency at the Embassy Club. [Vocal by Elsie Carlisle… Memories Of The May Fair (+Sam Browne). Forty-Second Street. Dinner At Eight. Love Is The Sweetest Thing. Symphony Of The Breeze. Flying Down To Rio. The Last Round-Up. Shuffle Off To Buffalo. Easter Parade. The Blue Lyres. Pettin’ In The Park. ‘Taint Necessarily So. Don’t Blame Me. Down The Old Ox Road. It’s The Talk Of The Town. You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me. A Hundred Years From Today. My Song Goes Round The World. Heat Wave. Without That Certain Thing. although some early evening appearances at West End cinemas did take place. also undertook gigs in the London area. La-Di-Da-Di-Da. weekly broadcasts and a full schedule of recording sessions planned. The Flying Trapeze. Let’s Fall In Love. Carioca. US releases shown upright. As 1933 ended so too did those circumstances that had retarded Ambrose’s progress to the pinnacle of success in the international danceband firmament. As we shall see. Night And Day. Sophisticated Lady. After You Who. Here’s the line-up: AMBROSE’S BLUE LYRES Peter Rush (alto/clarinet/+violin/+leader) Harry Hayes (tenor/baritone/clarinet) Harry Owen (trumpet) Tony Thorpe (trombone) Slim Wilson (piano) Jim Jevone (guitar) Tiny Stock (bass) Maurice Zaffer (drums) Ambrose releases on Brunswick/UK in the autumn of 1933 included the following titles: [Vocal by Sam Browne…Learn To Croon. The Physician. this was one problem that could never be fully overcome. One Morning In May. Yesterdays. Only one major problem remained – a personal psyche dominated by self-destructive compulsions. Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf. The Monkey On A String (+Max Bacon). How Could We Be Wrong. Finally for 1933. Doin’ The Uptown Lowdown. . Ambrose forewent his usual autumn tour of London variety theatres.

The fact that the Embassy management didn’t allow broadcasting from its premises would have been a disadvantage had it not been for the BBC’s willingness to allow Ambrose to present studio-based programmes on Saturday evenings. it is clear that there was certainly something special about his band. players still had to have their regulatory two weeks vacations. Anyway.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 131 IV 1934-1937 During an interview in the mid-1930s American bandleader Jimmy Dorsey described the Ambrose Orchestra as: ‘The greatest danceband in the world’. so some players had be found other work Monday-through-Friday. than the average radio listener or record buyer. At the Embassy he could more or less come and go as he pleased (although he was generally in attendance when the Prince of Wales came to the club). Another point to be noted is that the Embassy’s clientele were much more jazz oriented than the middle class patrons of the May Fair. Given the role that these bandleaders played in the development of the Swing Era.but then making a virtue out of necessity was always part of High Society’s survival strategy. the ‘snob factor’ was at least partly satisfied by the willingness of ‘the powers that be’ to trade knighthoods for donations of one sort or another to supposedly worthy causes of one sort or another. Ambrose’s decision to return to the Embassy Club may have been forced on him by the circumstances of his sudden departure from the May Fair Hotel in the summer of 1933. To a large extent this reflected the tastes of the Prince of Wales and Prince George. Ambrose also used the Embassy’s nightly floorshow (for which he had responsibility) to his advantage. but the change certainly had its advantages. and the fact that few accolades were awarded to Ambrose’s British contemporaries. usually in connection with his band supply interests. the advantages seem to have outweighed the disadvantages. One slight difference was that its ‘invitation only’ policy to membership now extended beyond the ranks of the aristocracy and included a select number of super-rich self-made individuals. . certainly acknowledged the Ambrose band’s merit. And because Ambrose didn’t make it into the ranks of the great swing bands we must regard the years between 1934 and 1937 as the most successful in his long career. or even what we would now call a ‘big band’. while not going quite so far. Although this could be off-set by lucrative summer engagements on the Continent. Neither the ambience nor the clientele of the Embassy Club had changed much since Ambrose departed in 1927. we have to be quite clear what these flattering remarks referred to. One clear disadvantage was the fact that the full band couldn’t be accommodated on the club’s bandstand. then coming into existence in London and the provinces at the behest of the Melody Maker. Another problem at the May Fair had been Ambrose’s all too frequent absences from the bandstand. Other top American bandleaders. Even so. It was still one of the most luxurious and exclusive night clubs in the world. namely the Ambrose Orchestra as a jazz-oriented ‘danceband’ – not a jazz band. both of whom had more in common with the small groups of ‘hot’ music fans. New Money was taking its place alongside Old Money in the scheme of things . using some of the singing acts as guests in his radio shows. though. Another was the summer close-down – eight weeks for which Ambrose was not paid. On the whole. The financial situation was eased because the Embassy had no difficulty in paying Ambrose what he wanted.

None would succeed and Ambrose’s many admirers in the United States were obliged to make do with records and broadcasts. This was the first of six attempts that MCA would make over the next fourteen years to present Ambrose (either with his own band or an American substitute) ‘in person’. was told about it just before Ambrose left. The BBC notified Ambrose’s office in writing. Only a number of films released in America in the mid-to-late 1930s gave some idea of the band’s visual element. After all. he was spotted in New York by a vigilant Associated Press correspondent and the London newspapers alerted. However. a play-list had been submitted to the BBC one week before the show was due to go out. Odd indeed! Ambrose arrived back in London only to become embroiled in a dispute involving one of the radio shows transmitted during his absence. it emerged that Ambrose was indeed attempting to find ways round the embargo…for his own band. which had an interest in bringing this about. And this was considered to be very naughty indeed by ‘the powers that BBC’ (a Max Bacon witticism!). having been offered a six-week summer engagement at the famous Cocoanut Grove. but no action was taken and the item was subsequently broadcast. en route to the London Palladium and a tour of the United Kingdom…arranged by Jack Hylton. another Mills controlled band. This package had been put together by Music Corporation of America (MCA) the agency that now represented Ambrose’s interests in the United States. On the other hand perhaps Ambrose was engaged in something important – like entering into negotiations with the AFM to lift the embargo on British bands working in the United States. and a featured spot in an MGM film musical. he also travelled to California and spent some time in Hollywood as a guest of Rudy Vallee. Later. after a few days without Ambrose being around people started to ask where he was. This specified numbers that were ‘prohibited from performance’. he was still an executive member of the Danceband Directors’ Association (DBDA). he returned to Britain on the same ship as Cab Calloway’s Cotton Club Orchestra. Ambrose joined forces with top British variety agent Harry Foster in an attempt to accommodate Irving Mills. Another business deal that engaged Ambrose’s attention at this time came about due to a dispute that had arisen between American promoter Irving Mills and Jack Hylton (Mills’ representative in Britain). and Brannelly’s reply that he was ‘off with a cold’ didn’t fool them for long. This deal also included a twice-weekly CBS network radio show. As usual for studiobased programmes. One of the items also featured on another list. . and when his manager couldn’t shed any light on Ambrose’s shenanigans the rumours and innuendo back home simply multiplied. Mills wanted to bring over the Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson bands later in 1934 and approached Ambrose to see if he would promote these events. This was reported in the British press. Oddly enough. the band manager. Naturally. Discussions regarding these deals may also have taken place while Ambrose was in New York. Anyway. It says something for Ambrose’s emerging celebrity status that such a matter could be of public interest. sent to the BBC by the Music Publishers Association (MPA).KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 132 Despite a busy broadcasting and recording schedule Ambrose found it necessary to make a ‘secret’ trip to America in mid-January 1934. Only Joe Brannelly. Consequently.

Suffice to say that by the early 1930s the legal status of arrangements hadn’t been clearly established by the courts. For Henry Hall this was something of a departure from his normal duties but he did what was expected of him and by mid-April was presenting a radio show along the same lines as Ambrose’s but with some essential differences. but nevertheless Ambrose had to be severely punished…like being banished from the airwaves for the foreseeable future! In fact he was only off the air for three months. Although it was usually in the interests of publishers to have their works publicly performed there were circumstances where this was not the case. In return for the transfer of copyright ownership from the writer(s) to the publisher. During this era it was virtually impossible for a composer or songwriter to exploit his or her creative endeavours without the backing of a publisher. Another problem was that the BBC wished to keep Ambrose’s programme style intact rather than reverting to the usual late night dance music format. then. . How exploitation was achieved was entirely up to the publisher. the BBC and not Ambrose was legally responsible for the infringement and presumably could have been sued by the MPA. leader of the BBC Dance Orchestra. although there were many ambiguities far too tortuous to discuss here. a publisher might want to reserve the first performance over the airwaves to a particular artist…or delay public performance outside the US of a song from a Broadway stage show until the show opened abroad. and also supplied music on an ad hoc basis for various variety broadcasts. with the band functioning mainly as a backing outfit. Listeners seemed to find this quite acceptable as a substitute for Ambrose’s weekly tour de force and so all was well. For example. In fact. These shows were called ‘HENRY HALL’S GUEST NIGHT’…and in time became something of a National Institution. Essentially. This didn’t happen. However public performance was another matter. Usually the item in question was released in sheet-music form in which case it could be freely performed in private without further ado. the law gave publishers an absolute monopoly over public performances of copyrighted material. Well aware that the BBC Dance Orchestra couldn’t match the prowess of the Ambrose band. the latter took care of the exploitation business and split the proceeds (royalties) with the writer(s) on a fifty-fifty basis. Until the late 1940s music publishers were easily the most powerful group in the music industry. Henry Hall probably didn’t want to take over yet another programme because he already had one late night slot plus five day-time programmes each week. Hall based the programmes around his own presentational skills (by now well honed) and guest artists.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 133 Formal copyright laws came into being in Europe and the United States in the early years of the 20th Century and subsequently became enforceable on a world-wide basis through International Conventions. The immediate beneficiary of Ambrose’s departure from Broadcasting House was Henry Hall. The details of Ambrose’s inadvertent infringement of BBC rules were never revealed at the time but it’s a safe bet that the item in question was something he brought back from his summer visit to America. In other words. requiring permission from the publisher. Because it was broadcast from a studio rather than an outside location. Publishers also had the right to control how a number was performed (the arrangement). live performances had to be licensed and the issuing of a licence was in the gift of the publisher. The fee that would normally have been paid to Ambrose was handed over to Henry Hall specifically for hiring guest artists and special inclusions.

Not because Henry’s endeavours succeeded his. Ambrose was one of those who (privately) considered the BBC band to be ‘corny’.200 now]. Certainly.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 134 Henry Hall was both idolised and admonished because of what he was rather than what he did. Because work schedules didn’t clash Henry Hall had no objections and so Bert Read started with the BBC band while he was still working for Ambrose. Ever vigilant officials at the BBC found out and Bert was obliged to leave the stage show or face dismissal. At the time Ambrose was undergoing his suspension from the airwaves. and in the spring of 1934 he would hardly have considered Henry Hall a ‘gentleman’. He offered to release Bert Read immediately if he agreed to continue with the stage show for a month or so. having been in post only a few weeks. and had put together the stage show mentioned in the previous paragraph. but rather for ‘poaching’ one of Ambrose’s most prized sidemen – Bert Read. Henry Hall belonged to the same golf club as Bert Read and during a social event at which they were both present became aware of Bert’s situation and subsequently offered him a job with the BBC Dance Orchestra. And what he was – the quintessential English gentleman – suited a large section of the public. In fact Henry was looking for a replacement pianist/arranger anyway. Despite all this he had become dissatisfied after the move to the Embassy Club and his health began to suffer. and its growing reputation as a first-rate broadcasting outfit was largely due to his influence. Of course Ambrose wasn’t above a bit of ‘poaching’ himself and it was more the fact that Read was prepared to leave the prestigious Ambrose band for a ‘corny’ outfit and take a massive cut in salary to boot. Twenty-six year old Bert Read had been with Ambrose since 1928 and during the May Fair years had flourished both as pianist and arranger. as expected.but such detractors were in the minority. Bert Read became a highly valued member of the BBC band. In fact Henry Hall deserves to be recognised for what he really was . Bert Read’s replacement in the stage show was Eddie Carroll who had left the BBC band after a fracas with Henry Hall. he had taken part in a number of variety theatre tours.the competent leader of just one of several BBC musical outfits that did the best they could in the difficult circumstances of live broadcasting and minimal funding. Listening to the radio remained a mainly middle class pursuit until the late 1930s and Henry Hall’s approach to what he did meshed with middle class expectations – which were essentially conservative. . Bert had distinguished himself as an improvising soloist and featured player. Even though the best that Henry Hall could offer was £15/week (BBC rate) as opposed to Ambrose’s £30/week [about £1. Bert Read accepted the offer and handed-in his notice. Carroll was a good jazz pianist and accordion player who had worked in various bands and free-lanced for a number of years. he was one of the very few members of the BBC Dance Orchestra to be regularly featured as a soloist and. Despite this shaky start. Apart from his unassuming but highly effective contributions to the rhythm section. Along with fellow jazz pianist Slim Wilson. the sounds emanating from the BBC band were ‘corny’ (a phrase then being used in United States jazz circles for bands like Guy Lombardo’s) . contributed many fine arrangements to the band’s book. Ambrose eventually came to regard him as highly as he had Bert Read. To some. Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle.

which was supposed to be a musical representation of the renowned cheese! Many more followed. After a public school education he completed formal musical studies in London and then went to America where he composed music for silent films and worked as an accompanist and freelance arranger. Henry Hall and Paul Whiteman gave Foresythe’s output sympathetic treatment. including Earl Hines and Wild Bill Davison. By the early 1930s he was playing in Reg Batten’s band at the Princes Restaurant and was also staff arranger for a publishing company. it was as a composer and arranger that Bert Barnes really made his mark and had it not been for personal problems (he was a heavy drinker) his musical accomplishments would have gained greater recognition and long-term success. Early in 1934 Ambrose put this band into a newly-opened nightspot in Regent Street called the Café de la Paix. a rhythm section…but no brass section. In 1933 he returned to Britain and was befriended by Arthur Young. Lew Stone. or whatever. On leaving school he trained as an engineer but during a visit to Paris discovered avant-garde music and jazz! On returning to Britain he switched to rhythmic playing and studied arranging techniques. By the late 1920s he was arranging for various bandleaders. playing piano in cocktail lounges until his untimely death in the late 1950s . Foresythe’s career never developed beyond its mid-1930s high point and after war service in the RAF he sank into obscurity. whose own compositions and arrangements often possessed dark undertones. namely Reginald Foresythe. called Camembert. Foresythe’s band continued as a recording and jazz club unit and Ambrose broadcast and recorded several of Foresythe’s compositions. The unusual line-up of this ten-piece band comprised a reeds section (including a bassoon and two clarinets). Unfortunately. Ambrose soon became convinced that Foresythe was a major new talent and in conjunction with Young backed the formation of a band called ‘Reginald Foresythe & His New Music’. Bert Barnes had been on the arranging team as a part-timer since October 1933 and had played with the band during Bert Read’s sick leaves. In 1935 Foresythe briefly returned to New York and recorded some of his compositions with an ad hoc band that included Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa. and playing piano with Paul Howard’s Serenaders. He grew up in Stoke-onTrent and took piano lessons from an early age and by his teens was a gifted amateur player in the classical mode. He had an African father (a successful lawyer) and an English mother and grew-up in Britain. and Revolt Of The Yesmen. Foresythe’s compositions invariably had a strange and disturbing quality and it comes as no surprise that he became a close friend of Bert Barnes. Autocrat For Breakfast. No matter what they were called. The music was fine to listen to but when it came to dancing – forget it! Ambrose had little choice but to withdraw Foresythe and substitute a conventional danceband. Ambrose featured an instrumental number composed by Foresythe. but most bandleaders shunned his work because of its seemingly sinister qualities. Another remarkable musician also came to Ambrose’s attention by way of Arthur Young. However.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 135 While Eddie Carroll would only occupy an auxiliary position in the scheme of things. Barnes’ piano style was heavily influenced by Earl Hines and replicated many of Hines’ innovative techniques. most with weird titles like Dodging A Divorcee. Just before going off the air in March. Serenade For A Wealthy Widow. Unusually for a jazz pianist. customer response was the same as had been met by Fred Elizalde when he took a band with advanced ideas into the Savoy Hotel. Bert Read’s successor in the main orchestra was vitally important from the start. he retained his classical skills and could always dash-off a Chopin polonaise. He met Ambrose through a mutual friend – Arthur Young. when required.

The deal included a half-hour hook-up six nights a week to Radio-Toulouse. Few of these required Ambrose’s presence. Elisabeth Welch got an early introduction to British radio audiences on one of Ambrose’s broadcasts. In fact only four broadcasts were possible before the end of July.000 now]. not least with Ambrose who would have secured her services full-time if that had been at all possible. And we mustn’t forget dependable Ernie Lewis. but was now obliged to alternate at fortnightly intervals with Henry Hall.000 [about £640. Not in America as originally planned (that deal had been scuppered by the AFM). this talented black American singer soon became a favourite with listeners. The Very Thought Of You Lady Of Madrid Hebrew Dance Medley Memphis By Morning Cocktails For Two Speakeasy The Beat Of My Heart Got The Jitters St Louis Blues White Heat When a Woman Loves A Man The Show Is Over. Here’s the play-list for the broadcasts transmitted on Saturday 9th June 1934: When You Climb Those Golden Stairs. a staggering amount for the time. Ambrose also provided a band around this time for a high-class eatery called the Windsor Grill. a girl vocalist still in her teens who was a protégé of Arthur Young – and an American vocal group (two girls and a boy) called the Three Aces. but this could sometimes be arranged for an additional fee of £100 [about £4. but in indeed they did! Two new regular inclusions in Ambrose’s revived radio shows were Helen Howard. which was led by yet another outstanding pianist/vocalist/arranger/composer .KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 136 Lou Simmonds was by early 1934 fronting a six-piece band at another Ambrosian venue – the Henley Pavilion. but he was still supplying bands for gigs . and similar private functions. Ambrose’s erstwhile stand-in at the May Fair who was still providing music for dancers at Murray’s Restaurant. hunt balls. After settling in Britain she became very popular indeed. a popular Continental station.Clive Erard. Ambrose returned to the airwaves on 9th June. Although primarily a stage and cabaret performer. For eight weeks at the Bellevue Casino Ambrose was to receive £16.000 now]. No doubt the casino management calculated that a fair proportion of Ambrose’s earnings would end-up back in their coffers . Boulevard Of Broken Dreams Tick Tock Town Little Man You’ve Had A Busy Day Quiere Me Mucho When Day Is Done .ad hoc groups playing for debutants’ coming-out parties. This seems to have been the sum total of Ambrose’s ‘other’ bands with permanent engagements. after which Ambrose would be out of the country for the rest of the summer.

and – of course – song stylists. light music fans. And generally. He also reputedly lost £4. at least in the popular music field.000 now] at the gaming tables. and for some it couldn’t come soon enough. was one of the few and as usual in such exalted circumstances somehow contrived to lose (despite being a far better player). Lou Simmonds was despatched to Holland for a tour with a band roughly corresponding to the Blue Lyres (this title. and as expected did a roaring trade. and this meant that some of the Embassy Club’s clientele were there also. though. concert orchestras. the Ambrose band settled-in at the magnificent Bellevue Casino set on a cliff overlooking the Gulf of Gascony. Ambrose. Jazz aficionados. country music fans. like Hollywood stars Fred Astaire and Jean Harlow. Few of these would have enjoyed the prestige that always came from being invited to play golf with the Prince of Wales. was dropped). Latin American bands. comedy buffs. dedicated ballroom dancers and those who appreciated singing freed from ‘tempo-tyranny’ and the ‘one-chorus-only’ limitations imposed by bandleaders found greater satisfaction in specialist performances. and Henry Hall once again had to cover Ambrose’s radio slots. Quite a ‘home-from-home’ considering that they had also brought their music with them! The casino’s vast ballroom was renamed ‘Chez Ambrose’ for the duration. Eddie Carroll and Bobby McGee (replacing Slim Wilson) set off on a tour of selected British Holiday resorts. Moreover. consumers of broadcast variety weren’t particularly interested in musical perfection or authenticity. however. And this versatility was generalised and it is difficult to think of any modern equivalent to the danceband. the various idioms would devolve and come into the possession of specialist performers – jazz outfits and big bands. The sheer range and quantity of music performed by the top bands is simply staggering by today’s standards. In time. strict-tempo dancebands. whatever the musical idiom it had to be presented with the greatest degree of skill and authenticity possible. so far as Ambrose was concerned. musicians and vocalists who participated. With the domestic side of things taken care of.000 [about £160.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 137 The remarks made previously regarding Ambrose’s broadcasting strategy are merely reinforced by the above play-list. The fact that a single musical entity could achieve all this is a tribute to the arrangers. . When the Ambrose orchestra reached the peak of its success in the mid-1930s the trend towards the fragmentation of popular music could already be discerned by astute observers. Such goings-on were faithfully noted by a gaggle of gossip columnists and subsequently relayed to newspaper readers in Britain and America. And this approach would remain in force for the rest of the decade and beyond. Henry Hall’s utility music and musicians would do quite nicely thank you very much! As Ambrose and the main band headed for Biarritz early in August. were in Biarritz that summer. The most distinguished personage holidaying in Biarritz that summer was the Prince of Wales. Many high profile celebrities. A stage show comprising Elsie Carlisle. The range of popular musical genres included in each programme was a deliberate attempt to capture the attention of the widest possible listening public.

former boss of Warner-Brunswick. Just before Ambrose left for Biarritz he had concluded a deal with Decca that involved a switch from Brunswick to Decca’s ‘Blue & Gold’ label. These are the most notable: [Vocal by Sam Browne…My Hat’s On The Side Of My Head.primarily because the ‘Blue & Gold’ label sold for one shilling and sixpence as opposed to Brunswick’s two shillings and sixpence [one shilling then would equal about £2 now]. This came about after a bid with RCA to jointly purchase Columbia/US fell through (it was trouble over this that caused Jack Hylton to quit as a director of Decca). but it was the Decca/US releases that would propel Ambrose into the mainstream of American popular music.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 138 Ambrose’s many less-well-heeled fans may have been deprived of his services for the summer but had plenty to choose from in the way of record releases. The new American company was headed by Jack Kapp. Boulevard Of Broken Dreams.000 [about £400. Play To Me Gypsy. Cupid We’ll All Go Riding On A Rainbow. and consolidated his reputation as a purveyor of quality popular music. including Jack Hylton. [Instrumental… Tick-Tock Town. Did You Ever See A Dream Walking. of course also owned Brunswick/UK so the transfer was straightforward. One Morning In May. some from Brunswick like Bing Crosby. Wagon Wheels. Harry Roy.000 now]. The arrangement with Warner-Brunswick could have continued. . but Decca was pulling all its British artists out of such arrangements because a new company had been launched in America under the aegis of Decca/UK. Emaline. so it would be quite some time before he got any royalties. Shut The Door They’re Coming Through The Window (+Max Bacon). Decca. Because It’s Love. Close You’re Eyes. and Roy Fox…but only Ambrose achieved long-term success and a significant following in the United States that would last well into the 1940s. He lost no time in signing-up top American artists. Unless. [Vocal by Elsie Carlisle… Little Man You’ve Had a Busy Day. the Boswell Sisters and the Casa Loma Orchestra. Hand In Hand. Lew Stone. I’ll Follow My Secret Heart. On A Steamer Coming Over. What kind of a royalty deal Ambrose was able to negotiate with Decca/UK is not known but he did get an advance of £10. Between January and August Brunswick/UK issued around thirty new titles. The Show Is Over. Ambrose’s transfer to Decca meant that he could now expect to sell a lot more records . He had a financial stake in the new company and was given virtual carte-blanche to run it as he saw fit. The American releases were of great importance to Ambrose. It seems that he did have an assurance from Decca boss Sir Edward Lewis that he would be able to record some of his less commercial material. . This Little Piggy Went To Market. US releases shown upright. Billy Cotton. Other British-based bandleaders also had successes in the American record market. The new contract also allowed for releases in the United States at the discretion of the American company (Jack Kapp remained significantly favourable towards Ambrose’s output). You Ought To See Sally On Sunday. Faint Harmony. These were the final releases on the Brunswick label (Warner-Brunswick in the United States). Some of the HMV/Gramophone titles released in earlier years were still selling well. Gee Oh Gosh I’m Grateful. When You Climb Those Golden Stairs. The Beat Of My Heart (+Choir). You Oughta’ Be In Pictures.

so-called ‘clear stations’. Consequently. emanating from countries with whom friendly relations existed). The most famous establishments that employed ‘name bands’ were generally hooked-up to network companies like NBC and CBS. he would be restored to a weekly slot. but note was taken of listeners comments sent to the Corporation by mail. Take the case of Paul Whiteman’s radio show. The reason for Ambrose’s return to favour had much to do with audience reaction to his absence from the airwaves in the spring. it was American network companies that sponsored this work because they had a particular problem in transmitting ‘coast-to-coast’ programmes across a number of time-zones. a Continental radio station founded by commercial interests. the time in New Orleans would be 8pm. The early evening Saturday slot was particularly important because it attracted a family audience that included the younger generation. the radio correspondents of national and provincial newspapers wielded a great deal of influence. This was Radio Luxembourg. safe in the knowledge that few in Britain would understand the lingo (except in the case of Irish and American programmes. but even better than before alternating late-evening/early-evening programmes were scheduled. Initially. What made this so easily achievable was the introduction around 1933 of ‘electrical transcription’. Of course people had been free to tune-in to overseas stations for many years (not even the British Establishment would have resorted to ‘jamming’). and in Los Angeles 6pm. But even more important than these factors was the near panic that had gripped the upper echelons of the BBC (for which read ‘British Establishment’) when a viable alternative to BBC programmes appeared on the scene in mid-1934. If Whiteman’s programme went out at 9pm in New York.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 139 Ambrose became aware at the end of July that a return to the airwaves in the autumn was assured. At this time the BBC had no audience research facility. As in Britain. it could subsequently be transmitted at hourly intervals by land-line to radio stations in the four time-zones. The Radio Times even provided helpful information regarding foreign broadcasts. But Luxembourg was different – the programmes were being presented in English and consisted almost entirely of variety performed by popular British and American artists. . many venues had facilities for live broadcasting. in Phoenix 7pm. So far as the whole of the United States was concerned Paul Whiteman’s radio show was ‘on the air’ at 9pm. Apart from live studio-based and (from the mid-1930s) pre-recorded programmes. In order to attract maximum commercial sponsorship this show had to be made available to the largest possible audience. This was of particular interest to American radio stations transmitting with minimal interference . it would take place in a New York studio and then be relayed by landline (telephone wires) to the various radio stations around the United States affiliated to the network company. The recording process was called ‘electrical transcription’ and the most convenient method was found to be recording direct onto 16 inch diameter discs that revolved at 33⅓ rpm. However. if the programme was recorded during its New York transmission. Moreover. broadcasting contracts were eagerly sought by American bandleaders. Since the late 1920s much research effort had been put into perfecting a means by which radio programmes could be pre-recorded for later transmission. but local radio stations also transmitted a great deal of live dance music and were equally important for small-time dancebands. Each single-sided disc provided 15 minutes playing time and because all the intermediate processes required for manufacturing normal records weren’t necessary the transcription disc gave sound reproduction approaching ‘high fidelity’. Also.

figure. There was clearly a problem that might have something to do with quality rather than quantity. The idea was to produce and record programmes in Britain. and because this station (and others that inevitably followed) was so successful many simply didn’t care whether they worked for the BBC or not! Eventually. Apart from enabling Henry Hall to expand and improve the BBC Dance Orchestra Maschwitz was responsible for Ambrose’s full broadcasting restoration. One consequence of this was the appointment of Eric Maschwitz as Head of Light Entertainment. For a year or so the BBC successfully persuaded many artists who broadcast over its airwaves to stay off Radio Luxembourg but in the end the temptation became too great. An ‘ideas man’ with wide show business experience and always half-an-eye on American practices. electrical transcription systems attracted the attention of independent broadcasting promoters in Britain. Gradually.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 140 Britain didn’t have a time-zone problem but after 1932 the BBC became involved with broadcasting on a world-wide basis. Of course the BBC was providing a great deal of variety at this time. and subsequent research has shown that the proportion of programmes devoted to light entertainment compares quite favourably with Continental radio stations (though not American ones). Variety always came out on top. the BBC got a lot less stuffy and by the time another war temporarily removed Continental competition it was too late to turn the clock back. transport the recordings to a radio station situated on the Continent (outside the jurisdiction of the UK government) and then broadcast the programmes with sufficient strength to be receivable in Britain. . This was one sure way of breaking the BBC monopoly. Anyway the BBC had to give two things immediate attention in order to prevent Radio Luxembourg becoming too successful – spice-up light entertainment. Whether BBC boss Sir John Reith liked it or not. He was a dynamic. and keep as many major British broadcasting artists ‘on the side of the angels’ as possible. The programmes would be sponsored by commercial interests and hence paid for by means of advertising over the airwaves. And what a majority of listeners at the time wanted was light entertainment. After they became feasible. The fact that powerful press barons and supposedly dubious show business interests were backing such things was not lost on the British Establishment. but an even greater fear revolved around the notion that political propaganda might also be broadcast from such stations if the business interests supporting them felt so inclined. less paternalistic approach to broadcasting had to be adopted. But why should listeners in Britain prefer to tune-in to a commercial radio station? Not specifically to hear advertising jingles and slogans but more likely because they weren’t getting what they wanted from the BBC. Being a realist Sir John was well aware that he would have to make changes or be awarded the Order of the Boot rather than the peerage he desired. This was the year that the shortwave Empire Broadcasting Service was inaugurated. the BBC reached an accommodation both with artists and the commercial radio stations. By 1933 the BBC was experimenting with a steel wire recording system and elsewhere a basic magnetic-tape recording machine was being developed. almost Hyltonian. as poll after poll conducted by newspapers amply showed. and the general increase in fees paid to bandleaders. The ability to transmit prerecorded programmes on this service was clearly an advantage. competition of sorts had arrived and a less formal.

which Ambrose still wasn’t inclined to do.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 141 Immediately after returning from Biarritz. Names in bold type formed the actual Embassy Club band. Players underline also formed a special group called AMBROSE’S EMBASSY RHYTHM EIGHT. The fact that there were now three trombones enabled arrangers to adopt a chordal approach when scoring for the trombones. However the fact that the trombones outnumbered the trumpets was hailed as something revolutionary – although in reality it wasn’t as significant as forming distinct trombone and trumpet sections. . He first came to prominence in Jack Hylton’s brass section in the late 1920s and was by this time a highly regarded lead player and soloist. One significant change was the addition of ace trombonist Lew Davis. Soloing ability doesn’t always go with the ability to get the best out of colleagues while leading. Sam Browne Elsie Carlisle* The Rhythm Sisters (Kay Munroe-Smythe + 2 others)* The Rhythm Brothers (Clive Erard + 2 others)* Sid Phillips (chief) Ronnie Munro Arthur Lally Reeds: Rhythm: Strings: Vocals: Arrangers: *Occasional additions. Ambrose was certainly not the first bandleader in Britain to use three trombones. At least nominally. but Lew Davis (like Danny Polo) was good at both. Here’s the new line-up: AMBROSE & HIS EMBASSY CLUB ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Max Goldberg (trumpet) Harry Owen (trumpet)* Lew Davis (trombone) Ted Heath (trombone)* Tony Thorpe (trombone)* Danny Polo (alto/clarinet/baritone) Joe Jeanette (alto/clarinet/flute/+arranger)* Billy Amstell (tenor/clarinet) Sid Phillips (baritone/clarinet)* Bert Barnes (piano/+arranger) Arthur Young (piano/celesta)* Joe Brannelly (guitar) Dick Ball (bass) Max Bacon (drums/+vocals) Jack Simpson (timpani/xylophone/chimes)* Reg Pursglove (violin/+deputy)…et al. Ambrose was obliged to make some changes to the main orchestra. and some top American bands had been doing so since the late 1920s. who had just left Lew Stone’s band. Max Goldberg remained in charge of a unified brass section.

and write compère scripts. He designed the props.‘orchestrator-in-chief’. Ray Sonin also worked closely with Sid Phillips who was additionally charged with formulating and directing any stage performances undertaken by the main band or smaller groups. his duties included co-ordinating the arranging team (a task that Ambrose had undertaken since the departure of Lew Stone). who had formerly led the small band at the Windsor Grill. again being primarily required to reinforce the ensemble playing. poet and playwright called Ray Sonin whose amusing contributions to the Melody Maker had caught Ambrose’s eye. At this time the other two members of the group varied. This was something of a new venture for him. and he deserves much of the credit for this. He was also the lead singer with the (nominally) freelance vocal group called the Rhythm Brothers. and there had been no further changes since. . In this way the Dorsey Brothers band helped to popularise certain Ambrose titles after they had been released by Decca/US. The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra recorded for Decca/US and some of its output was released in the United Kingdom. Sid Phillips was now given the title . Ronnie Munro continued to arrange many of the set-piece concert numbers that were regularly broadcast. This usually comprised three violins although a harp was occasionally in evidence during studio broadcasts. which often included ingenious collapsible features to aid portability. The Ambrose stage shows under Sid’s direction were quite spectacular affairs. including monologues for Max Bacon. Reg Pursglove continued to oversee the string section whenever it came into being. To supply lyrics for comedy items. Having left the Lawrence Wright publishing concern. Bert Barnes’ arrival in the rhythm section was outlined earlier. Over the following eight months Ambrose featured a number of Dorsey Brothers instrumental numbers over the air and at concerts. Clive Erard arranged most of the cowboy songs that were such an essential part of the radio shows. but characteristically he tackled the job with enthusiasm and soon developed into a first-rate stage director. Sid Phillips remained in the augmented band on baritone and clarinet. For most of the rest of the 1930s Sid devised and directed Ambrose’s stage shows. Ambrose hired a young journalist. although an occasional clarinet solo in Sid’s distinctive style can be discerned on some recordings. The agreement was that each band would promote certain of the other’s titles over the radio and elsewhere. Reg was also given the title ‘deputy leader’ and obliged to stand-in for Ambrose at the Embassy Club as and when required. and vice-versa. and paid great attention to stage lighting techniques. although most of his time was spent working with the Ambrose band. Clive Erard. as well as some of the numbers that featured his vocal group. and so made arrangements for other bandleaders including Billy Cotton and Henry Hall.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 142 One consequence of the new line-up was that Ambrose could now accept an offer from Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey to exchange arrangements on a regular basis. he now worked part-time for music publisher Campbell Connolly. Apart from sitting-in with the band. He also composed the music for some of the special comedy numbers that Ambrose commissioned. was now playing at the Café de la Paix.

it was much jazzier than might have been expected for a club band. Stars Fell On Alabama. When it was shot is not known. and the name of the concern that made it – International Productions. There are some grounds for believing that it was made for showing at the 1934 Radiolympia exhibition.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 143 With a heavy schedule of recording sessions for Decca and weekly broadcasts Ambrose found it impossible to take the main band out on a proposed autumn tour of London variety theatres. and was possibly sponsored by the BBC. [Vocal by Elsie Carlisle… My Old Flame. I Only Have Eyes For You. As Christmas approached the Decca/UK catalogue contained over twenty Ambrose titles. One big private function for which Ambrose did front a band took place in the autumn of 1934. No No A Thousand Times No (+Elsie Carlisle). Stay Sweet As You Are. along with the Prince of Wales. This was quite a privilege and undoubtedly made some of the regular patrons rather envious. College Rhythm. and these may be taken to represent how the band at the Embassy Club sounded. craving as most did for the slightest acknowledgement that their existence and role in the scheme of things actually mattered. Who Made Little Boy Blue. This was the same George who occasionally liked to sit-in with the Embassy Club band . but presumably early in 1934. but it did play in a jazz style. This was a ball celebrating the wedding of Prince George and Princess Marina – the Duke and Duchess of Kent. For such purposes it was re-named Ambrose’s Embassy Rhythm Eight. and would often invite their favourite maestro over to their respective alcoves to discuss musical topics. Sam Browne provided the vocal output and the shows lasted about half an hour. although part of the unit that played at the Embassy Club did undertake a number of evening shows at West End cinemas. Who’s Been Polishing The Sun (+Rhythm Sisters). [Instrumentals… Medley Of Hebrew Dances. Lost In A Fog. Let’s Make Love (+Elsie Carlisle). It’s A Parade. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. It was also around this time that a short film featuring the Ambrose band appeared. US releases shown upright. but then this particular club catered for a clientele whose tastes hadn’t changed much since the Roaring Twenties (when most of them were. As on these recordings. Only the title ‘SURPRISE ITEM’ is known. Dames. In the confines of the club the band didn’t play so loud. in their twenties). These are the most notable:[Vocal by Sam Browne…Just A-wearyin’ For You. I’m Gonna Wash My Hands Of You (+Elsie Carlisle). The Continental. By 1934 the depravity into which he sank in the 1920s had long since given way to respectability.he was an enthusiastic jazz pianist. Both princes took a great deal of interest in the Ambrose band. [Vocal by Rhythm Sisters… I Couldn’t Be Mean To You. although he still frequented the Embassy. The Moon Was Yellow. No details of its contents have come to light because no copies seem to have survived. La Cucaracha. I Travel Alone. like the Prince of Wales. and still liked to ‘tickle the ivories’ once in a while. The same outfit later made some highly acclaimed records for Decca. .

One problem arising from all this is that we can’t be sure which company had the lion’s share of Ambrose’s successes in America in those cases where the same title was issued by both concerns. Carry Me Back To The Lone Prairie. Tumbling Tumbleweeds. show tunes. The last important event of 1934 for the Ambrose band was a special Christmas Day broadcast that went out at teatime. by Ambrose: All I Do Is Dream Of You. but on the whole there really was ‘something for everyone’ – at least in the ordinary family. Lew Stone and Roy Fox each had several records released by Decca/US before Ambrose. Decca/US steadily increased its roster of home-based talent and British-based artists consequently got fewer releases in America.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 144 Only one record was released by Decca/US before the end of 1934 . Jack Hylton. It seems likely that the whole of Decca/UK’s popular output was forwarded to Decca/US (possibly as test pressings) followed by stamping plates for any titles requested – but there were alternative methods coming into use. Rolling Home. Numbers like Winter Wonderland. What A Little Moonlight Can Do.Just Awearyin’ For You/I Travel Alone. Autumn In New York. however it is important to bear in mind that US release dates could be months – in some cases years – later than release dates in Britain. Love In Bloom. True. What Can You Give A Nudist On His Birthday. Moonglow. Isle Of Capri. Easy Come Easy Go. Some of these titles. but possibly featured. The important point here is that the risk of releasing dud titles was borne by the separate companies and it really came down to a question of judgement as to what would sell well in America. then on release in Britain. How selections were made for the American market is not known. All Through The Night. El Rancho Grande. It is quite possible that upwards of twenty million people listened to this Christmas broadcast. Rather than be too finicky about this point Ambrose’s American releases will not be delineated. Finally for 1934 we must take a look at some of the hits not recorded. except that decisions were made in America not Britain regarding which titles should be released and which two titles should feature on a particular record. are still familiar today because they became ‘evergreens’. What A Difference A Day Made. For All We Know. Winter Wonderland. What really impresses though is the sheer versatility of musical styles adopted by popular tunesmiths of the time. Sir Edward Lewis chose not to interfere with Jack Kapp’s selection policies but later launched what would come to be known as the ‘Anglo-American Series’ by means of which certain of Decca/UK’s ‘F’-series records would be manufactured and distributed in America. June In January. Snowman and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town were popular that Christmas. I Took My Harp To A Party. . Latin American exotica and comedy numbers. along with some featured by Ambrose on records and over the air. Cocktails For Two. and Ambrose had a big recorded hit around this time with a medley of songs from Walt Disney’s highly acclaimed cartoon ‘short’ ‘SILLY SYMPHONIES’. I Only Have Eyes For You. cowboy songs. these styles fall into certain categories like romantic ballads.

KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 145 Ambrose’s ‘late night alternating with early evening’ Saturday broadcasts continued throughout the first seven months of 1935. harmonica. The ‘band-within-a-band’ concept was also extended to an instrumental group called the Trombone Trio (Lew Davis. By Easter 1935 Ambrose was negotiating a three phase touring schedule that was to comprise a nationwide summer tour sandwiched between two London tours – each phase to last for six weeks. claves. For this package Ambrose insisted on a minimum advance of £18. . Also highly acclaimed were the contributions of the regular vocalists. Two regular features were concerto-like arrangements featuring either Bert Barnes at the piano or Reg Pursglove on violin. For broadcasts the Embassy band was always augmented and if an arrangement warranted an irregular instrument then someone would be hired to play it. forming a six-piece choir. which with minimal rhythm backing produced some interesting sounds. In the event. oboe. And so we find bongo drums. It was agreed that Reg Pursglove would deputise for Ambrose during his absences. and Arthur Tracy (the Street Singer). resulting in further offers. Because it was to be held on a Sunday any profits had to be donated to charity. But the really innovative vocal feature was the combination of the Rhythm Sisters and Rhythm Brothers. included at one time or another. closed-down for the summer).2 and Concerto In F-major. Gracie Fields. Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle usually combined for a duet at least once per programme in addition to their usual solo spots. An exaggeration no doubt. but a substitute band would be required at the Embassy Club for two of the six-week phases (the Embassy.. Barnes arranged and performed several of George Gershwin’s semi-classical numbers. Get Lost and Sliced Bread but were generally well received. Hawaiian guitar. Some notable stage and screen stars contributed to Ambrose’s cabaret shows and/or broadcasts in 1934/35 including Elisabeth Welch. Ted Heath and Tony Thorpe). Turner Layton. But would there be any profit? Some at the time doubted whether a concert by a mere danceband could generate sufficient interest to make hiring a two-thousand capacity opera house worthwhile. Rhapsody No. accordion. Before the tour deal and schedule had been finalised Ambrose. in association with the Melody Maker and the London and Provincial Opera Co. Bert Barnes made several remarkable arrangements featuring this choir (only one of which – The Beat Of My Heart . Jack Buchanan. These often had strange titles like Pub Crawl. Not surprisingly Ambrose chose the Musicians’ Union Benevolent Fund as the recipient. Nor were film backers slow to recognise the potential that Ambrose represented. Ambrose’s ‘GRAND CONCERT IN RHYTHM’ did make a profit and just over 1600 tickets were sold for the show that took place on the 30th June. Significantly. marimba. arranged a special one-off concert at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. including Rhapsody In Blue. and a range of Latin American percussion.was recorded). Jessie Matthews. of course.000 [about £720. Alberta Hunter. but the point was not lost on variety impresarios and not surprisingly tour promotion offers started to arrive on Ambrose’s desk. though. The nature of the deal meant that early evening broadcasts could continue until the summer tour started. At the time Ambrose’s BBC band shows were being hailed in some quarters as – RADIO’S MIGHTIEST ATTRACTION.000 now]. Another occasional inclusion was a ‘two pianos’ feature involving Arthur Young and Reginald Foresythe playing numbers that they composed in collaboration. the jazz-based numbers were generally confined to that unit within the orchestra corresponding to the Embassy Rhythm Eight.

Erard) – featuring the Rhythm Brothers/Max Bacon …and possibly** the following: Dance Of The Goblins (comp/arr. Ambrose) Thames Rhapsody* (comp/arr. The stage drapes were grey and black and the music desks sported gold-trimmed black bannerettes embroidered with an ‘A’. Lew Davis (trombone). Munro) – featuring: Max Bacon (drums). but unusually acted as MC (a role allotted to Sam Browne on broadcasts). Needless to say the girls taking part were provided with stunning gowns. it was intended to include a number of guest artists but no names are available. The intention was clearly to ensure that those specially invited to the concert were in the right frame of mind to appreciate what was on offer. Phillips) Danse Fantastique* (comp/arr. Max Goldberg (trumpet) Memphis Blues (arr. the Rhythm Sisters and the Rhythm Brothers (the absence of Sam Browne will be explained later). Entirely reliable details of the Royal Opera House concert programme have not been found but the following items are known to have been included: B’Wanga (comp/arr. Before the concert Ambrose hosted a reception and buffet lunch for music critics. trombones. trumpets and saxes fronting at stage level. show business correspondents and a number of celebrities and music industry big-wigs at the Savoy Hotel. right down to the (subsequently elusive) gold-trimmed souvenir programmes. As with Ambrose’s broadcasts and cabaret shows. Phillips) – featuring Reg Pursglove Ritual Fire Dance (arr. When Day Is Done (arr. Phillips) Star Dust (arr. The specially tailored band suits were in grey flannel and Ambrose wore a navy blue blazer and cream flannels. everything possible was done to match the glittering ambience of Britain’s premier opera house. Foresythe) Lament For Congo (arr. A special three-tier arrangement was adopted with the rhythm section located top/back. Boswell) – featuring the Rhythm Sisters. Barnes) Three Of A Kind – featuring the Trombone Trio and rhythm section Tiger Rag (arr. Much effort went into the visual presentation of this concert under the direction of Sid Phillips. Danny Polo (clarinet). **Certainly included in subsequent concerts. . Young) – featuring Arthur Young Melancholy Clown* (comp/arr.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 146 For this concert the orchestra had the same line-up as shown on page 141 except that a third trumpet (Clinton Ffrench) and a second guitar (Jack Cooper) were added. Barnes) Dodging A Divorcee (arr. he abandoned his fiddle in favour of a baton. Indeed. Phillips) Square Face (arr. although with hindsight it indicates the nervousness of the concert’s promoters regarding the cultural legitimacy of what they were attempting to do. fiddles and two grand pianos occupying the middle tier. *Specially composed for concert. Vocal talent taking part in the concert comprised regulars Elsie Carlisle. Phillips) Rhythm Is Our Business (arr. As usual with stage presentations. Reg Leopold and Hugo Rignold joined Reg Pursglove in the string section. Munro) – special concert version.

. A week or so before the concert. As an immediate but temporary replacement Ambrose hired a popular singer/actor of the time called Donald Stewart. but the result was Sam’s sudden departure from the scene. Perhaps of greater importance to Ambrose was the fact that publicity surrounding the concert generated even greater demand than before among the public at large to actually see the band in action. From childhood his singing voice had attracted attention and after leaving school he played guitar and sang with semi-pro bands. then. Sam Browne and Ambrose fell-out. This act was on a six-month tour of Europe and Ambrose had been particularly impressed by a young girl performer called Evelyn Dall . but as with most things Ambrosian the sailing was anything but plain. At this time she was appearing at a night club in Manhattan and as this engagement was coming to an end she authorised her agent to discuss terms with Ambrose. Within the space of three weeks Ambrose lost twothirds of the vocal power that had ensured his recent broadcasting success. Here is just one quote: .then he had a brainwave. What the dispute was about remains a mystery. He suffered from asthma and a number of other debilitating ailments that dogged him throughout his career. but it was second guitarist Jack Cooper who achieved permanent status in the vocal department. The failure to find some headlining vocal talent for the summer and autumn tours was beginning to worry Ambrose . he was privately mortified and not just for commercial reasons. The previous year he had sat-in on a cabaret act at the Grosvenor House Hotel called ‘FELIX FERRY’S FOLLIES’. Things got even more acrimonious just after the concert when a variety promoter persuaded Elsie Carlisle and Kay Munroe-Smythe (of the Rhythm Sisters) that they could make a great deal of money by teaming-up with their erstwhile colleague for a rival variety tour. and he was undoubtedly a natural loner. Neither Evelyn nor Ambrose could have possibly imagined that she would still be around six years later! Because of her significance in the development of the Ambrose Orchestra in its heyday we must take a closer look at her background and career before she appeared on the British show business scene. Arthur Young’s protégé. that Ambrose was riding the crest of a wave in terms of popular success.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 147 In fact the concert was highly acclaimed at least by the popular press. Ambrose appreciated Jack Cooper’s talents but soon became irritated with his frequent bouts of ill-health. after which he joined Reginald Foresythe. and like Donald Stewart she only took part in the various engagements that comprised the first phase of the tour. None of these things endeared him to Ambrose.and there was much to be impressed with! One year on it occurred to Ambrose that she would be an ideal attraction in his summer tour and got MCA to trace her agent in New York. Like Donald Stewart. Then followed a spell with Tommy Kinsman’s society band. It would seem.‘This event provided the answer to the question…can the higher forms of jazz ever be worth the serious attentions of music lovers?…to judge from audience reaction the answer was an emphatic yes!’ – DAILY SKETCH. Although Ambrose publicly brushed aside the importance of this at the time. For Elsie Carlisle. Variety impresarios now became more willing to meet Ambrose’s demands for above usual touring advances and by early July the deals for the summer and autumn tours had been concluded in Ambrose’s favour. and during the middle of rehearsals for it. These proved to be particularly attractive for the proposed six-week engagement and Evelyn accepted. For some reason Ambrose didn’t use her for recording purposes. Ambrose could find no immediate permanent replacement so he called on the services of Helen Howard. she had made occasional contributions to the radio shows.

Eastbourne. Evelyn Dall made her broadcasting debut with Ambrose on this last broadcast. Subsequently Evelyn joined a stage show that toured major US cities. At the age of fifteen she joined a slap-stick stage act but after taking lessons from voice coach Al Seigel she sang in night clubs and on radio shows.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 148 Evelyn Dall grew-up in New York City and attended dancing school while still a child. Ambrose also presided over a number of gala dances at London suburban dancehalls including the Hammersmith Palais and Streatham Locarno. The band was just starting its second week at the London Palladium. The touring stage band had the following line-up: AMBROSE & HIS EMBASSY CLUB ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Bert Ambrose Max Goldberg (trumpet) Harry Owen (trumpet) Lew Davis (trombone) Tony Thorpe (trombone) Danny Polo (alto/clarinet) Joe Jeanette (alto/clarinet/flute) Billy Amstell (tenor/clarinet) Sid Phillips (baritone/bass clarinet) Bert Barnes (piano) Joe Brannelly (guitar) Dick Ball (bass) Max Bacon (drums/+vocals) Evelyn Dall Jack Cooper Reeds: Rhythm: Vocals: . The star of the show was singer/comedian Jimmy Savo. Subsequently she was spotted by impresario Felix Ferry who was casting for a show that successfully toured Europe in 1934. The first song that Ambrose gave her to sing was South American Joe. Folkestone and Margate. As well as singing Evelyn made a couple of musical comedy shorts at the Warner Brothers studio in New York. but in the spring of 1935 returned to New York and successfully auditioned for a part in the Theatre Guild production ‘PARADE’ that opened in Boston and then transferred to Broadway. Evelyn arrived in Britain on the first Monday in August. Prior to this a number of engagements at South Coast resorts had been undertaken including concerts at Brighton. The next day she set-off with Ambrose and the band for Liverpool and the start of the summer tour. Despite reasonable notices the show only ran for forty performances. including one hosted by comedian Milton Berle. The studio broadcasts came to an end on 10th August having run continuously at weekly intervals since January. with Evelyn Dall and actress/singer Eve Arden in top supporting roles. Evelyn then returned to cabaret and radio work and was so engaged when the offer from Ambrose came through.

What’s more most were enjoying buoyant sales figures. Decca’s publicity department always ensured that record stores in the provincial cities where the band played were provided with extra stocks and also supported special promotions coinciding with the band’s appearances. They shook Glasgow like a depth charge.the equivalent now to three CD albums. was a success. hair like the Golden Fleece. lips the colour of holly berries. a point that was not lost on observers reporting on Ambrose’s progress in the national press. Evelyn is full of the awareness. vivid…she was an eyeful on Broadway. or near enough. four major Sunday concerts took place as well as a number of afternoon ballroom engagements at sea-side resorts. Some of these early Decca records would remain in the catalogue until the final deletion of 78rpm records in the mid-1950s. One spin-off from taking the band out on tour was increased record sales in those areas where the band appeared. No long-distance coach journeys through the night but rather first-class train travel with sleeper facilities. Here’s what one correspondent had to say. She told me how she had driven over the Grande Corniche from Monte Carlo in a racing Bugatti. At the ‘mike’ she is vibrant. which ended towards the end of September. but Ambrose always ensured that it was done in as much comfort as possible. Icy Edinburgh melted. but there was no doubt what guaranteed that success – the inclusion of Evelyn Dall! In the best traditions of show business she ‘stole the show’. The tour. . but in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street she distracted the traffic. voice which in its hard American way could do as much damage as Lorelei – given the same chance…Evelyn has been appearing with Ambrose and his Embassy Club orchestra in the provinces and in Scotland. Evelyn Dall: nineteen. No grubby theatrical digs but rather comfortable hotels with a coach provided to transport band members to and from engagements. and the theatre records were smashed.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 149 Ambrose’s provincial tour started in the North West. in Evelyn’s opinion. Another point of interest is that his HMV and Brunswick/UK releases were still selling well with very few deletions to date. Prophets say Evelyn will ‘slay’ London when Ambrose returns. Ambrose drove her down to an Ayrshire town where he was to play cricket…but motor racing is a better sport to watch. including Southport and Scarborough. Evelyn doesn’t drink. Ambrose also paid for the food and drink whenever the band stopped somewhere for a meal en route to an engagement. When Evelyn in a sheath-like black dress comes on and sings ‘South American Joe’ you see personality come from the simmer to the boil. This represents a staggering output for ten months . vital. the alertness and the capacity for enjoying new sensations which stamp young women from New York. The logistics of getting the band from ‘A’ to ‘B’ were quite complicated given the tight time schedules. then to Scotland and finally to the Midlands. at abundant peril to life and limb. then moved to the North East. The schedule was gruelling. Apart from appearing in major variety theatres on weekdays. her hobby is sleeping and she like places where things happen. By the summer of 1935 Ambrose had sixty records – one hundred and twenty titles – listed in the Decca/UK catalogue.

a standard and entirely ‘straight’.an updated arrangement intended to please Embassy Club patrons. Here then is the representative sample of titles released between January and August 1935: [Vocal by Sam Browne … London On A Rainy Night. Hors D’Oeuvres. Lament For Congo. interpretation of this well-known piece of light music that had been included in the Royal Opera House concert in June and broadcast a couple of times. However. A point to be noted but not dwelt on! . Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart. a Sid Phillips jazz instrumental and probably the more popular side…or perhaps not in Britain! (In America Decca/US backed B’Wanga with Ambrose’s version of the jazz standard Copenhagen . His Majesty The Baby. Ali Baba. Back To Those Happy Days. [Vocal by Les Allan… In The Merry Month Of May. [Vocal by the Rhythm Brothers… Dixieland Band. Okay Toots. She Wore A Little Jacket Of Blue. Winter Wonderland (+Rhythm Sisters). I’ve Got A Note. Walt Disney’s ‘Silly Symphonies’. Argentina. You’re The Top. [Various vocalists… A Story Of London Life {1&2}. Be Still My Heart. For example. Streamline Strut. such as Anything Goes and I Get A Kick Out Of You would now be regarded as ‘standards’. Close examination will confirm this. Exceptional American successes underlined. B’Wanga. Caramba. Anything Goes. On the whole vocals don’t take up more than a third of the time on each track so there was some scope for solos by Ambrose’s star players but it’s really the superb ensemble playing that stands out. Decca’s ‘F’-series release has it coupled with B’Wanga. Even a cursory glance at the above list suggests that something rather significant was taking place in Ambrose’s recording career. [Vocal by Elsie Carlisle… My Kid’s A Crooner. although the amount of material involved means that any meaningful analysis in musical terms can’t be attempted here. The mandatory sprinkling of novelty numbers released at this time contains what is believed to be Ambrose’s most popular record of all time – Home James And Don’t Spare The Horses. Everything Is Hunky Dooly (+Max Bacon). a few points are worth noting. [Instrumentals… Ritual Fire Dance.) Most of the none-instrumental fare consists of pop songs of the day. Tiger Rag. Embassy Stomp. My Old Flame. Dodging A Divorcee. I Get A Kick Out Of You. Memphis Blues. Rain. although most of the American releases and instrumentals will be included. I’m On A See. Easter Parade. The Girl With The Dreamy Eyes. Lullaby Of Broadway (+Rhythm Brothers). You And The Night And The Music. Rock And Roll (+Rhythm Sisters).KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 150 Ambrose’s prolific output of recorded music means that it is now difficult to list even the most notable titles. Maracas. The Object Of My Affection. Its Home (+Rhythm Sisters). Rhapsody In Blue{1&2}. All Through The Night. only a few of which have stood the test of time. When Day Is Done (+Rhythm Sisters). US releases shown upright. Ambrose’s arrangement of DeFalla’s Ritual Fire Dance . [Vocal by the Rhythm Sisters… Snowman. Home James And Don’t Spare The Horses.Saw. On The Good Ship Lollypop. Certainly some of the show tunes. The best that can now be done is to present a ‘representative sample’ at intervals.

Consequently record companies began to supply radio stations with ‘special’ discs. Long forgotten by 1935. Sid Phillips made the arrangement and played clarinet on Ambrose’s recorded version. Despite subsequent competition from other popular artists like Fats Waller the Ambrose version found favour with American radio record presenters and jukebox fans. The term ‘disc jockey’ had not yet been coined. Other exceptional sellers included the instrumentals . and others whose musical ambitions extended beyond the danceband idiom. and it was unusual for a mere ‘tune’ to enjoy chart-topping success.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 151 Ambrose’s initial Decca/US releases were an instant and significant success. but programmes comprising the playing of records interspersed with chat by a ‘personality’ presenter were by now very popular on local radio stations. the song I’m On A See-Saw. hundreds of local independent stations ignored the ban and when the trend proved to be unstoppable the record companies gave way. Hors D’Oeuvres first appeared as a song twenty years earlier in a Broadway musical comedy show and was a hit at the time. Later. The fact that he played the clarinet part on the Ambrose version rather than Danny Polo (who took the alto solo) was just one of those occasional occurrences in a versatile sax section. . And the success that Ambrose had with other instrumental numbers in America the same year (Lament For Congo. Ambrose’s success in the United States was due primarily to records played on the radio and the jukebox. The significance of Hors D’Oeuvres’ success (particularly in America) comes from the fact that Ambrose’s version is a jazz-inspired instrumental. For some years thereafter the network companies did stop such programmes after successful legal action. Dodging A Divorcee. Artie Shaw. This number has become so associated with Ambrose over the years that we must examine it in greater than usual detail. Glenn Miller. Decca/US was one such company. Embassy Stomp) merely reinforced their interest.London On A Rainy Night. But it was in the summer of 1935 that Ambrose scored his most interesting big hit in America with the instrumental – Hors D’Oeuvres. The first to make an impact was the Ned Washington/Sam Stept song . In a tiny way Ambrose helped to lay the foundations for the Swing Era that would start to take-off around this time. At least with a regulated system composers and songwriters would get royalties and anyway there was already some evidence that air plays actually boosted record sales. and the songs – You And The Night And The Music and My Kid’s A Crooner.The Continental and Lament For Congo. its revival was instigated by Ambrose who was acquainted with its composer – Dave Comer. Sid Phillips made an alternative arrangement of Hors D’Oeuvres for his own band and adopted it as his signature tune. And then came a really big hit. However. For years the major record companies had fought to stop such programmes which began after the introduction of the electrical pick-up in 1926. Although dismissed in some quarters as a ‘novelty number’ (the distinguished American commentator John Hammond deemed the arrangement ‘infantile’) its popularity in America caught the attention of such notables as Benny Goodman. particularly for titles they wanted to promote.

the tour opened at the London Palladium. an augmented orchestra. The film . Now with the tag: ‘RADIO’S MIGHTIEST FEATURE – AMBROSE WITH HIS ORCHESTRA AND EVELYN DALL’. then on to similar venues. And the nearest thing to a disc jockey was a genial bespectacled pipe-smoking gentleman called Christopher Stone. Donald Stewart and Turner Layton.‘SOFT LIGHTS AND SWEET MUSIC’ . Somewhat underappreciated by the BBC. British record buyers weren’t particularly interested in danceband titles that didn’t have the tag: ‘WITH VOCAL REFRAIN’ appended. Originally they were called ‘Nickel Odeons’ after the coin that had to be inserted in order to have a title played. this one confined to the London area. Ambrose was able to offer another inducement – the chance to take part in a feature-length film that was in the pipeline. Britain didn’t have jukeboxes in 1935. of course. and diners. each one home to a hundred or more records waiting to be played. And without the high remuneration the soaring wages of top-line players couldn’t be paid…and so on. bars. Stone eventually transferred his talents to the independent Luxembourg station. Elisabeth Welch. Just before he left Decca in the early 1950s. Ambrose’s provincial tour ended in September and the band returned to London and resumed weekly broadcasts. Ambrose asked Sir Edward Lewis which of his records had clocked-up the highest sales. And as with radio record programmes. then went to the Holborn Empire.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 152 Electrical multi-selector jukeboxes first appeared in the early 1930s. Apart from Ambrose. Indeed. Significantly. Jukeboxes spread like wildfire and by the mid-1930s there were thousands in drugstores. In the mid-1930s recording artists under contract to Decca/US dominated the jukebox trade. Ambrose’s instrumentals never caught-on in Britain in the same way that they did in America. Decca/US became a major supplier of records to the jukebox industry because its records sold at half the price charged by Columbia and RCAVictor yet still featured top-line artists. was a consequence of dancebands embracing pop music. .was directed by Herbert Smith. The following month the ‘third phase’ tour commenced. Evelyn Dall had been persuaded to stay on after her six week contract expired in September. which she clearly relished. In the main. the number of times a title was played on a jukebox could be ascertained. In late-November shooting began at the British Lion studios in Beaconsfield. This being the case we must be grateful for the more sophisticated fare that also made it to the front line and note with regret that many fine jazz-based instrumentals featured by the Ambrose band on radio and elsewhere didn’t get to be recorded. Although not as sophisticated as the record charts introduced by the trade paper Billboard in 1940. and Evelyn Dall. where a similar situation was off-set by the bigger market for less-commercial output. other notables were involved including Max Bacon. a chart based on radio and jukebox plays that first appeared in 1935 is still a good guide to the relative popularity of recording artists’ specific titles. Apart from the stage shows. This. But it was only by doing so that highly remunerative record deals could be negotiated. record companies were at pains to delineate any such thing in their catalogues with a bold symbol indicating that there was no vocal. One notable example was the 1935 release Home James And Don’t Spare The Horses a comedy song complete with simulated clopping horses hooves and whinnies.

This didn’t seem to matter too much because although the club opened at 9pm most people drifted in between 10pm. somewhat optimistically. when the band started playing. Decca/UK paired it with Hors D’Oeuvres and. If not exactly pure jazz. . but original music was also used. that particular tipple was an essential complement to the music demanded by the club’s patrons. lobster. it was certainly more exciting than the music demanded by the middle-class patrons of the May Fair Hotel. Not all the music played at the club was danceable to – at least by ordinary mortals. which apart from its euphoria inducing qualities was the main source of the club’s profits.the highly-excusive ‘400’ Club (one of Ambrose’s regular haunts) another. beforehand. when the one-hour floor show started. The Prince of Wales liked it so much that he kept requesting it. labelled it a ‘quickstep’! As well as the Embassy Club a few other up-market London venues provided music that came into the category of ‘hot’ dance music. These last three were also different in the sense that they allowed jam sessions.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 153 Meanwhile at the Embassy Club a substitute band (personnel unknown) carried on with Reg Pursglove standing-in for Ambrose who sometimes put in an appearance around midnight. The floorshow usually featured a small dance troupe performing exotic routines that required appropriate accompaniment. Sometimes a standard tune was adapted. a ‘supper club’. for those with delicate late night digestions. and at the Café de la Paix (later Hatchets). the Bat House and the Shim-Sham. smoked salmon. The Embassy really was a night club – or as Americans would have it. or the theatre. Arthur Young led a highly acclaimed band the jazz credentials of which were never in doubt. and 11pm. Many of the club’s patrons would have been to dinner parties. At the Florida Club the black pianist Gerald Moore led a credible multi-racial jazz combo. The less well-heeled but reasonably respectable were catered for by establishments like the Bag O’Nails. This was Bert Barnes’ speciality and it was a number he composed for the Miami-Abbott Dancers that later became a big hit in America. or suchlike. Apart from assisting supper on its way to join dinner. namely Embassy Stomp. This meant that it would have to be published. particularly to the management. The Kit-Cat restaurant was a famous example until its closure in 1935 . In this form it didn’t catch-on. particularly in America (where it was coupled with The Piccolino). and Ambrose decided to record it. so Bert Barnes added some lyrics and it was put-out as a standard pop song. scrambled quail’s eggs! Much more important. Supper (which had to be ordered so as to comply with the licensing regulations) consisted of little more than elaborate snacks – caviar. or semi-jazz. But the most significant of the justabout-respectable jazz clubs were the Nest and Jigg’s – the domain of London-based black jazz musicians. was the consumption of champagne. and because of this established and aspiring jazz musicians working in commercial bands would head to such places after their night’s work was done. but the recorded instrumental did. pâté…or.

I’m Shooting High. Chasing Shadows. It should also be remembered that certain Decca/UK ‘F’series records with duplicated titles were made available to American record buyers. Here are some of the more notable releases: [Vocal by Jack Cooper… What Harlem Is To Me. I Got plenty O’ Nuttin. When I Grow Too Old To Dream. as well as being a vocalist much admired by black and white jazz players and singers. Piccadilly (+Rhythm Brothers). They were under contract to Decca/US so the recording arrangement had dual value. Top Hat White Tie And Tails. Stars Over Devon. Without A Word Of Warning. [Instrumentals… Limehouse Blues. Cohen The Crooner. I’m In The Mood For Love. Friends. He Wooed Her And Wooed Her. US releases shown upright These releases mark Jack Cooper’s debut as a major contributor to Ambrose’s recorded output and certainly an acceptable successor to Sam Browne. I Can Wiggle My Ears. It should be noted that certain releases on the Decca/US label were delayed – in some cases for several years! Occasionally a title would be released in America before release by Decca/UK and in a couple of cases a title rejected for release by Decca/UK appeared in the Decca/US catalogue. It Ain’t Necessarily So. The Piccolino. Finally we must note those 1935 hits that Ambrose didn’t record but which would probably have been featured by the band: I Can’t Get Started. Truckin’. [Vocal by Evelyn Dall… Lulu’s Back In Town. Summertime. . Take Me Back To My Boots And Saddle. Lovely To Look At. Copenhagen. Cheek To Cheek. The Lady In Red. [Vocal by various…Ambrose’s Jubilee Cavalcade {1&2}.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 154 By the end of 1935 another fifty titles had been recorded at the Decca studios in Lower Thames Street. The recording by Connie Boswell with the Ambrose band took place during a tour of Britain by the Boswell Sisters in the summer of 1935. One Way Street. With All My Heart. Broadway Rhythm. There’s A Lovely Lake In London. Goodbye Trouble (+Rhythm Brothers) [Vocal by Elsie Carlisle… Rehearsing A Lullaby. [Vocal by Connie Boswell… I’ll Never Say ‘Never Again’ Again. Isn’t This A Lovely Day. Way Back Home (+Rhythm Brothers). Everything’s In Rhythm With My Heart. East Of The Sun. You Are My Lucky Star. Just One Of Those Things. From The Top Of Your Head To The Tip Of Your Toes. I Won’t Dance. The Kings Navee (+Rhythm Brothers). The Danza (+Rhythm Brothers). The Good Green Acres Of Home (+Rhythm Brothers/Rhythm Sisters). Muchacha. Gertie The Girl With The Gong. Mrs Worthington. Connie Boswell was a multi-instrumentalist and orchestral arranger. It’s An Old Southern Custom. Fare Thee Well Annabelle (+Donald Stewart/Rhythm Brothers) [Vocal by Donald Stewart… South American Joe. She Shall Have Music. [Vocal by Max Bacon…Schoolboy Howlers. Why Was I Born. Squibs. Roll Along Prairie Moon. Falling Leaves. Mama I Long For A Sweetheart. In A Little Gipsy Tearoom (+Rhythm Brothers). The General’s Fast Asleep. About A Quarter To Nine. Rags. My Very Good Friend The Milkman Said. In A Sentimental Mood. She’s A Latin From Manhattan. On returning to America the Boswell Sisters broke-up as a group but Connie continued as a major solo artist until the 1950s. Red Sails In The Sunset. Lovely To Look At. Lovely Liza Lee. Don’t You Ever Fall In Love. I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter. On Treasure Island.

Also. For scenes in which the orchestra does not appear. I’m All In* {arr. from which a Christmas Eve gala ball was broadcast by Radio-Paris. South American Joe {arr. Nola/Hors D’Oeuvres {arr. and Reg Pursglove took-over at the Embassy Club with his own band (although Ambrose retained nominal control and responsibility for the floor show). Madonna* {arr. Barnes}…Four Flash Devils. four other key players would be leaving – Ted Heath. Phillips}…Jack Cooper. Piccadilly {arr. Ted Heath accepted an offer from Sydney Lipton who led the band at the Grosvenor House Hotel.O. Cohen The Crooner {arr. Phillips}… Jack Cooper. apart from Danny Polo (who was to spend three months working in Paris). Phillips}…Ambrose Orchestra. Tony Thorpe left to join Henry Hall’s BBC Dance Orchestra. Ronnie Munro. These are the film’s featured musical numbers: When Day Is Done {arr: Munro}…Ambrose Orchestra. Lost My Rhythm* {arr. Ambrose now had to learn the hard way that the price for the kind of success he was enjoying couldn’t be measured in monetary terms alone. Untitled {comp/arr. My S. then resident at the London Casino (not a real casino. and Lew Davis transferred his talents to Jack Harris’ band. Limehouse Blues {arr. but rather a restaurant-theatreballroom complex). Erard}…Rhythm Brothers. Max Goldberg also went to Lipton’s band. Several original songs by the British song writing team of Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr were written specially for this film. Lew Davis. *Original songs by Kennedy and Carr After completing the penultimate recording session of 1935 at the Decca studio on the 22nd December. viola and cello. and a society charity ball at the Royal Albert Hall on New Year’s Eve. 1936 opened with a number of problems that required Ambrose’s immediate attention and which reflected the immense strain that band members had been working under throughout 1935.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 155 The orchestra that appears in the film ‘SOFT LIGHTS AND SWEET MUSIC’ had the same line-up as shown on page 141 plus the augmentation detailed on page 146. Sonin/ Munro}…Max Bacon. Clive Erard and Ray Sonin contributed original material. Layton}…Turner Layton. Ambrose and the regular band left for a five-day engagement at the Grand Casino in Monte Carlo. friction had developed between Ambrose and certain key members of the band over the apparent dominance of Evelyn Dall in the scheme of things. The band. including an oboe. Barnes}…Dorchester Girls. Clive Erard also left to work with Jack Hylton. Yesterday’s Thrill {arr.S. Munro}…Ambrose Orchestra. Barnes}…Evelyn Dall. Barnes}…Evelyn Dall. returned to London in time for a recording session on 30th December. We’re Tops On Saturday Night* {arr. Barnes}…Elisabeth Welch. To You {comp. Tiger Rag {arr: Erard}…Rhythm Brothers. Tony Thorpe and Max Goldberg. some additional instruments were added. Apart from having to find a replacement for Danny Polo. . Riding Up The River Road {comp/arr. Phillips}…Donald Stewart. Incidental music was composed by Bert Barnes and the associate musical director for the film was Sid Phillips.

Teddy Foster was an Armstrong-inspired player and vocalist and also something of a showman. In the early 1930s he joined Billy Cotton’s show band and was still with Cotton when Ambrose enticed him away. Here’s the new line-up: AMBROSE & HIS ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Teddy Foster (trumpet/+vocal) Clinton Ffrench (trumpet) Don McCaffer (trombone) Eric Breeze (trombone/+trumpet) Leslie Carew (trombone/+vocal) Sid Phillips (alto/clarinet/baritone/+ chief arranger) Joe Jeanette (alto/clarinet/flute/+arranger) Billy Amstell (tenor/clarinet) Andy McDevitt (baritone/clarinet)* Bert Barnes (piano/+arranger) Joe Brannelly (guitar) Dick Ball (bass) Max Bacon (drums/+vocals) Jim Brown (timpani/xylophone) Ernie Lewis (violin)…et al* Evelyn Dall Jack Cooper (+guitar) Jack McCarthy (+piano/accordion) The Wright Brothers* Ronnie Munro Arthur Lally *Occasional additions. However. Reeds: Rhythm: Strings: Vocals: Arrangers: . but apart from this nothing is known of his background. Although a superb lead player and soloist his principal asset on-tour was the clowning-around that went down so well with variety audiences…like playing two trumpets at the same time! Clinton Ffrench came from Howard Jacob’s band at the Café de Paris. He first came to prominence in Birmingham in the late 1920s when he led a small group that played for dancers at Tony’s Ballroom in Birmingham. by mid-February the changes were complete. Don McCaffer was discovered by Spike Hughes playing in a London jazz club and subsequently contributed to Hughes’ small group recordings.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 156 It took some weeks to finalise replacements and Ambrose was obliged to use temporary players. He was certainly a good second trumpet player and when given the opportunity to solo was said to sound like Bunny Berigan. He then played in Teddy Joyce’s band for a year or so before joining Ambrose.

clubs and restaurants that catered for High Society had a lean time. but his weekly radio shows were cancelled. and also had to take-over the drum stool whenever Max Bacon went to the front to do his comic turns. Normally a tenor player as well as a clarinettist. The Wright Brothers were a singing duo that had successfully toured variety theatres for a couple of years. and some went under. and called the combination the Rhythm Brothers. Where he came from is not known. And of course Ambrose’s company relied for a sizable chunk of its income on supplying bands for High Society private functions. Andy McDevitt was a Scottish lad who came to London around 1933 to join Teddy Joyce’s band at Fischer’s restaurant. This vocal group was used on broadcasts but did not record or tour. as much prized for his comic vocal contributions as instrumental ability. and Woolf Phillips (Sid’s brother) on trombone. others for longer. who also made occasional contributions on accordion. he was in fact undertaking Sid Phillips’ more usual subsidiary role. Although ordinary mortals were only expected to mourn for three weeks. but like the other young hopefuls in the band had probably been spotted by Joe Brannelly. . Dance music was taken off the air for several weeks and any perceived levity banned forthwith. No doubt many musicians of the same ilk would have been glad of a temporary job in the early weeks of 1936 because many were suddenly deprived of a living along with cabaret artists and other workers in the entertainment industry. Ambrose combined their singing talents with Jack Cooper’s. Some only closed-down for a week or so. the aristocracy was obliged to observe court etiquette and endure nine months of anguish! Consequently. In this respect it should be appreciated that Sid was an excellent player on the three major saxophones as well as the ordinary and bass clarinet. Leslie Carew was a competent trombonist and another example of the clownmusician. Both were considered by Ambrose to be too inexperienced to be taken-on permanently. but at least they got a taste of the big-time. Before joining Ambrose he played in Jack Hylton’s band and had a small acting role in the film ‘SHE SHALL HAVE MUSIC’. As a temporary measure Sid Phillips led the reeds during Danny Polo’s shortterm absence. Jack McCarthy was a bass-baritone singer and pianist. Before leaving the personnel changes it’s worth noting that while they were coming into effect Ambrose hired a couple of temporary players. namely Bruts Gonella (Nat’s brother) on trumpet.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 157 Eric Breeze grew-up in Manchester and got his first professional job with a danceband in Newcastle in the late 1920s. Variety theatres soon got back into their stride so Ambrose’s winter tour was not affected. He was also a notable trumpet player. Society bandleaders were obliged to go ‘down market’ or disband for the duration. Jim Brown was an all-round percussionist who worked mainly with symphony orchestras. This employment catastrophe was caused by King George V who died in January. All places of entertainment were affected in one way or another. He was a good xylophone player. The King’s demise put an end to the 1936 ‘coming-out’ season and associated jollification that kept the society bandleaders in clover. Before joining Ambrose he had been with Jack Hylton for four-and-a-half years.

as in 1936. In all. Had this not been the case it would have been impossible for Ambrose to have run such an expensive band and maintain the lavish life-style that he did…or would it? At this time money was cheap to borrow. Ambrose. In theory. an unusual inclusion in one of Ambrose’s touring bands. After this. but during good times these went a long way towards it.000 now]. Andy McDevitt was rewarded for his efforts with a place in Lou Simmond’s band at the Cabaret Club.000 [£2.000. which must have caused some logistics problems so far as accommodation and transport were concerned. touring costs. resumed full control. The only other change was the addition of a three-piece fiddle section (Jean Pougnet + two unknowns).000. band members were given a week’s break from touring but still obliged to attend a number of rehearsals in preparation for a four-month tour that would commence on Easter Monday. . and that the more they saw of her the better it would be for business. off to America on business. as usual. It was by doing this that Ambrose got through the ‘down times’ that periodically hit the entertainment industry.000] a year (wages. then Portsmouth. or else!…she’s spoken for’. then moved to Hull. Danny Polo returned to lead the reeds and Sid Phillips resumed his subsidiary role on baritone. residencies. From this time on it was taken for granted among band members that Ambrose and Evelyn were what would now be called ‘an item’. then back to London for a week at the Holborn Empire.000 [about £3. back from his spell in America. all of Ambrose’s sidemen worked for AOL rather than the maestro himself…in practice it amounted to the same thing. handed-over nominal control to Evelyn Dall (so confirming the fears of the departed). By mid-February the variety theatres were back in full operation and the stage show was once more on the road. The point is that contracts pertaining to record deals. The main orchestra was costing about £50. the cost of the main orchestra couldn’t be entirely off-set by AOL’s profits from other work. arrangements. In effect he was hiring his own orchestra from AOL in order to fulfil personal contracts. touring and broadcasting were between Ambrose personally and the parties concerned. Soon after her arrival one of the band’s sidemen opened a book on which one from a number of hopefuls in the band would be the first to…well. etc) and of course there were similar outgoings for the bands that AOL either hired or formed for residencies and private functions. however Sid Phillips and Joe Brannelly (who actually ran things between them) were well aware that it was now Evelyn Dall that audiences were mainly interested in. Ambrose. you can guess what! Ambrose became aware of this and furiously warned them to: ‘Lay-off guys. The tour commenced with a week in Chesterfield. Clearly.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 158 In 1935/6 Ambrose Orchestras Ltd (AOL) had a turnover of around £75. was devised and directed by Sid Phillips and called – ‘AMBROSE PRESENTS HIS RADIO CELEBRITIES’. Few were aware at this time that he had a wife and two children. This being the case it comes as no surprise to learn that there was speculation as to whether the relationship between Ambrose and Evelyn Dall was entirely professional. and given his guaranteed earnings from record royalties (which would have continued even if Ambrose had suddenly died) he had no difficulty in securing loans. The show. Ambrose went to great lengths to keep his private life just that. the touring company numbered twenty-four. Placing Evelyn in charge was not popular with many band members.

and were not affected to any great extent. so gigging was a lucrative part of AOL’s activities. but even so British film musicals – the main vehicles for variety acts on the screen – were singularly poor. Ambrose decided that henceforth he would be known as ‘Les Brannelly…the brother of Joe Brannelly’. Like American vaudeville. Little could be done to alleviate the loss of the private function gigs. Confusion over names aside. but this did not require musicians to be laid-off because most of this ad-hoc work was sub-contracted. In Britain top variety artists readily adapted to radio but the British film industry was unable to respond in the same way that Hollywood had. This was in distinct contrast to America where vaudeville was on the way out. but he left in the spring of 1936. Ambrose had been fortunate to have the services of a brilliant organiser to setup his office in the late 1920s. In Britain the tendency was to leave the theatres in place and cater for increasing film audiences by building brand new cinemas. Evelyn Dall. Although usually occupying buildings that had served as music halls (the booze-oriented establishments popular in Victorian times). the primary task-in-hand was to get the show on the road. Hunt had stood the test of time and his own departure in 1932. Its traditions were ingrained and resistant to change. To have one’s invitation cards marked – BAND SUPPLIED BY AMBROSE – didn’t come cheap. All the residency bands that Ambrose supplied were subject to contractual obligations on both sides. including the nearcollapse of the private function sector following the King’s death. The same month Ambrose appointed Jack Fallon to the post. British variety was a carry-over from the days of the music hall. Only those changes that were absolutely essential to survival were to be tolerated. There were of course exceptions. Although there were some independent variety theatres still operating (especially at seaside resorts) most belonged to one or other of the large entertainment organisations like Gaumont-British or Paramount. The administrative system introduced by K. In America it was different – variety artists moved much more quickly into films. Max Bacon. Since then AOL had been managed by Al Williams. with special responsibility for publicity.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 159 During the weeks that Evelyn Dall and the band were on the winter tour Ambrose spent some time dealing with immediate problems. both organisations also owners of cinema chains. P. As his assistant. Because the young man happened to have the same name as a well-known stage singer (Leslie Holmes). Ambrose promoted one of the office staff who was a protégé (and relative) of Joe Brannelly. In the 1930s the variety theatre circuits were important aspects of the entertainment industry. most variety theatres had been refurbished in the early 1920s and maintained an ambiance acceptable to lower middle class and ‘respectable’ working class audiences. and (maybe) the band…in person. What in fact was saving live variety in the face of stiff competition from cinema was surprisingly enough…radio! Only in the variety theatres could listeners actually see their favourite radio entertainers. By the mid-1930s many US theatres had been turned into picture houses. By the mid-1930s it was becoming important to have a radio star as top-of-the-bill turn in order to attract an adequate variety audience. He was an experienced band booking agent who had managed a chain of ballrooms in the Midlands. . What brought the people out to the Empire or Hippodrome was the chance to see Ambrose.

Most variety theatres had two houses each week-day evening with two single-house matineé performances a week. photo sessions. chairs and stools. 1drum kit. Decca’s publicity department also arranged for record retailers in areas through which the band passed to hold events that required personal appearances by one or more of the leading lights. Rehearsals (‘band-call’ in variety parlance) were held on Monday mornings and enabled the stage manager to ‘time’ each turn. assorted trunks…and ten sets of golf clubs! Provided the distance wasn’t too great Ambrose usually travelled to the town or city concerned in his Rolls-Royce. 1-xylophone. however all expenses were taken care of including travel. which included the larger instruments and props. attendance at charity functions and suchlike simply couldn’t be avoided. 2-timpani.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 160 Tradition demanded that no matter how good the ‘top-turn’ was it could have little more than forty minutes on stage. Max Bacon and Jack Cooper were now such ‘headliners’ that interviews with local reporters. of course. but even the most humble variety artist appearing at one of the top variety theatres could expect a weekly salary of at least £15 [about £600 now] and at the time this was about five times the average wage. assorted reed and brass instruments. music stands. was handled by Pickfords. Travel was usually by train. . Only the ‘top-turn’ would be allowed to run late. Some of the minor turns were only on for a few minutes.000 now] of which 16% represented personal profit. but where the distance involved did not warrant this a motor coach would be used. This was about the whole of one-half of a ‘house’ which lasted two hours with an interval in the middle. and Evelyn Dall sometimes drove her own highpowered American car. Each member of Ambrose’s touring show got their regular salary. 1-marimba. However irksome it all paid-off in the popularity stakes. Despite the gruelling nature of tours there was some time available for leisure activities other than endless games of poker or snooker. collapsible band stand. Each six-week tour phase brought-in £7. It is almost impossible to envisage the range of activities that appeared on variety stages . Occasionally something special would have to be arranged. Again by tradition. Ambrose. It all depended on what their agents had arranged with the various impresarios who organised the tour ‘packages’.200 [about £288. like on this tour when Clinton Ffrench got married in Litchfield.there are now no modern equivalents since the demise of variety on television. enjoyed a great deal more than this. Evelyn Dall. transport and meals thrown-in for good measure. Somehow it all came together and every Sunday hundreds of variety artists would be criss-crossing the country from one location to another. The items that Pickfords had responsibility for on Ambrose’s tour makes interesting reading: 2-grand pianos. the following week at another. Band members would bet on who would get there first – and it was usually Evelyn! The boys in the band were never permitted to travel by car during tours – and appropriate transport was always provided by Ambrose. meals on route. a cartage company that had a division devoted to orchestral and theatrical transportation. and leisure activities. Some members of the band were obliged to undertake extra duties related to public relations. 1-double bass. Most variety performers spent a week at one theatre. and only when an audience demanded an encore. Luggage. Ambrose would often arrange golf matches at local courses or trips to horse races at nearby tracks. accommodation. Ambrose. the ‘top-turn’ was the last to perform. and so on.

Swing That Music…Evelyn Dall/Teddy Foster (trumpet). the visual impact was stunning. if only to a limited extent. Dippermouth Blues…Instrumental. An unsympathetic Ambrose brought another singer – Gerry Fitzgerald – up from London to temporarily replace Jack. Swing Along Mama…Evelyn Dall/Rhythm Brothers. On Easter Monday the band opened for a week at the Glasgow Empire. Newcastle. and Liverpool. it was noted. (Woe Is Me…Encore – Evelyn Dall/Jack Cooper). Stoke-on-Trent. According to accounts at the time. as usual. From Glasgow the show went to Edinburgh. and later memories. You Hit The Spot…Rhythm Brothers. Cuban Pete…Evelyn Dall. in one case for a recording session. Jack Cooper was having a hard time health-wise. might just as well have been on the planet Mars! The tour was not without its casualties. I Feel A Song Coming On…Jack McCarthy (vocal)/Jean Pougnet (violin). wielded the baton with much more confidence than on his previous visit (in other words he had become more skilled at pretending to conduct the orchestra). Bolton and Wigan…all of which. There was a kind of enthusiasm being generated that heralded great things ahead. In between certain of these engagements breaks occurred so that the band could return to London. The rest of the company. These breaks also enabled a number of one-nighters to be arranged and the band played for dancers at Stockport. had to make-do with the cream tuxedos that were by now standard for touring purposes. . Bojangles Of Harlem…Teddy Foster (vocal/trumpet)/Rhythm Brothers. and the shows played to packed houses throughout the week. When Day Is Done…Closing theme. Manchester. Let’s take a look at what it was that inspired this reaction: When Day Is Done…Opening theme. Leeds. Hors D’Oeuvres…Instrumental. largely due to the Sid Phillips-devised lighting scheme. I Like Bananas Because They Have No Bones…Max Bacon (vocal). Ambrose. in another to appear with Hollywood star Grace Moore at an important charity concert at Grosvenor House. being male. But more than this. Birmingham. dressed exactly like his sidemen. Some of these titles were recorded so we can now appreciate how they sounded live on stage. Evelyn Dall took full advantage of her three changes of dress…fabulous creations that made audiences gasp when she came on stage.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 161 Ambrose’s tour kicked-off on Easter Saturday with a Gala Dance at the huge Plaza Ballroom in Glasgow. audiences seemed even more appreciative than a year earlier. so far as Ambrose was concerned. But these shows were as much about visual imagery as sounds and the total experience that was presented to audiences can only be imagined. On a couple of occasions he was rushed to hospital with severe stomach pains. and. The dance broke attendance records for the venue concerned. O K For Sound…Jack Cooper. and then he temporarily lost his sight due to the intensity of the stage lights.

Other rhythm clubs soon got under-way in other parts of the London area. but only Goodman’s version really ‘swings’. Even high minded jazz purists had to admit that Ambrose’s band was stuffed with jazz talent. Over the next few years the number of rhythm clubs throughout the country grew rapidly. more specifically ‘youthful’. The stamping-ground for jazz enthusiasts in the 1930s didn’t consist of jazz clubs in the usual sense. In the case of the Ambrose Orchestra it isn’t quite so clear-cut. but were equally quick to point out that this talent was going to waste in such a band. The impetus for founding these clubs and circles had come from the Melody Maker in 1933 and was the brainchild of two of its most influential contributors Spike Hughes and John Hammond. At the time almost any band that played rhythmically might be described as a ‘swing band’. The London No. 1 Rhythm Club was the first to be established. Both are played rhythmically (and stylishly). but we can’t because although the core of jazz purists was small in the mid-1930s it contained a number of people who would become highly influential in shaping post-war attitudes to pre-war musical styles. say. as recorded by both bandleaders. Benny Goodman circa 1935 can be clearly discerned by listening to a tune. That was the reception accorded to Ambrose’s band at the Birmingham Hippodrome last night. This new generation had become attracted to rhythmic music by listening-in to the dance bands when they were children. By the mid-1930s the term ‘swing’ was coming into use. but did not yet have quite the same meaning as later. because the term ‘rhythm’ tended to be used in preference to ‘jazz’ which in general parlance represented the popular music of the 1920s. and ‘hot record circles’. like Forest Hill and Croydon. but now wanted something more radical. It would be convenient to dodge this issue. But the distinction between Henry Hall and. including Henry Hall’s outfit. the Bag O’Nails. Manchester and York. Within a year the movement (for such it was) had spread to Birmingham. apart from the haters of all things rhythmic. These were essentially a minority within a minority. and pass on to other matters. Bradford. So was Ambrose’s band universally acclaimed? Not exactly. This was so enthusiastic that it got a mention in the national press: AMBROSE’S BAND TAKES BRUM BY STORM Three encores…six curtain calls…and a packed house that stood on its hind legs and cheered until the pit band played ‘The King’ in an attempt to make people go home. and this did indeed meet at a ‘proper’ jazz club. say Goody Goody. there were the ‘authentic’ jazz aficionados. but rather ‘rhythm clubs’ (the word ‘club’ having the same meaning here as ‘association’). What kind of people did these clubs attract into membership? Mostly undertwenty-five’s from lower middle-class/‘respectable’ working class backgrounds – in other words young ‘suburbanites’ whose parents were by now devoted listeners to the likes of Henry Hall and Ambrose. even if their elders and more conservative contemporaries disapproved – and they usually did! .KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 162 One of Jack Cooper’s occasional migraine attacks might well have been triggered by the reception that the show got in Birmingham that summer.

and usually tried to persuade rather than cajole them over to his point of view. Scapegoats for what he rightly hated weren’t necessary. either verbal or written. however mild. usually under a pen name. Hammond. Essentially they were visionaries as much as purists and what they envisaged was a popular culture springing from the people rather than being ‘imposed’ by commercial interests. so good (or bad. Hughes didn’t entirely turn his back on commercial considerations . ‘crap’. . but wasn’t meant to go too far in that direction. Not so with his comrade-in-arms! John Hammond. was likely to be branded ‘an ignoramus’. Hughes’ small-group jazz in the early 1930s was really a development of the kind of music that the more adventurous dancebands – like Ambrose’s 1926 Embassy Club outfit – had been playing a few years earlier. and similar genres in the name of ‘acceptability’. His opinion on any topic that concerned him was merely a statement of fact. Both. leading and composing. and then taught himself to play the bass around the time that this instrument was starting to replace the tuba in dancebands. blues. Hughes had studied music theory and composition. and this generated additional prejudice and intolerance. Apart from performing. In the early 1930s he formed small ad hoc jazz groups for recording purposes. Unfortunately. country music. according to one’s point of view)…but there was a part of their argument that surely had (and still has) validity among those with any sense of decency. an American. were realists and recognised the need for commercial activity when it came to spreading popular culture among the masses. The worth or otherwise of a musical item was not to be judged against commercial criteria – whether or not people liked it – but rather criteria formulated by ‘experts’ like Hughes and Hammond. Words like ‘garbage’. In his own way he did much to educate readers of the Melody Maker on the finer points of jazz appreciation. A gifted writer and amateur musician. however. ‘trash’ and ‘junk’ were part of his stock-in-trade. He also went to New York for a year or so and played and recorded with multi-ethnic jazz groups. and jazz and the blues interested him enormously.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 163 For Spike Hughes and John Hammond the term ‘rhythm’ was far too innocuous and wide-ranging to describe what they were about. and the young idealists who devoted their spare time to rhythm clubs and ‘hot’ record circles deserve admiration. but a significant part of his scorn and anger was directed at the racism and segregationist policies that permeated American society. And by constantly drawing attention to such wrongs Hughes. and this revolved around the commercial exploitation of ethnic cultures by those who considered themselves culturally (and often racially) superior. Brash and overbearing he certainly was. Anyone with a contrary opinion. Hughes was a talented writer and journalist and for many years contributed to the Melody Maker. was the kind of person who had little interest in persuasion techniques. The vision may have had left-wing connotations. he had a tendency to spread the blame too thinly. he used his superior education and talents to promote things that interested him. ‘tripe’. What particularly irked Hughes and Hammond was the dilution of jazz. This was particularly poignant in the case of African-Americans and their contributions to musical idioms ranging from ragtime to swing (and beyond). He was born into a wealthy East Coast family related to the Vanderbilts. So far.certainly not to the extent that Fred Elizalde and Reginald Foresythe did.

one item running into the next with a brief linking passage between them. even within the ranks of the rhythm clubs. and then give the band a well-earned vacation. the Casa Lomans were the source of many Ambrosian cover versions around this time. NOON AND NIGHT’. . This first series lasted until mid-November. and had met Tommy at least once. All programmes were recorded at the Independent Broadcasting Company’s studios in Baker Street. The recording method adopted by Radio Luxembourg at this time was similar to that used for recording sound tracks on film. At The Codfish Ball…Evelyn Dall. an agreement to swap arrangements came into operation. Readers familiar with big band history may have noted the inclusion in Ambrose’s broadcast of an Earl Hines composition – Cavernism. Like Duke Ellington. so a bit of ‘plugging’ of each other’s output didn’t go amiss. He must have valued the Ambrose arrangements quite highly though. also associated with the Casa Loma Orchestra. In commercial terms the tour was very successful and in late June he decided to extend it into August. It was in June that Ambrose returned to the airwaves – not via the BBC but rather its rival. I Wished On The Moon…Jack Cooper. Unlike the BBC broadcasts no announcements were made between numbers. Each programme lasted for fifteen minutes. particularly where there was no clash of interests relating to recorded titles. much like in a medley of tunes. Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey continued to swap arrangements with Ambrose until the late 1930s. the go-between being Joe Brannelly. Some weeks earlier Ambrose had signed a contract with this Continental commercial station for a series of programmes sponsored by Lifebuoy Toilet Soap. These were to be prerecorded in London and subsequently transmitted from Luxembourg each Sunday evening for twenty-four weeks. The first programme went out in June under the title – ‘MORNING. The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra lasted only eighteen months. and were part of the pre-recording. Ambrose had been a close friend of Jimmy Dorsey since the mid-1920s. No great surprise perhaps. Here’s a typical play-list: Cavernism…Instrumental. because he was at pains to obtain replacements for at least some of those left behind with what had now become Jimmy’s band. This went back to 1934 when the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra came into existence as a full-time outfit (previous bands with this name were recording groups). Both bands were broadcasting at the time and also recording for Decca. Anyway. A successful engagement at the Glen Island Casino in 1935 was interrupted by a dispute between the two brothers over musical policy and Tommy departed to form his own band. The sponsor’s announcements were made at the beginning and end. Radio Luxembourg. Recording sessions resumed in June after a break of two months. so only four items could be included. and then there was another break during July when the band returned to the provinces. six separate one-hour sessions being required. but the special relationship between Ambrose and Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey is particularly noteworthy.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 164 If converts to ‘real’ jazz had their doubts about what Ambrose was achieving at the time then they were in a minority. Cohen The Crooner…Max Bacon.

Slaughter On Tenth Avenue.‘When I was with Jimmy Dorsey we used to play these arrangements that came over from England…they came from an English swing band led by Bert Ambrose and were mostly by a talented guy called Sid Phillips…and they were tough to play. Dippermouth Blues. but the cabaret had now been discontinued and the patrons could only wait on better times. Stomping At The Savoy. I met Sid in New York sometime in the late ‘thirties and we became friends…and Ambrose just after the war when I was in London’. Ambrose’s current version was a reinterpretation by Sid Phillips in a somewhat different style to the original. but in a somewhat emasculated way. Streamline Strut. Limehouse Blues. who also played trumpet in the band. Tarantula. Another arranger with Jimmy Dorsey was Toots Camarata. who also played in the band’s sax section. When Ruben Swings The Cuban. This was the very same man who had supplied Ambrose’s jazz-oriented 1926 Embassy Club band with an arrangement of Dippermouth Blues.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 165 It is interesting to note some of the titles that were on one of the swap-lists in 1936: JIMMY DORSEY ARRANGEMENTS USED BY AMBROSE Parade Of The Milk Bottle Caps. quite challenging in fact. AMBROSE ARRANGEMENTS USED BY JIMMY DORSEY Hors D’Oeuvres. Dodging A Divorcee. And British kings didn’t go to night clubs whether in or out of mourning. The London Season that extended from the beginning of May until the end of July did take place. Throughout much of 1936 the Royal Court was in mourning and although most of the patrons of the Embassy were ‘hangers-on’ rather than genuine members of the royal circle. Jimmy Dorsey’s arrangements might well have gone down well at the Embassy Club in normal circumstances…but circumstances weren’t normal. the absence of Edward was bound to put a damper on things. Hide And Seek. Waltz In Swing Time. Here’s what he had to say about these swaps: . Oddly enough one of Jimmy Dorsey’s arrangers at this time was Fud Livingston. St Louis Blues. Skeleton In The Closet. . B’Wanga. Hurdy-Gurdy Man. And that absence was now permanent because Edward was now the King. Reg Pursglove continued to provide music at the Embassy.

Given the bad feeling that had accompanied Ambrose’s departure it came as something of a surprise when Ambrose eventually accepted. Apart from personnel changes Ambrose had to make decisions regarding his future activities. At least the BBC were now paying more for outside broadcasts. so too was Don McCaffer and Jim Brown. although Ambrose’s insistence on Saturday slots remained in place. These shows were recorded in London on 16-inch transcription discs and then forwarded to New York for transmission. Regrettably.. Around this time Ambrose accepted a lucrative offer to record a series of halfhour programmes for American radio. By this time US local radio stations were regularly featuring Ambrose titles and two numbers in particular (Organ Grinder’s Swing and Cuban Pete) were particularly popular on the jukebox circuit. Ambrose reconstructed the band in early September as follows: AMBROSE & HIS ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Alfie Noakes (trumpet) Tommy McQuater (trumpet) Lew Davis (trombone) Eric Breeze (trombone/+trumpet) Leslie Carew (trombone/+vocals)* Danny Polo (alto/clarinet/baritone) Joe Jeanette (alto/clarinet/flute/+arranger) Billy Amstell (tenor/clarinet) Sid Phillips (baritone/clarinet)* Bert Barnes (piano/+arranger) Arthur Young (piano/celesta)* Albert Harris (guitar) Jack Cooper (guitar/+vocals)* Dick Ball (bass) Max Bacon (drums/+vocals) Jack Simpson (timpani/xylophone/chimes)* Continued……. Teddy Foster was forming his own band (with Ambrose’s support) and Jack McCarthy was going with him as pianist/vocalist. The final two weeks were confined to the London area due to recording commitments. All sections of the band except the reeds would be affected. One consequence of this would be an end to touring. several sidemen would have to be replaced. Joe Brannelly was vacating the guitar chair to concentrate on managing the band full-time. On his return to London there would be much to do. The most significant would be his acceptance of an offer to return to the May Fair Hotel in the autumn. After this.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 166 Ambrose continued touring with the enlarged orchestra until mid-August. and a better deal for studio broadcasts was in the offing. no details of these American broadcasts have so far been found. clearly a move to capitalise on his Decca/US hits. everyone was given two weeks paid vacation and Ambrose headed for Cannes and a well-earned rest. Reeds: Rhythm: . Clinton Ffrench was also leaving. Another was the possibility of a return to broadcasting. This had been made in June when Harry Roy announced that he would be ending the residency he had taken-over from Ambrose in 1933. at least for the main orchestra. For starters.

Two newcomers were recruited for the group . All this came as no surprise . and an innovative rhythm player. May Fair Hotel personnel shown in bold type.Jack and Frank Trafford. but at other times Ambrose still played the occasional chorus either along with or in place of the vocalist. For a while Jack continued to function as second guitarist in the augmented orchestra. He was a good soloist. For some reason he had not been happy playing in the Jack Harris band. Ambrose decided to bury the hatchet when Sam asked for his old job back. These were all late-night broadcasts from the May Fair Hotel starting and finishing at various times. contributed orchestrations and original compositions and fellow vocalist Frank Trafford was also a songwriter who occasionally supplied material. Lew Davis returned to the fold after an absence of only a few months. However. Ray Sonin continued to provide lyrics for comic songs usually aided and abetted by Ronnie Munro. and then he joined the more adventurous Lew Stone band. as before. Jack Simpson returned to take charge of the additional percussion and deputise for Max Bacon as required. Tommy McQuater got his first big chance with Jack Payne. they didn’t get on and agreed to go their separate ways. Newcomer. combining lead and soloing duties. songwriter and arranger who sometimes played piano and accordion in the augmented orchestra. certainly one of the finest jazz soloists in Britain at the time. and sing with the Rhythm Brothers during broadcasts. . The orchestra at the May Fair only included strings during broadcasts. When Ambrose wasn’t around Ernie Lewis deputised. towards the end of the year he accepted an offer to join Jack Harris’ vocal team. and continued for the rest of the year at weekly intervals. Albert Harris was a brilliant Eddie Lang-inspired guitar player. Ray also wrote monologues and comedy scripts for Max Bacon. Sam Browne returned to the fold a few months after his touring partnership with Elsie Carlisle ended. Eddie Lisbona was a composer. Canadian trumpeter Alfie Noakes first came to prominence in the Lew Stone band.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 167 Strings: Vocals: Arrangers: Ernie Lewis (violin/+deputy)…et al* Evelyn Dall Sam Browne The Rhythm Brothers* Sid Phillips (chief) Ronnie Munro Arthur Lally Clive Erard Eddie Lisbona (+accordion)* *Occasional additions. the Rhythm Brothers were returned to the charge of Clive Erard (just back from a spell with Jack Hylton in America). Ambrose returned to the BBC airwaves in the first week of October. but in the Ambrose band was valued more for his lead role in the brass section. Jack Cooper was unceremoniously shunted over to the Embassy Club (the band there was still under Ambrose’s control).Jack’s constant minor ailments had always irritated Ambrose. Clive Erard. Although highly successful in tandem. After Jack Cooper left. then joined Jack Harris.

the Rhythm Brothers. In the autumn of 1936 shooting started at British Lion’s Beaconsfield Studios on another film – ‘CALLING ALL STARS’. Most members of the band were experienced session musicians and had worked in film orchestras. but gets only one set-piece instrumental number to perform at the end of the film – a concert arrangement of Limehouse Blues. Jack Cooper. I Don’t Wanna Get Hot *{arr. These were also broadcast on Sunday evenings. East Of The Sun {arr: Layton}…Turner Layton. Rhythm’s OK In Harlem *{arr. The augmented orchestra can be seen backing several of the songs. The main items of interest are: Organ Grinder’s Swing {arr: Phillips}…Evelyn Dall. and the Dorchester Girls dance troupe (in the film masquerading as the Hollywood Beauties) come over exceptionally well. so the essential dubbing process would not have presented too many problems. acrobatics. Star Dust/St Louis Blues {arr: Adler}…Larry Adler (harmonica). Although a regular television service had commenced earlier in the year for the London area it was still experimental – the BBC had not yet decided on which of two systems would be adopted. and Ambrose also recorded a series of fifteen-minute programmes for a rival commercial station – Radio Lyon. The film ‘SOFT LIGHTS AND SWEET MUSIC’ was released in the summer and after a spell in the West End went on general release. the editing/dubbing. including various dance routines. Elisabeth Welch and Turner Layton. Serenade In The Night {arr: Munro}…Sam Browne/Ambrose (violin). Barnes}…Buck & Bubbles. Za-Zu-Za-Zu {arr: Barnes}…Nicholas Brothers. Two rather special events occurred in December when the Ambrose Orchestra and Evelyn Dall took part in a televised show called ‘STARLIGHT’ at the BBC television studios at Alexander Palace. Consequently one studio provided programmes for the Baird system and another for the Marconi-EMI system. However it is interesting to actually see as well as hear Evelyn Dall. *Original songs by Kennedy and Carr. Nightfall*{arr: Barnes}…Elisabeth Welch. Barnes}…Evelyn Dall. who were both occasional guests on Ambrose’s radio shows. The same programme was transmitted from each studio on different days. also give polished performances. Max Bacon and Donald Stewart in action. Even by the standards of the time it was a minor confection. On the whole. Medley Of Ambrose Hits {arr: Munro}…Orchestra/various vocalists. photography and sound recording were competently handled . Once again Herbert Smith directed and the format remained unchanged.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 168 The Radio Luxembourg programmes continued on Sundays. When Gimble Hits The Cymbal {arr: Phillips}…Max’s just a pity that given the acting skills available more use wasn’t made of them. monologues (Billy Bennett) and comic sketches (Western Brothers). the minimal storyline little more than an excuse to link a succession of variety acts. Changing Of The Guard {arr: Munro}…Flotsam & Jetsam. .

rather than minority. Let’s Face The Music And Dance. This’ll Make You Whistle. [Vocal by Evelyn Dall… Organ Grinder’s Swing. Ambrose’s American releases were just as varied as at home and clearly intended to appeal to the general. Wood And Ivory. Empty Saddles. Lights Out. Crazy With Love. Did You Mean It. Hills Of Old Wyoming. US releases shown upright. There’s A Small Hotel. South Sea Island Magic. There’s A New World.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 169 Only eight records were released between January and August. Nobody’s Darling. Easy to Love. I’ve Got You Under My Skin. Bye-Bye Baby. and not without good reason – his name was Jack Harris. and it’s interesting to note that Ambrose’s instrumental output received much greater critical acclaim in America than in Britain. My Red Letter Day. Free. Miracles Sometimes Happen. To You Sweetheart Ahola. The Night Is Young. OK For Sound. Pennies From Heaven. Rainbow On The River. However. Tarantula. [Instrumentals… Creole Lady. in partnership with another bandleader. although coming on strong. Poinciana. a high-class West End night-spot. but between September and the end of the year twenty-five appeared in the catalogue. When Did You Leave Heaven. Swing. A Fine Romance. Goodnight Irene. Café Continental. Looking Around Corners For You. This was a time when the Swing Era was in its infancy. It’s D’lovely. Champagne Cocktail. There Isn’t Any Limit To My Love. I Heard A Song In A Taxi. Once again it is only possible to show a representative sample of recorded titles for 1936: [Vocal by Jack Cooper… I’m In A Dancing Mood. Music In May. Escapada.Did I Remember. Even so. It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie. Is It True What They Say About Dixie. Two Hearts In Cuba. I’m An Old Cow Hand. or at least a prominent member of its second division. I’ve Got A Feeling You’re Fooling. This announcement was not entirely unexpected because it had been known for some months that he was on the look-out for a suitable venue to purchase. Ambrose’s choice of partner did cause eyebrows to be raised. I’m All In. No Greater Love. [Vocal by Sam Browne… The Way You Look Tonight. This was because. Nuff-Yuff And Sun-Yuff. On Your Toes. Life Begins When You’re In Love. Let Yourself Go. he would be taking-over ownership of Ciro’s restaurant. Lost My Rhythm. Spanish Jake. No Regrets. I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket. Wotch’a Gotch’a Trombone For. We’re Tops On Saturday Night. Serenade In The Night (+Ambrose-violin). Sing Baby Sing. Woe Is Me (+Jack Cooper). Jingle Of The Jungle. Lost. I Wished On The Moon. You’ve Got To Blow Your Own Trumpet. By now Ambrose had become part of the popular music mainstream in America. record buyer. One Two Button Your Shoe. The Lady From Mayfair. [Vocal by Max Bacon… Knock Knock Who’s There. The Sunset Trail. Ridin’ High. Did Your Mother Come From Ireland. Towards the end of 1936 Ambrose revealed that he would be leaving the May Fair in due course. Hide And Seek. Cuban Pete. Hick Stomp. Love From A Stranger. Night Ride. These Foolish Things. The Touch Of Your Lips. Swinganola. Head Over Heels. Notable hits of 1936 not recorded by Ambrose included: . . There’s That Look In Your Eyes Again. Exceptional American successes underlined.

he succeeded Ambrose at the Clover Gardens and then. As with Ambrose. and he urgently needed all the money he could get his hands on. Not long after Ambrose formed his first small band for a residency at the Club deVingt. characteristically. However. When Ambrose transferred his band to the Palais Royal. There then ensued a kind of ‘bidding-war’ with the current owner pitting one bidder against the other and so driving-up the price. After obtaining his AFM ‘ticket’ he free-lanced for a musicians’ agency in New York. Ambrose had no intention of pulling-out of variety theatre work – it was far too lucrative. In 1928 he formed a society band-booking agency along with bandleader Abe Aaronson but continued to front the Embassy band. Ambrose put out feelers. On leaving school he used the money won in prize-fights to pay for violin lessons (!) and a music college course. by the toss of a coin. there came a time when Jack Harris wanted to run his own nightspot and by another coincidence both men set their sights on the same venue that just happened to come on the market in late 1936.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 170 Jack Harris grew-up in New York’s tough Bowery district and developed two abiding passions – music and boxing. Originally both establishments were owned by the same business interests. . and so too did Jack Harris…neither being aware of the other’s manoeuvrings. Ambrose got the job and so was obliged to either cancel the tour or split the main orchestra into two separate outfits. Ambrose left the May Fair early in January 1937. The agency was very successful and by the early 1930s was the principal rival to Ambrose’s company so far as West End society work was concerned (although along with similar outfits a secret agreement to avoid price undercutting had been entered into). Ciro’s Restaurant had opened in London in 1910 to complement its famous namesake in Paris. Later. At the end of the month another provincial tour was due to start. and this had been decided. Eventually. the band only had time to appear in Birmingham and Coventry before being brought back to London for Ciro’s ‘grand opening’. And so as 1936 drew to a close a deal was struck. Harris took-over at the Club de Vingt. Now in need of refurbishment it was empty and awaiting a new owner. but in the ensuing years the London restaurant had changed hands. contracts signed and plans drawn-up for a quick refurbishment of the restaurant so that it could open as soon as possible in the New Year. and the new Ciro’s was supposed to open in mid-February. Harris was brought-over from America to lead the Embassy band. By the end of January it became clear that the opening of Ciro’s would have to be delayed until March so Ambrose commenced the variety theatre tour with the main orchestra in early February. when Ambrose left the Embassy Club in 1927 to open the May Fair. Another violinist working for the same agency was one Bertram Ambrose. Ambrose and Harris became aware of the situation and agreed to make a joint bid. Harris also got a small group together for an engagement at the Azure Room. In all. The agreement between Ambrose and Harris required one or the other to supply the band for Ciro’s for the first six months. He chose to do the latter but meanwhile took the former May Fair band on a round-London tour of Mecca ballrooms and suburban cinemas (some of which had an early-evening stage show preceding the film show).

Those doing the lending were well aware that even if Ciro’s failed the partners would still have plenty coming in from other sources to make repayment of the loans feasible. and to accompany the touring stage show an additional band would be required. Bejewelled women in fur coats were pushed to the ground. although only six hundred could be accommodated at any one time. Evelyn Dall and Sam Browne provided vocals when the band was playing for dancing. and a celebrated interior designer hired to oversee the redecoration. that there were those at the time who expressed doubts about the feasibility of the entire project from a purely economic point of view.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 171 By mid-January £20. Leslie Carew was also allocated touring duties and so not included in the regular Ciro’s band. The famous mural artist Hans Aufseeser was commissioned to produce a huge bass-relief wall decoration on one side of the restaurant that incorporated winking coloured lights. most of the tables had been booked in advance. men in evening dress took revenge. and the newly-equipped kitchens were put in the charge of a celebrated Parisian chef. For routine vocals at Ciro’s Ambrose would require the services of two additional vocalists. . Apart from music for dancing. Everything. was the very best that could be acquired. Opening night was a complete fiasco. and general chaos reigned until police reinforcements arrived to clear the street. from furnishings to crockery and cutlery. Anyway. Elisabeth Welch. Ciro’s opened for business during the first week of March. During this initial phase Ambrose was in his seventh-heaven – after all spending money at the highest rate of knots possible came naturally! The trouble was that the money involved was only his by proxy…and the same went for Jack Harris. but this was supposed to be only for a few weeks because Ambrose intended to resurrect the touring stage show.000 [about £800. Things started to get out of hand when a fracas broke-out between communists and fascists in a nearby street and this got entangled with the crowds trying to get into Ciro’s. And the wellpublicised volatility of each of the partners didn’t strengthen grounds for optimism.000 now] had been spent on the refurbishment of Ciro’s and it was still only half finished. at the end of the day it could only succeed by attracting the Big Spenders away from other high class venues like the Embassy Club and the Café de Paris. To claim that ‘no expense was being spared’ would be an understatement! A top architect was brought in to supervise internal changes. The band that Ambrose used at Ciro’s had the same line-up as the former May Fair band. the band also provided backing for a floor show that featured guest performers as well as a resident dance troupe. Both had raised loans against their own future earnings. not expanding. not those of the new venture. But why should Ciro’s fail? Because. Apart from Evelyn Dall and Sam Browne. No wonder. at least on the outside. It was estimated that around two thousand people thronged the streets trying to get in. Rudy Vallee and Douglas Byng. former manager of the Embassy Club. Cabaret artists who appeared at Ciro’s at the time included – June Knight. To manage Ciro’s. then. At the top end the market was diminishing. The result was décor ‘out of this world’. It should also be noted that the weekly Luxembourg programmes had been extended to thirty minutes at the beginning of the year. Ambrose and Harris obtained the services of Peter Rattazzi.

(In fact she had her own solo recording contract). Manchester.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 172 Rather than juggle around with his existing personnel. Ambrose decided to form an additional small band for touring purposes. Her first break away from the East London club circuit came at the age of thirteen when she successfully auditioned for a part in a pantomime at the Exchange Theatre in Leighton Buzzard. This jazz-oriented band was popular and successful. but its leader had run into financial problems and was facing bankruptcy. Her early experiences included family sing-songs round the parlour piano and occasional visits to East Ham Palace of Varieties. and he did eventually bounce-back into the limelight. then. without Sam Browne and Evelyn Dall but with the Rhythm Brothers. Vera Lynn didn’t need to be ‘discovered’ but she did need the opportunity to develop and extend her talents with the aid of top musicians. This is difficult to appreciate now given Al Bowlly’s cult status. – and Ambrose’s outfit could. Baker also ran a booking agency in association with top bandleader Billy Cotton. The American stint had not been particularly successful and back home he was having a hard time touring variety theatres. had to be an all-round performer rather than merely a band vocalist. etc. Vera successfully auditioned for Joe Loss and made her broadcasting debut with his band and also appeared in a film short. but this was not the case. Before he got round to doing this. After this it was back to club singing but now nearer the top-of-the-bill. By the time Vera became associated with Ambrose she was already an established performer with cabaret. and it was with Cotton’s band that she got her first experience in big-time variety at the Palace Theatre. and did. They were an instant success and when Ambrose later decided to keep Sam and Evelyn in London throughout the summer. Under the heading – ‘AMBROSE PRESENTS…’ the Six Swingers went out on tour at the beginning of March. supply that opportunity. At the age of seven she started to perform in local working men’s clubs where she was billed as a ‘descriptive child vocalist’. radio. an opportunity arose to take-over an established band that went under the name of ‘George Scott-Wood & His Six Swingers’. As an additional male vocalist Ambrose attempted to entice Al Bowlly away from the solo career on which he had embarked after returning to Britain from a spell in America. stage. It was Joe Brannelly who came-up with a name – Vera Lynn. Vera Lynn was born into a ‘respectable’ working class family in the London suburb of East Ham. Then. Ambrose paid-off Scott-Wood’s debts and took nominal control of the band. Now some accounts would have us believe that Ambrose ‘discovered’ Vera Lynn. A suitable counterpart. the Six Swingers continued touring the provinces. because Evelyn’s film commitments were likely to preclude her from touring at certain times. . In the meantime he turned-down Ambrose’s offer! A vocalist to complement Evelyn Dall posed an even bigger problem. Her father worked in the London docks and she had an aunt who was on the variety stage. It was while performing at a club in Poplar that Vera came to the attention of Howard Baker and he invited her to join his band. film and recording experience. arrangers. After this she joined the Charlie Kunz band at the Casani Club and when this engagement came to an end she secured a recording contract with Crown Records and freelanced in West End cabaret. Later she took dancing and acting lessons and joined a local juvenile theatrical troupe called the Kracker Kabaret Kids. leaving the accomplished leader in place.

The Love Bug Will Bite You…Evelyn Dall (?)/Manhattan Trio/Max Bacon Coronation Waltz…Sam Browne Goona Goo…Max Bacon (?) Hors D’Oeuvres…Instrumental . Moreover. For some months Ambrose dithered over whether to bring Vera in on a fulltime basis. This was the kind of number that Evelyn Dall (who was also at the session) usually handled. but perhaps Ambrose wanted to see how Vera coped with such a song. in a duet version with Sam Browne. Ambrose returned to the BBC in March. Vera also took part in two Decca recording sessions in April. alternating between early-evening and late-night broadcasts on Saturdays. For the next six months Vera occasionally contributed to Ambrose’s radio programmes although except for a special Radio Normandy show in the summer her name doesn’t seem to have been included in the programme credits until the autumn. The two songs that she contributed – Someone To Care For Me and I Adore You . Elisabeth Welch (Ambrose’s usual first choice as an optional extra) was often ‘otherwise engaged’. At the first on rd 23 April she joined the Manhattan Trio in an up-tempo version of The Love Bug Will Bite You. Joe Brannelly was urging him to do so because he was convinced that she had great potential and was likely to be snapped-up by some other band sooner rather than later. the amount of work in the pipeline meant that additional vocal talent would have plenty to do. Rather well. In the interim she continued to freelance on the cabaret circuit. The late-night sessions were outside broadcasts from Ciro’s.were transmitted in two consecutive programmes in the spring. in fact and it became a big hit in the summer. Here’s A play-list for the evening show on the National Programme on Saturday 22nd May 1937: Hawaiian War Chant …Manhattan Three Maybe It’s The Spring…Sam Browne The Blue Danube…Instrumental Rural Rhythm…Manhattan Trio. Nostalgias…Instrumental Swing High Swing Low…Evelyn Dall Fire Dance…Instrumental Don’t Play With Fire…Elisabeth Welch (?) Dixieland One-step…Instrumental I May Be Poor But I’m Honest…Evelyn Dall…et al That Old Feeling…Elisabeth Welch (?) Night Ride…Instrumental. so eventually Ambrose agreed that Vera should be added to the pay-roll from September. The following week she was back at the Decca studios to record Lord And Lady Whoozies. Ambrose must have liked what he heard because Vera was invited to attend the next recording session.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 173 Vera Lynn got her first chance to sing with the Ambrose band in mid-February 1937 when Joe Brannelly summoned her to a Radio Luxembourg recording session. The one-hour evening stints were studio-based and for these Ambrose adopted his usual radio show format. when two more songs were allocated – A Little House Built With Love and Love Me A Little Today.

000 now]. some participating in the dressingup/dancing. because all previous events of this nature had been placed in the charge of military bands. where the ex-king was expected to ‘hold court’ more often than before. during his short tenure as King. This glittering charity event was expected to attract 10.000 [about £120. Ambrose used the normal orchestra (without vocalists) but for the following night’s extravaganza he formed a special fifty-piece orchestra. An excerpt was also broadcast live on the National Programme. The Abdication Crisis had dominated the last few weeks of 1936 and concluded when King Edward VIII became the Duke of Windsor and went into exile. This was an honour indeed. Of course. and two major concerts in Paris. Ambrose’s 1937 ‘hat trick’ came around the same time as the Coronation when it was announced that his band had come first in a Europe-wide poll to determine THE WORLD’S GREATEST DANCEBAND. For the Royal Ball. Whether the BBC recording survives is not known. and it was also impressed on band members that they too should ‘keep mum’. and eventually were changing hands at five times the original price. they had all been sold well before the event. The new King – George VI .had rarely patronised night clubs and preferred Viennese waltzes to jazz. The runners-up were Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman! Of it could be argued that Duke and Benny might not have wanted their bands to be classed as dance bands…even so! Ambrose’s reward was to open a ‘super-special’ ballroom that was to be part of the forthcoming Paris International Exhibition. For all this Ambrose would receive £3.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 174 The inclusion of a number called The Coronation Waltz in Ambrose’s broadcast was no mere coincidence – in May 1937 the Coronation of King George VI took place. The Grand Costume Ball was one of the first events of its kind to be recorded by the BBC. . but that was now impossible…or was it? It seems not because some weeks before the Coronation. and no bandleader in the land could beat Ambrose doing foxtrots! Ambrose also landed another plum when he was engaged to preside over a Grand Costume Ball at the Albert Hall the night after the Royal Ball. The Royal Ball was an invitation-only event and no publicity surrounded Ambrose’s role. they did. at least in part. The racier members of High Society were suddenly left in the lurch. Edward couldn’t resume his former lifestyle but there was still plenty of scope for lively goings-on away from the public’s adoring gaze.000 people. but it was not possible to totally abandon the London Season. and they being perfect gentlemen. others as spectators in the galleries and boxes. Ambrose was engaged to provide the music for a Royal Ball to be held at Buckingham Palace on Coronation night. The King may have preferred waltzes but the Queen liked foxtrots. Of course there was always the South of France. but it may have been intended for use on the short-wave Empire Service. Ambrose had plenty to gain as the King’s favourite bandleader. It was his policy never to discuss his professional dealings with Royalty. For Ambrose the departure of Edward might have had serious consequences. Despite the tickets for this ball being priced at £5 [about £200 now]. Society gigs had become big business again after the months of official mourning ended in the autumn of 1936. And this being the 1930s. There would then follow a three-week residency with nightly broadcasts.

I’m Afraid Of Bees. Phantom Melody. Home On The Range. Gangway. Bermuda Buggy Ride. Midnight In A Madhouse. Noah’s Ark. Swing Is In The Air. Moon Or No Moon. Put It There. Royal Garden Blues. I May Be Poor But I’m Honest (+ Evelyn Dall/Manhattan Trio). I Saw A Ship Come Sailing By.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 175 Before continuing with Ambrose’s exploits. The Night Is Young. we will take a look at a representative sample of the titles added to Decca’s catalogue in the first half of 1937: [Vocal by Sam Browne… The Eyes Of The World Are On You. On The Trail. Symphonic Raps. who supervised the orchestra’s library. Earthquake. Old McDonald’s Farm. Poor Robinson Crusoe. [Vocal by Leslie Carew… Madam The Cow Is In The Meadow. Rhythm’s OK In Harlem. March And Reprise. The Coronation Waltz. Comparing the titles listed in the Decca catalogue in the summer of 1937 with radio play-lists. There’s A Ranch In The Sky. White Jazz. [Vocal by Vera Lynn… The Love Bug Will Bite You (+Manhattan Trio/Max Bacon). variety programmes. Harbour Lights. Viennese Musical Clock. [Vocal by Evelyn Dall…On The Isle Of Kitchy-Mi-Boko. Pancho’s Widow. Plantation Moods. There’s A Bridle’s Hanging On The Wall. Espangnol. I’m Still In Love. Won’t You Buy My Pretty Flowers. The Minute Waltz. My Little Buckaroo. reveals that Ambrose recorded around 25% of the arrangements written for the band during the previous twelve months. because Ambrose insisted on up-to-date material new arrangements were continually being added. Mush Mouth. Instrumentals – swing/jazz. Too Marvellous For Words. Swing High Swing Low. Emperor Waltz. According to Joe Jeanette. Maybe It’s The Spring. Taking A Stroll Around The Park. The Snake Charmer. Sweet Leilani (+ Roy Smeck-guitar). King Porter Stomp. Cowboy songs. Novelty/comedy numbers. Lord And Lady Whozies (+Sam Browne). Gin Mill Shuffle. Little Cowboy. Here are some of the more interesting items that were not recorded but certainly broadcast by the band in 1936/7: Instrumentals – classical/light music adaptations. Doctor Jazz. All Alone In Vienna. The Great Big Saw Came Nearer And Nearer. Continued…… . Clearly then. Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off (+Sam Browne). McDougal McNab & McKay. Swing Patrol. there was an enormous amount of music available. Brudda Sylvest. The Cowboy’s Wedding Day. Old King Cole. Milenburg Joys. [Instrumentals… Midnight In Mayfair. Fifty Million Robins Can’t Be Wrong. Rose Room. With Plenty Of Money And You. I Need You. Even so. US releases shown upright. Die Fledermaus. A Nice Cup Of Tea. etc. Nightmare. Jogo Rhythm. Watching The Stars. Blue Hawaii(+ Roy Smeck-guitar). My Lost Love. [Vocal by Manhattan Trio… When You Gotta Sing You Gotta Sing. Tales From The Vienna Woods. The Man Who Missed The Last Bus Home. the number of arrangements on file exceeded three thousand at this time. Dardanella. The Kid In The Three-cornered Pants.

although most that reached the Hit Parade (a term just coming into use) were the products of Tin Pan Alley/Hollywood rather than Nashville (already the centre of a thriving authentic Country Music scene). The Girl From Cuba.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 176 Latin American/Hawaiian numbers. that which is now generally regarded as the most musically significant was at the time the least popular…at least in Britain. and by the mid1930s most of the top dancebands had mastered their use. Swing enthusiasts may have regarded classical interludes with indifference. Harlem On Parade. Latin American rhythms also required special instruments to make them sound reasonably authentic. ‘Jazzing the classics’ wasn’t the aim. all well-played and vocalised. Balboa. That just leaves the jazz-oriented – or swing – numbers to be considered. You And Me That Used To Be. helped along by the newly-available electric Hawaiian guitar. And it has to be acknowledged that of all the musical styles mentioned above. It would take a later generation of song stylists to extract the potential from those songs that had any. Hawaiian music had ‘craze’ status in the mid-1930s. Cowboy songs were also very popular at the time. except to point out that only a fraction of Ambrose’s instrumental output (much of which was certainly jazz-oriented. Where Is The Sun. this will be put-off for the time being. this fact of life would be the source of some grief as the Swing Era took-hold in the United States. but only a few standing the test of time. not his instrumental virtuosity. but rather to extend the appeal of these afternoon programmes to older listeners. it’s not difficult to understand why some rhythm club members were becoming disillusioned. The Melancholy Clown. Tomorrow Is Another Day. Hawaiian Hospitality. Swing Swing Mother-In-Law. However. Ta-Hu-Wa-Hu. And ‘headliners’ simply had to be paid more than mere sidemen. The inducement for talented musicians to add clowning-around to their repertoire was financial. Love Please Stay. Boo Hoo. In Max Bacon’s case it was his comic contributions to Ambrose’s output that made him a ‘headlining’ act. if not jazz in the ‘pure’ sense) got to be recorded. To arrange these pieces for dance orchestra Ambrose obtained the services of light music composer/arranger Stanley Bowsher. Ambrose undoubtedly deplored both aspects. Barnyard Serenade. Love Is In The Air. Ambrose was an early convert to the potency of Latin American music and put Sid Phillips and Max Bacon to work on creating a suitable style. Sweet Heartache. Other. As we shall see. And when we contemplate Max Bacon trundling down to the ‘mike’ to warble I Like Bananas Because They Have No Bones. I’d Do Anything For You. Last of The Rumbas. This they did and by 1937 the Ambrose band had become a highly regarded exponent of this idiom. On Moonlight Bay. So far as general pop-song output goes it was the usual mix of styles ranging from bright and breezy up-tempo numbers to slow sentimental ballads. Vote For Mr Rhythm. The Red White And Blue. but they generally loathed comedy numbers. Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Lamento Gitano. . The inclusion of classical and light music merely confirms Ambrose’s ‘something-for-everyone’ policy…a good thing or a bad thing according to taste. Will O’ The Wisp. Dinah. Rio Magdalena. Rumba Tumba.

Harris. However. However.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 177 In mid-June. When Harris arrived expecting to lead the substitute band he found Ambrose already in place. he seemed reasonably content and had a table permanently reserved at which he sat night after night entertaining his friends. Ambrose was able to pay-off his part of the original loan. But the ballroom was still not ready. and so he went off to play golf with the American bandleader Leo Riesman. Like the time Evelyn Dall pointedly remarked into the ‘mike’ after completing a number: ‘Leave some clothes on me Jack…I might catch cold!’ (implying that he was ‘undressing’ her with his eyes). paid-off the substitute band and re-installed his own (they had merely been told to report for duty). Even so. instead of doing the sensible thing and giving himself and the band a ten-day break Ambrose made a fatal error – he returned not just to London.000 fee. The broadcast was a success. Just before this it was announced that he would be opening at the Café de Paris in mid-September. By Friday the venue was still not ready to open and the following day the band was due to take part in an important evening broadcast. In fact Harris was seething with resentment. a strike of building workers meant that the venue could not be opened on time and the trip had to be put-off. What happened at that meeting has never been revealed.a ballroom attached to the Paris International Exposition. He had a reputation for ‘talking with his fists’ and on one occasion it took three of his sidemen to drag him off a colleague who was being strangled-to-death by Jack for speaking out of turn. Even so there were some irritations occurring quite early on. but to the bandstand at Ciro’s. . Jack Harris had (reluctantly) agreed to lead a substitute band at Ciro’s during the three weeks concerned. Ambrose was assured that all would be well within a day or so. By selling-out to Harris. he didn’t come off too badly – he got to keep the £3. Ambrose’s poll-winning status fuelled more resentment and by the time of the Paris fiasco things were nearing breaking-point. Jack Harris was not the most pleasant of people at the best of times – even his friends (and there were a few) admitted this. Ambrose then hung around until the middle of the week when he was told that as the ballroom was unlikely to open in the foreseeable future his services were no longer required! Apart from a dent in his ego. Eventually an opening date in mid-July was announced and Ambrose and the band duly arrived in Paris. It had all been a terrible waste of time and effort. but the point is he hadn’t made a penny out of Ciro’s. uncharacteristically. and before that would be taking his band to Cannes for a four-week engagement at a casino called ‘Chez Victor’. and this increased when Ambrose’s organisation rather than his own got the contract for the Coronation Ball. Ambrose was supposed to take his band over to France to open the Chateau de Madinal . The end came when Ambrose arrived at Ciro’s in the evening of the day he returned from Paris. due to inadequate prior publicity. Ambrose staggered-on at Ciro’s until his BBC contract expired at the end of July. but the concert wasn’t. but the outcome was the end of the partnership and the transfer of Ambrose’s share to Jack Harris. The broadcast went ahead and so too did a concert the following day. stifled his rage for the evening but next day demanded that Ambrose attend a meeting to discuss some important matters concerning Ciro’s. and was not pleased over the sudden change of plan. Since Ciro’s opened he had been largely sidelined while Ambrose fronted the band.

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By the time Ambrose and the band were en route to Cannes the second feature film – ‘CALLING ALL STARS’ - was on general release. As before a minimal storyline links a succession of variety acts set in various fake locations ranging from East End slums to swish West End nightspots. (The film was partially aimed at American audiences who expected British films to feature low-life cockneys and upper-class toffs in equal measure.) Ambrose was given a small acting role and also introduced those artists who appear in the scenes involving the band. He also gets to play a violin solo. Songwriters Kennedy and Carr wrote several original numbers for this film, one of which – Rhythm’s OK In Harlem - was later recorded by Ambrose. The incidental music (mainly required for dance and acrobatic routines) was composed by Bert Barnes, although some of the arrangements (for example Evelyn Dall’s rendition of Organ Grinder’s Swing) were by Sid Phillips. A number that Sid wrote specially for the film – Cotton Pickers’ Congregation – wasn’t used due to Ambrose’s objection to white actors being scripted to appear in ‘black face’. As in the previous effort band members appear in uniforms and Ambrose in white tie and tails – neither of which was normal. No doubt most British, and some American, film audiences of the time would have found ‘CALLING ALL STARS’ acceptable as a ‘second feature’, but no more than that. Earlier in the year Evelyn Dall had made a much better film for Rock Studios called ‘SING AS YOU SWING’. In this film she co-starred with Claude Dampier, and other cast members included the Mills Brothers, Mantovani and Nat Gonella. It came as a surprise to many filmgoers that Evelyn could also act and dance as well as sing. But it came as no surprise to Ambrose when she was offered a Hollywood contract by Warner Brothers. From this time on it was going to be difficult to keep the Blonde Bombshell in Britain…or was it? Around the time that Evelyn was making her film she was obliged to play another ‘role’, that of defendant in a civil action brought by the Foster Theatrical Agency. This British organisation was sub-agent for the American agency that had represented Evelyn Dall in the United States, and was bringing the action on behalf of its transatlantic associate. Evelyn’s American agent was claiming 10% of her earnings since joining Ambrose in August 1935. These were estimated to be around £3,500 [about £140,000 now], so she allegedly owed her agent £350 [£14,000]. The case came to the High Court and was heard before Mr Justice Dumas. After due deliberations the case was dismissed, but during the proceedings it was revealed that ‘Miss Dall’ was in reality ‘Mrs Holmes’, having secretly married an Englishman called ‘Mr Holmes’ some time after her arrival in Britain. Inevitably there was speculation on the gossip circuit about the mysterious ‘Mr Holmes’, and then someone ‘in the know’ revealed that Ambrose’s assistant manager had been known as ‘Leslie Holmes’ before assuming the name ‘Les Brannelly’. Asked to comment on whether Evelyn and Les were married Ambrose made this statement: ‘I’m not saying they are…I’m not saying they aren’t…I’m just not saying anything’. Significantly, Evelyn Dall’s marital status affected her citizenship position vis-à-vis the United Kingdom. If she really was married to an Englishman, then her employment status in the United Kingdom was secure. Whether she would have been immune to legal action in the United States by her erstwhile agent is another matter, because she remained an American citizen notwithstanding her marriage to an ‘alien’. For reasons private and personal to Leslie Holmes the marriage would not have been fully established in a legal sense and so subsequent annulment made reasonably easy (which divorce wasn’t at this time in England).

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While Ambrose was playing for dancers in Cannes his many fans in Britain could still enjoy the weekly half-hour programmes on Radio Luxembourg, which continued throughout the summer. Before leaving for the Continent, Ambrose had discussed future broadcasting possibilities with the BBC and agreed to present a regular one-hour studio-based Saturday evening show starting the first week in October. The Cannes date turned out to be almost as big a fiasco as the Paris trip earlier in the year. For a variety of reasons Ambrose ended the engagement early. Some band members remained in the South of France, while others (including Evelyn Dall) headed for America. Ambrose, though, had to return to London and attend to some urgent business, including a replacement for Alfie Noakes. Lew Davis was also leaving, but not being replaced by a full-time player. Sid Phillips would also not be able to contribute to the reed section for some time, necessitating a temporary replacement. By mid-September Ambrose had finalised his future plans including a residency at the Café de Paris and broadcasting and recording schedules. Here’s the line-up for the re-formed band: AMBROSE & HIS ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Max Goldberg (trumpet) Tommy McQuater (trumpet) Eric Breeze (trombone) Leslie Carew (trombone/+vocals)* Danny Polo (alto/clarinet/baritone) Joe Jeanette (alto/clarinet/flute/+arranger) Billy Amstell (tenor/clarinet) Chester Smith (tenor/clarinet)* Bert Barnes (piano/+arranger) Albert Harris (guitar) Tiny Winters (bass) Max Bacon (drums/+vocals) Eddie Lisbona (piano/accordion/+arranger)* Jack Simpson (timpani/vibraphone/marimba)* Ernie Lewis (violin) Norman Cole (violin/+vocals)* Evelyn Dall Sam Browne Vera Lynn The Manhattan Trio* Bert Barnes (chief-pro tem) Clive Erard Stanley Bowsher



Strings: Vocals:


*Occasional additions. Café de Paris personnel shown in bold type.

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Max Goldberg returned to lead the brass section in place of Alfie Noakes, and with Tommy McQuater providing ‘hot’ trumpet solos it was only the absence of a third trumpet that left anything to be desired. The departure of Lew Davis was to be regretted and so was the absence of a third trombone. It was probably the need to reduce the overall size of the orchestra that motivated Ambrose at this time because the desirability of separate trumpet and trombone sections must by now have been apparent. Nevertheless, his brass section as such was still a force to be reckoned with. Chester Smith, Sid Phillips’ temporary replacement in the reeds section, was there to reinforce Billy Amstell’s tenor, but now on second tenor rather than baritone. As before, baritone solos were taken by Danny Polo. Tiny Winters had joined the rhythm section in place of Dick Ball in the spring. Tiny had come to prominence in Lew Stone’s band and was highly regarded in jazz circles. He also made occasional vocal contributions during broadcasts. Norman Cole functioned with Ernie Lewis as a small string section when required and played ‘hot’ fiddle solos and occasionally contributed vocals. Bert Barnes co-ordinated the arranging team during Sid Phillips’ absence. Sid took a temporary break from his duties with the Ambrose band that lasted from August 1937 until early 1938. He was off to America at the invitation of one of the most powerful figures in the American music industry – Irving Mills, who had long been an admirer of Sid’s composing, arranging and performing skills. Others in America were aware of Sid’s talents as a composer/arranger but most were unaware that he was also an accomplished all-round sax player and clarinettist. Before outlining Sid’s American experiences let’s briefly review his career to date. Born into an East London middle class musical family Sid Phillips learned to read music and play the piano as a child. Later he learned to play the clarinet and subsequently alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. In the mid-1920s he formed his own small jazz band called the Melodeons and successfully toured Europe for a couple of years. On returning to Britain he studied music theory part-time and worked as a session musician. In 1929 he joined the orchestrating staff of the Lawrence Wright music publishing company where he was responsible for arrangements intended for specific bands. One of the bands concerned was Ambrose’s, and Sid was encouraged to direct the band when his own arrangements were being rehearsed (this was standard practice with Ambrose). Ambrose and Lew Stone became impressed with Sid’s musical talents, particularly when one of his early arrangements for the band – A Japanese Dream – became a hit. In addition to orchestrations for Lawrence Wright, Sid undertook session work and occasionally formed and led small ad hoc groups for recording purposes. In October 1932 Ambrose invited Sid to become a part-time member of the orchestra, his main function being to provide support in the reeds section, both on baritone sax and clarinet (occasionally bass clarinet). Such support was mostly confined to recording and broadcasting sessions, although Sid was usually included in touring line-ups. Because he rarely performed solos while playing with the band (baritone and clarinet solos were generally undertaken by the first alto, who always led the reeds section), Sid’s place in the band appeared to be rather low-key, but he was, of course, also the chief arranger and had overall responsibility for the stage shows and presentation of the band in general. It is impossible to overemphasise his importance in the Ambrosian scheme of things throughout the 1930s. During his time with Ambrose he continued to form and lead ad hoc bands for recording and broadcasting purposes.

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One of Sid Phillips’ first tasks after joining the arranging staff of the Lawrence Wright Music Company was to orchestrate Hoagy Carmichael’s Star Dust for the Ambrose band. Ambrose had heard Star Dust being played by the Isham Jones orchestra on a US radio programme and approached its American publisher with a view to using it in his own broadcasts. The publisher concerned was Irving Mills and he readily agreed provided Ambrose did so under the auspices of Lawrence Wright who published Mills’ output in Britain. And so the British public first became aware of this lovely and enduring tune via one of Ambrose’s broadcasts from the May Fair Hotel early in 1930. Later that year it was published as a piano piece (arrangement by Jim Matté), and then a song (lyrics by Mitchell Parish) that became a big hit for British cabaret singer/pianist ‘Hutch’. To some extent the song eclipsed the orchestral version and Ambrose didn’t record his own arrangement until 1931. This, though, was released in America (on the Gramophone label) and other Sid Phillips arrangements of Irving Mills/Lawrence Wright material followed. Over the years Irving Mills’ appreciation of Sid’s talents steadily grew. But who was this American music publisher, and why did his views matter? Irving Mills was born in New York City in 1884 and learnt to play the piano and read music as a child. On leaving school he became a ‘song plugger’ for the Whitney-Warner music publishing concern. Later he developed a cabaret act and sang with various dance orchestras and also in vaudeville. During this time he also tried his hand at song writing (both words and music), but with only minimal success. However, by the end of the First World War his talents had extended to making stock orchestrations for music publishers and writing arrangements for vaudeville artists. Like Ambrose, George Gershwin, Jimmy Durante and other white musicians, Mills frequented the more exclusive Harlem clubs and became friendly with the likes of James P. Johnson, Will Vodery, Luckey Roberts and Noble Sissle. Mills realised that there was an enormous pool of African-American talent that was not receiving the attention it deserved by the music industry. In partnership with his brother he formed a corporation aimed principally at redressing the situation. By the mid-1920 Mills Music Inc. embraced a number of functions including music publishing, record production, talent management, public relations and band promotion. In 1926 Irving Mills began his long association with Duke Ellington and from the outset recognised the importance of Ellington’s artistic credentials. Apart from publishing Duke’s output Mills also became the band’s manager and secured for it an engagement at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem (where Mills also supplied the floor show). The fact that the club was run by mobsters didn’t deter Mills, nor did the fact that it catered exclusively for well-heeled whites perturb Duke. More important to them was the regular broadcasting schedule that included early evening and late night slots. Mills also took charge of Ellington’s recording career, securing contracts with Victor, Columbia and Brunswick and a number of lesser labels and ensured that the band was assigned to mainstream rather than ‘race’ labels. It was also through Mills’ influence that the Ellington band made two film appearances in the late 1920s. Despite being ‘in it for the money’ Irving Mills never lost sight of Duke Ellington’s potential as a sophisticated composer and spared no effort in promoting him as such.

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Apart from Duke Ellington, Irving Mills also managed a range of top AfricanAmerican talent from the late 1920s, including the bands of Cab Calloway, Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman, Benny Carter and Jimmie Lunceford…all important precursors of the Swing Era. In 1931 Mills took-over an African-American band, renamed it the Mills Blue Rhythm Band and under the nominal leadership of Lucky Millinder it became an important pre-Swing Era band. Mills didn’t confine his activities to black artists, and an important aspect of his recording endeavours was the formation of ad hoc studio bands in the late 1920s and early 1930s mainly comprising New York-style jazz practitioners. These bands provided work for white musicians like Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Danny Polo, Bunny Berigan, and arrangers Bill Challis and Deane Kincaide. Despite the Great Depression and the catastrophic fall in record sales in the early 1930s, Irving Mills was one of a small number of promoters who kept the jazz flag flying over the recording studios. In 1936 he founded his own record labels – Master and Varity – and it was probably in connection with these that the invitation to Sid Phillips was extended. Our concern, though, is more with the popular music scene that Sid was able to observe in America in the summer of 1937, and how it had developed since 1931. By the mid 1930s record sales were recovering from the all-time low in 1932, although it is significant that in 1935 not a single record achieved million-seller status. In 1937 total sales of RCA-Victor records topped ten million, as compared to thirtyfive million in 1928. But at least the trend was upwards and accelerating at a rate that would restore the figure to thirty-five million by the end of the decade. A big boost to record sales followed the introduction of the multi-selector jukebox in 1933. By 1937 around two-hundred thousand jukeboxes were in use throughout the United States. Decca/US was the biggest supplier of records to the jukebox industry because their records cost half as much as their main rivals and yet still featured top artists. Records also became more important in broadcasting as the decade progressed. By the mid-1930s the resistance of record companies to their output being played over the radio had all but disappeared. In the late 1920s a ban on playing records over the airwaves came into force, but only the network companies complied. Local radio stations continued to use records without announcing that they were records, sometimes even pretending that the music was being performed live in the studio! By 1934 there was sufficient evidence available to suggest that air-play time actually boosted record sales and the big companies started to distribute free promo records to radio stations. The era of the ‘disc jockey’ had arrived (although like ‘jukebox’ the term didn’t come into widespread use until the 1940s). One of the pioneering disc jockeys in New York after 1935 was Martin Block whose radio programme ‘MAKE BELIEVE BALLROOM’ was hugely popular. Los Angeles-based Al Jarvis was another influential disk jockey at the time. Eventually, records played over the air became more important than live performances so far as the popularity of bands was concerned. This was certainly so in Ambrose’s case and it was because Martin Block and Al Jarvis and many others played certain Ambrose titles on their programmes that his Decca recordings took-off in the United States. Ambrose also did quite well on the jukebox circuit, usually against stiff competition.

With the partial exception of Paul Whiteman. ambitious bandleaders still sought engagements at venues that provided broadcasting opportunities. Studio-based programmes benefited from electrical transcription techniques that enabled radio transmissions to be staggered. Just as the jitterbug had its roots in a dance originating in the 1920s. They remained hugely popular with a mass listening public because their playing styles remained essentially unchanged. called the ‘lindy hop’. none of these bands contributed in any meaningful way to the Swing Era. and at first emerged from musicians and bands that served minority interests. The word ‘demand’ is important. guitar. By the mid-1930s a new dance – the ‘jitterbug’ – had become popular with young whites in certain areas. The final barrier that had to fall before swing music could emerge was the predominance of the tuba/banjo combination in rhythm sections. drums and piano had become established in the early 1930s the ‘new’ music that the younger generation craved could emerge. The important thing to note is that one band was black. Popular dancing is a good example. that occurred in popular music in the first half of the 1930s were localised. a ‘craze’ came into being despite the objections of the older generation in general and dance hall proprietors in particular. then. Others – like the white ‘younger generation’ – had a degree of coherence due to their demand for music suited to new dancing styles. . Fred Waring.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 183 Despite the growing importance of records. In the late 1920s African-Americans took to a dance that was essentially an alternative to the Charleston. Many of the innovations. ‘remote’ broadcasts from venues weren’t generally so treated and over time these came to be restricted to local rather than coast-to-coast transmissions. Some of these minorities were widespread though still localised. so too did ‘swing music’ emerge from ideas and practices developed around the same time. and it took quite a time for some demands to be generally satisfied. the other white and this was representative of the fact that the development of swing music was truly inter-racial (whether the contributions were equal in importance is another matter). As with the foxtrot twenty years earlier and the Charleston ten years earlier. Some dance halls primarily intended for African-Americans dancers had special ropedoff areas reserved for white dancers (such halls were invariably owned by white entrepreneurs). Bill Challis with Goldkette) directly influenced each others work (even to the extent of ‘swapping’ orchestrations) and the Goldkette band contained many of the musicians that came to dominate white jazz in New York in the late 1920s. Wayne King and especially Guy Lombardo dominated the latter half of the decade just as much as they had the first half. such as the patrons of country music and ‘race’ music (later called ‘rhythm and blues’). However. like the West Coast. Of particular importance were innovations popularised by the bands of Fletcher Henderson and Jean Goldkette. And this new dance craze required a ‘new’ kind of music. so overcoming the time-zone problem. The two arrangers concerned (Don Redman with Henderson. The networks continued to present coast-to-coast studio-based radio shows based around big name bands and those of Paul Whiteman. This became very popular in black clubs and dance halls where jazz was played in addition to ‘sweet’ music (conventional ballroom dancing was also popular with black patrons and so too were ‘sweet bands’). Once a satisfactory relationship between string bass.

and on a number of occasions Benny sat-in with the band when it played at private functions (the terms of his work permit prohibited public performances). After leaving Henderson’s band Redman freelanced for a while. and to some extent moving away from the kind of jazz that was a precursor to the Swing Era. and on the Continent.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 184 Don Redman left Fletcher Henderson’s band in 1927 while it was still resident at the Roseland Ballroom. Vincent Lopez. which broadcast regularly and became very popular. . Not even the tutelage of Irving Mills could save Henderson’s band from temporarily folding. and also took-over McKinney’s Cotton Pickers for a while after Redman’s departure. Benny Carter was a largely self-taught African-American multi-instrumentalist. More important was the work he did with various groups of British musicians in the recording studio. directing recording groups and fronting his own broadcasting band. his leadership skills declined even further after he suffered a road accident in 1928. What of the bandleader with whom both Don Redman and Benny Carter first came to prominence? Well. and when this happened he had little choice but to hire-out his arranging skills to others. Unlike Don Redman he was an outstanding performer. Never particularly good at running a band. Like Henderson his background was African-American middle-class. He spent about two years in Europe before returning to the United States. Like Don Redman he became popular with white audiences. Many of his own band arrangements were sold-off to those bandleaders who had the foresight to appreciate their brilliance. By the early 1930s he was producing arrangements that met most of the criteria against which the great swing bands of the late-1930s would be judged. Fletcher Henderson continued to front outstanding bands in the late 1920s but this was in spite of. An early determination to learn every instrument in the danceband meant that he never developed any real virtuosity as a player but it did make him an innovative arranger. Redman turned what had been a novelty orchestra into one of the most highly acclaimed bands of the late-1920s. In the early 1930s he formed his own band. Although Benny Carter’s jazz credentials were never in doubt his arranging techniques were particularly applicable to dancebands. he was invited to take over an African-American band under the control of Jean Goldkette – McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. his ability as an arranger remained undiminished. At this time Redman was producing arrangements of exceptional complexity. His main influence as a saxophonist was Frankie Trumbauer and he also greatly admired the arranging skills of Bill Challis. composer and arranger. Later. although unlike Henderson his college degree was in music. providing orchestrations for Paul Whiteman. Then he alternated between freelance arranging. Ambrose and Benny Carter became good friends. Don Redman’s principal contributions to the Swing Era were the arranging innovations he introduced earlier when working for Henderson. rather than because of. even ones as basic as the BBC Dance Orchestra. particularly during Louis Armstrong’s brief spell with band. particularly after switching to a ‘modern’ rhythm section in 1930. However. his leadership. Isham Jones and many others. In March 1936 he came to Europe and for a while was guest arranger with the BBC Dance Orchestra. particularly on saxophone. Benny Carter followed Don Redman into the Henderson band.

from the south-western states along the legendary Route 66. At the Elitch Gardens Isham Jones was a huge success – Benny Goodman a flop. many of those who paved the way would receive little or no recognition. the different time zones meant that these programmes went out in the evening on the West Coast. and along with illegal migrants from Mexico and elsewhere. By the late 1930s there were clubs on Central Avenue in which a musical idiom that would later be called ‘rhythm and blues’ was starting to take-hold. Jazz clubs had flourished in LA for around twenty years.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 185 Two bandleaders who had such foresight were Isham Jones and Benny Goodman. And it wasn’t only jazz and swing that benefited. for many years resident at the New Cotton Club in Culver City. There was an immediate convulsive reaction among the young Los Angeles audience. Benny Goodman felt obliged to put his more adventurous arrangements to one side and play what ballroom managers believed dancers wanted. It was a similar story in San Francisco. Certainly. brought a rich cultural heritage with them. The Jones band continued touring in an easterly direction.Los Angeles in particular . rather than late at night. What’s important here is that Benny’s radio audience in Los Angeles had included teenaged high school kids who listened to the radio around their bedtime. . Benny threw caution to the wind and substituted King Porter Stomp for whatever anodyne number he had intended to play. Unfortunately. Isham Jones never took any notice of what other people wanted including those who booked his band (and no one ever dared to challenge the terrifying Mr Jones!). And they had liked what they had heard on the radio and came to the Palomar on opening night to listen as much as to dance. and this was followed by similar successes in Detroit and Chicago (where the band remained for a six-month residency and resumed broadcasting). while Goodman’s band followed its Denver stint with an engagement at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles. and some bands had a following that was country-wide – for example Les Hite’s band. For the rest of the Polomar engagement the Goodman band was an enormous hit. During the Great Depression out-of-work musical talent of all kinds migrated to the West Coast . the Swing Era had arrived. the residents of West Coast cities weren’t starved of live rhythmic music before the appearance of Benny Goodman in the summer of 1935. And what they heard at the Palomar – Benny’s standard ballroom fare – they didn’t like at all! According to legend. and even more to reach maturity. most of them gathering round the bandstand instead of dancing. Only the absence of the electric guitar was restricting its development…and that instrument was already more than a glint in the eyes of enterprising guitar makers. However. Before going out on the road both bandleaders had broadcast and recorded a number of Fletcher Henderson arrangements – a good example being King Porter Stomp. Although it would take another two years to fully emerge. In the summer of 1935 both bands were on tour and their paths crossed in Denver when the Goodman band followed the Jones band into the Elitch Gardens Ballroom. particularly on and around Central Avenue. The Goodman band was not unknown on the West Coast because when it had broadcast from New York some months earlier the programmes had been transmitted coast-to-coast. On tour.

Ambrose rarely named those whose music had inspired his own band leading career. . His contempt for matters presentational was legendary. If Mom and Pop. attempted to form a co-operative orchestra after Jones disbanded in 1936. were featuring some of the most advanced jazz-oriented arrangements of the time. didn’t approve of this sub-culture. Everything from language to fashion to dancing styles would be used to set them apart. And on the whole panic was avoided by a process of assimilation of what was clearly ethnic in origin into the mainstream. A nucleus of Isham Jones’ sidemen. by now entirely under the control of Woody Herman. In 1937 the band. At this venue the band was a great success. and authority in general. To him the only thing that mattered was the music. who were still content with the output of the Casa Loma Orchestra and similar outfits. while the terms ‘jazz’ and ‘hot rhythm’ though not exactly out-of-fashion. backing artists like Mary Martin. Meanwhile the band obtained what engagements it could in the New York area until really taking-off as the 1930s came to a close. including Woody Herman. quit band leading (but not composing) for good. The terms ‘swing’ and ‘swing band’ had been in general use since the early 1930s. and the Andrews Sisters. they also wanted to adopt cultural appendages that would distinguish them from the older generation. these younger teenagers wanted something (that to them seemed) new and rhythmically exciting. more image conscious bandleaders. but generally it was an uphill struggle to play their kind of music and stay in business. he disbanded and went into semiretirement in 1936. Suitable role models had to be encouraged and the youngish clean-cut talented white swing band leaders would do very nicely. but always made an exception in the case of Isham Jones. One bandleader who had an ‘image problem’ was Isham Jones. Until the end of the 1930s he occasionally assembled studio bands for recording purposes and also made some arrangements of his own compositions for other bandleaders. and he always maintained that the Isham Jones band had all the elements of a really great swing band (and so too did other prominent musicians). No pleading on the part of ballroom managers could ever induce him to pay attention to what he or his band looked like. Jones also had contempt for his audiences . joining forty or so other hits in the Golden Age lexicon. the new outfit was based in New York and in late 1936 secured an engagement at the famous Roseland Ballroom. Unlike their older contemporaries. didn’t quite fit the image that a rising generation of pop music fans wanted to project. For whatever reason. The projected image was becoming just as important as the music. which resumed at the same time as Benny Goodman’s in the autumn of 1935.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 186 Benny Goodman’s success did not go unnoticed by other bandleaders or for that matter the moguls of Tin Pan Alley. Called the Band That Plays the Blues. One of Jones’ featured soloists was Woody Herman (who had joined the band in 1934 on clarinet and baritone). His last big Tin Pan Alley hit – No Greater Love – appeared in 1936. then so much the better! Disapproval is one thing – panic another. In 1940 Isham Jones. It was this that saved it from going under because it became in effect the Decca house band. More than this. Perhaps Isham Jones was perceptive enough to realise that he was about to be eclipsed by younger. secured a Decca/US recording contract.surely a much less admirable trait? And yet his broadcasts. still only in his mid-forties.

In some ways he was the British equivalent to Isham Jones. but in Miller’s case an association of sorts had existed some years before. small brass and reed sections were added). According to Leonard Feather. and whereas Woody was cautiously optimistic. So both arrangers were familiar with each other’s work. In the early 1930s he alternated between session work on trombone and arranging. Sid Phillips met Glenn Miller for the first time during his American visit.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 187 Another bandleader destined for great things in 1937 was Glenn Miller. Despite a residency at the Lexington Hotel. Glenn was despondent and somewhat bitter…he had lost a lot of money on a couple of attempts to start a band and it wasn’t turning out to be a case of “third time lucky”!’ Indeed not. of course. According to Leonard Feather: ‘Both Woody Herman and Glenn Miller were struggling to establish orchestras. came to New York in the summer of 1934 for an engagement at the Rainbow Room. songwriter and arranger and had first come to the attention of American record buyers when some of his extensive HMV output was released in the United States in the early 1930s. Then thirty-three. and had been trying for some time to become a bandleader. In 1936 he formed his first band – an unorthodox unit comprising a string quartet. He learned to play the saxophone while still at school and later took-up the clarinet. After graduating from Colorado University in the mid-1920s he played trombone in several small-time bands and continued to study arranging techniques. rhythm section and clarinet (later. Miller had over ten years of performing and arranging experience. In 1930 he came to New York and for the next five years worked as a session musician and for a time altoist with André Kostelanetz. Miller’s first big break came when he joined Ben Pollack’s band and although his trombone playing was eclipsed when Jack Teagarden arrived to play in the band. and despite a recording contract with Decca/US he failed to make any commercial impact in 1937 and once again disbanded. Like Benny Goodman. Glenn Miller was also involved with the formation of an American band for Ray Noble who. Ray Noble was. although unlike Jones. and like them he had come up against a wall of indifference. accompanied by singer Al Bowlly. In 1934 he became staff arranger for the newly-formed Dorsey Brother’s Orchestra and when this folded he arranged for Ozzie Nelson and the Casa Loma Orchestra. but it was really his song writing that propelled him to fame. It was during Miller’s time with the Dorsey Brother’s Orchestra that an arrangement-swapping agreement with the Ambrose Orchestra came into being. his arranging skills became sufficiently honed to ensure a reasonable future as a freelance orchestrator and musical director. Another musician who ran into trouble in 1937 with a band he had formed a year earlier was Artie Shaw. He was about the same age as Woody Herman and hailed from Connecticut. . At this time Glenn Miller was in some awe of the Ambrose band partly because it was commercially successful. A number of titles became minor hits. the band was not a success and Artie Shaw had to re-form as a conventional danceband. an accomplished composer. A spell in Chicago in the late 1920s brought him into contact with AfricanAmerican jazz musicians and this helped to form his playing style. He also studied theory and classical music part-time. Ray Noble tended to prefer the ‘sweet’ side of the musical spectrum. Woody Herman and Glenn Miller he wanted something more adventurous than the standard dance orchestra. but also because it had a specific ‘sound identity’ – the very thing that was proving so elusive in his own case.

preparing for a return to broadcasting on BBC airwaves and recording further programmes for Radio Luxembourg (pre-recorded programmes had run continuously on Luxembourg throughout the summer). shooting was due to start on Ambrose’s third film in mid-October. he was amazed to learn from Sid that Ambrose’s string section only comprised three fiddles. and Red Norvo (vibes). In addition to all this. but Ambrose was forced to find a permanent replacement for Joe Brannelly as band manager. and both his own orchestrations and those of his newly-hired arranger Jerry Gray sought to capitalise on the increasingly popular swing-style. And in the late autumn some earlyevening stage shows at London cinemas were planned. After a further serious difference of opinion developed towards the end of the year Joe accepted an offer from Jack Harris to become his band manager. Bandleaders whom Sid particularly admired at this time included Hal Kemp and Jimmie Lunceford. Leonard Feather observed that at one of these – The Famous Door – Sid was invited to play clarinet with an ad hoc band that included: Bunny Berigan and Bobby Hackett. He led what was essentially a large concert orchestra that included a number of jazz-oriented players and set the standard for rhythmic light music for over a decade. It wasn’t only danceband leaders and the big band fraternity that had formed a high opinion of Sid Phillips’ composing skills. Lunceford’s band had a profound effect on Sid’s approach to arranging for the Ambrose Orchestra when he resumed his duties as chief arranger early in 1938. In time the quarrel with Ambrose was healed. One number that Artie Shaw and Jerry Gray considered to be tops was Ambrose’s version of Caravan (composed by Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol). but Joe Brannelly never returned to the orchestra he had served so well for ten years. Bert Barnes temporarily took over Sid Phillips’ co-ordination duties in the arranging department. During his stay in America Sid Phillips met several major bandleaders through the good offices of Irving Mills and his associate Tom Rockwell (one of the most important band-booking agents in America). Relations between Joe and Ambrose had been under strain for some months. As we shall see later. (trumpets). Teddy Wilson (piano). Later. André Kostelanetz had a hugely popular weekly radio programme on the CBS network sponsored by Chesterfield Cigarettes and he popularised Sid’s composition Night Ride in the summer and autumn of 1937. Gene Krupa (drums). There was also a recording schedule for Decca to be undertaken after a break of almost two months. By the end of the year the band had taken-off. Artie Shaw was another American bandleader who held the Ambrose band in high esteem. He had listened to Ambrose’s transcription broadcasts the previous year and had been particularly impressed by the internal precision of the ensemble playing and use of strings (both being important to his own ambitions). which was in fact arranged by Bert Barnes and not Sid Phillips. primarily due to Evelyn Dall’s constant and unconcealed hostility towards Vera Lynn that Ambrose chose to ignore. Sid also met innumerable musicians . .session players and sidemen in top bands.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 188 Artie Shaw didn’t completely abandon an adventurous approach. Among his American admirers was André Kostelanetz. This job didn’t last long and subsequently he went into music publishing and band promotion work. While Sid Phillips was getting to grips with the American music scene the reformed Ambrose band was settling into the Café de Paris. Many of these frequented the after-hours jazz clubs on Manhattan’s 52nd Street.

but then Hollywood also churned-out ‘B-film’ musicals and ‘KICKING THE MOON AROUND’ is no worse than many of these.000]. somewhat oddly. Broadcast live on Saturdays between 10.Leslie Holmes). My Lost Love…Sam Browne Pancho’s Widow…Leslie Carew/Max Bacon Home Town…Sam Browne Time Signal…Instrumental The Shag…Evelyn Dall That Old Feeling…Sam Browne You’re Here You’re There You’re Everywhere…Vera Lynn It Looks Like Rain In Cherry Blossom Lane…Sam Browne Bomba Plays The Rumba…Evelyn Dall She’s My Lovely…Sam Browne Given the amount of material listed it seems that Ambrose was continuing to provide fast-paced fare with minimal continuity between numbers. Other personnel changes were outlined above. Only two other band members had speaking parts – Max Bacon and Leslie Carew. called: ‘THE SIGNATURE IS…’ Here’s a play-list for the show on Saturday 16th October 1937: Monopoly Swing…Instrumental Take Your Pick And Swing…Evelyn Dall Stardust On The Moon…Sam Browne Moonlight On The Waterfall…Vera Lynn A Message From Mars…Instrumental. . Even so. and the director Walter Forde who directed stage shows as well as films and had worked in America.000 now] this was a somewhat more ambitious project than the previous two efforts and was being undertaken by a different production company – Vogue Films.000 [£400.000] and Evelyn Dall’s £2.000. Donkey Serenade…Sam Browne The Big Apple…Evelyn Dall Barnyard Serenade…Instrumental All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm…Manhattan Trio.000 [£80. Vera Lynn now joined the vocal team on a permanent basis and the Manhattan Trio reengaged. the series was. Like all British musicals of the era this film in no way compares with the best that Hollywood had to offer. Hal Thompson and Edward Rigby. With a budget of £75. Ambrose’s new BBC radio show started in early October.30 and 11.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 189 Joe Brannelly’s role was taken-over by his assistant (and brother-in-law) Les Brannelly (real name . Co-starring with Evelyn Dall were Florence Desmond.000 [about £3. Maureen O’Hara (making her film debut) had a ‘cameo’ part. The producer was Herbert Wynne. Shooting for Ambrose’s third feature-length film ‘KICKING THE MOON AROUND’ commenced at Pinewood Studios in the first week of November and was scheduled to last for six weeks.a superb (though interrupted) rendition of the instrumental Night Ride is of most interest. American singer/comedian Harry Richman was the main guest star along with Ambrose. anyone hoping to see much of the Ambrose band in action would be disappointed . although he now had sufficient confidence to take care of announcements between numbers himself.30pm. Ambrose’s personal fee was £10.

By the end of 1937 the total number of Ambrose titles that had been released on the Brunswick/UK and Decca/UK labels (and all under the aegis of Decca) since 1933 was around 350 (175 records). Can I Forget You. Sympathy. As we shall see eventually. I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm. with a Harry Richman song cut from the later British releases. Message From Mars. Returning to the Ambrose band’s recording exploits we will consider a representative sample of Decca releases for the second half of 1937: [Vocal by Sam Browne…Hometown. Deep Henderson. Moonlight On The Waterfall. Neither the volume of these sales nor their worth in monetary terms can be discovered at the present time. It Looks Like Rain In Cherry Blossom Lane. In The Mountains Of The Moon. The original title for this film – ‘KICKING THE MOON AROUND’ – was adopted for the initial release in Britain. Smile When You Say Goodbye. Unfortunately for him. The Moon Got In My Eyes. Little Old Lady. This title was changed to ‘THE PLAYBOY’ for release in America and for revival releases in Britain after the war it was re-titled – ‘MILLIONAIRE MERRY-GO-ROUND’. The Toy Trumpet. [Instrumentals… Cotton Pickers’ Congregation. [Vocal by Evelyn Dall… It’s The Natural Thing To Do. It’s also worth noting that Ambrose had by this time acquired a substantial international reputation as a result of Decca’s world-wide sales policy. You’re Here You’re There You’re Everywhere. [Vocal by Vera Lynn… Keep Calling Me Sweetheart. There’s A Lull In My Life. This was the time that Ambrose’s releases in America reached their peak and it’s important to note that as the Swing Era accelerated towards eventual domination of the American popular music scene Ambrose’s instrumental recordings on Decca/US received more critical acclaim in the US than in the UK. Sing A Song Of London. [Vocal by the Manhattan Trio… Oh They’re Tough Mighty Tough In The West. US releases shown upright. Never In A Million Years.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 190 A five-man writing team worked on the film including Tom Geraghty and Roland Pertwee. outgoings continued to exceed what was coming in. Power House. the end of 1937 marked a significant point in Ambrose’s recording career with Decca. Twilight In Turkey. This was partly due to the enormous cost of the aggregation he presided over. but also exacerbated by his unremitting gambling habit and ultra-lavish lifestyle. However one thing is certain – Ambrose was among the very highest earners in British show business at this time. The length of the film also differs according to title. There is no way of determining which of Ambrose’s titles were really big hits in Britain due to the absence of record charts (except for the chart that Decca applied to its own artists and which assumed that a record was purchased for its ‘A’ side which was not always the case). Some deletions of 1933 Brunswick titles had occurred by 1937. You’ve Got To Blow Your Own Trumpet. The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot. but sales of all Decca titles remained sufficiently buoyant to justify the usual ‘three year availability’ criteria that major record companies adopted at the time. Michael Carr and Jimmy Kennedy provided a number of original songs and the arrangements for the Ambrose Orchestra and the incidental music were undertaken by Bert Barnes. Stardust On The Moon. .

record companies wanted quick results from their top artists – the companies’ immediate problems were usually of the short-term cash-flow type. The line-up resembled that of a typical swing band. . insistence) of its promoter Tom Rockwell. In the long run this neglect was commercially as well as artistically detrimental. Like the Casa Loma Orchestra this was a co-operative venture started by a nucleus of musicians who split from Ben Pollack’s band in 1935 due to a row over musical policy.e.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 191 The contribution that Sid Phillips made to Ambrose’s success as a recording artist is clear from the number of titles in previous lists that can be attributed to his arranging remit. but with featured solos played in New Orleans-style by Matlock (clarinet). To some extent this led to the association with Irving Mills. Rodin (tenor). by 1937 the Crosby band was using this style for most instrumental numbers and also some arrangements involving vocals.000 copies of Hors D’Oeuvres over ten years. Lawson (trumpet) and Harris (trombone) against backings played by the rest of the band.for example Dixieland Band (1935). 50. This resulted in a unique orchestral jazz style. Gil Rodin and Deane Kincaide. brass players Yank Lawson and Joe Harris and bass player Bob Haggart. because most of Ambrose’s recorded instrumental output sold modestly but steadily over a long period of time. Of course it could be argued that there was little point in recording an umpteenth cover version of Dippermouth Blues. however innovative the arrangement. or whatever. Sid Phillips certainly experienced a sense of frustration due to the ‘piling-up’ of his own compositions deemed suitable for publication but not released from ‘sole rights’ status because they had not been recorded. Of course as chief arranger Sid was continuing policies that had been formulated by Lew Stone and with which he would have been thoroughly familiar because the work of both arrangers for Ambrose overlapped. However. particularly as anecdotal evidence suggest that a significant number of these were outstanding. Even so. it was not until after Lew Stone finally severed his connection with Ambrose in 1932 that the possibility of recording some of the more jazz-oriented instrumental numbers in the band’s book arose.000 copies of Home James And Don’t Spare The Horses sold over ten months during 1935 was of much greater interest than the possibility of selling 50. Neither Bob Crosby’s baton waving nor crooning efforts were taken seriously by the band but he provided a focal point that musically-uneducated audiences seemed unable to do without. But only some! A glance at previous play-lists for broadcasts shows that many of Ambrose’s instrumental numbers were never commercially recorded. An American band that Sid Phillips particularly admired was the Bob Crosby Orchestra. less easy to justify is the failure to record the jazz-oriented numbers that were especially composed for the band. Significantly. Bob Crosby (Bing’s kid brother) was engaged to front the band on the recommendation (i. Sid had adopted a complementary style for some of his own arrangements for Ambrose . However. Accepting that this is a valid point of view. The band’s book contained many instrumental numbers arranged in a big-band Dixieland style. and eventually Ambrose agreed to the use of both the material he had commissioned from Sid and the Ambrose Orchestra (‘renamed’ Sid Phillips & His Band) for recording purposes. By the time the band secured its first engagement at the Roseland Ballroom in New York the line-up included reed players Matty Matlock.

(In 1937 the dynamic Kay Thompson went to Hollywood where her skills as an arranger. Helen Ward (Benny Goodman) and Edythe Wright (Tommy Dorsey) were well known to radio audiences and with the record-buying public. (Unlike in Britain.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 192 But it was something else connected with the Bob Crosby Orchestra that particularly attracted Sid’s attention. writer and vocal coach were put to good use over the following decade. Ever the realist. and the Boswell Sisters from the late 1920s until 1935. Mixed boy/girl vocal groups were somewhat rare in the 1930s but Kay Thompson’s Rhythm Singers were a highly popular group that set the standard for similar mixed groups then and later. On the female side solo artists like Mildred Bailey. Connie Boswell and Ethel Waters were achieving high artistic standards with quite routine material. like Louis Armstrong. Fats Waller and Jack Teagarden. In the spring of 1937 the aforementioned soloists and the rhythm section had formed a ‘band-within-a-band’. but he had died in a shooting accident in 1934. By 1931 Bing had left the Paul Whiteman band to pursue a solo career that had started with his own recording contract in the late-1920s. Bing wasn’t exactly a jazz singer but he had a feeling for jazz and the blues that influenced his output.) So far as vocal groups were concerned the Mills Brothers reigned supreme from the mid-1930s until the end of the decade. Bing owed his success to radio and records and his kind of relaxed informality depended on the use of a microphone. In some cases they were also instrumentalists. The 1937 Oscar was for Sweet Leilani from the film ‘WAIKIKI WEDDING’. Bob Crosby’s crooning was competent but not on a par with that of his brother Bing who set the standard for male band singers until the late 1930s. Even the Bob Crosby Orchestra occasionally resorted to a string section to provide backing for the vocalising of its leader and others in order to fulfil the terms of its recording contract with Decca/US. And band singers like Ivie Anderson (Duke Ellington). an eight-piece unit called the Bob Cats that was regularly featured during the main orchestra’s live appearances. Because so much of the output of Tin Pan Alley in the 1930s bore a relationship to jazz (even if once or several times removed) it was inevitable that genuine jazz singers would handle such material in a way that was particularly stylish. Their approach to music was essentially the same as jazz instrumentalists. One white male singer who came close to challenging Bing’s supremacy was Russ Columbo. Some of his best work in the early 1930s was backed by small groups of jazz musicians including guitarist Eddie Lang. Essentially though. the better-known band vocalists were usually named on record labels. It wasn’t only instrumental music that concerned Sid during his stay in America. After the mid-1930s the Andrews Sisters became increasingly popular and largely set the standard for all-girl vocal groups. he knew full well that vocal content and comedy routines were essential ingredients for the kind of commercial success that large orchestras had to achieve if they were to stay in business.) . usually aided and abetted by top jazz musicians. it was the hard-swinging smallish Dixieland combo that really claimed his devotion from this time on. Although Sid Phillips certainly didn’t abandon his interest in the development of swing music and the forms of ‘cool’ jazz that were just then starting to emerge. In 1937 he was awarded the first of four Academy Awards (Oscars) that would come his way over the years.

My Funny Valentine. Here are the most notable: Blue Turning Grey Over You. But for Sid such a move wasn’t really on. The twelve-piece band at the Café de Paris was mostly in the charge of Ernie Lewis with Ambrose making occasional and usually brief appearances. I’ll Take Romance.the opportunities to do so were there in abundance. would remain relatively undiminished. For this show Ambrose hired a male voice choir to sing a selection of Christmas carols. And for Sid. America had everything to offer except the one thing that he loved almost as much as music – cricket. Johnny One Note. Frances Day and Gracie Fields. The next day a pre-recorded ‘SPECIAL GALA PROGRAMME’ was broadcast on Radio Luxembourg. From this time on a combination of personal. Saturday evening broadcasts continued with Vera Lynn now regularly featured. On The Sentimental Side. They Can’t Take That Away. Gone With The Wind. however. and no doubt the rest of the programme was appropriately festive. Back in Britain during the final weeks of 1937 Ambrose completed his filming schedule and made preparations for a number of special one-nighters including a charity ball at the Royal Albert Hall. Sail Along Silvery Moon. On Christmas Day 1937 Ambrose’s BBC radio show was scheduled for the slot immediately preceding the King’s Christmas broadcast. life without cricket was as unthinkable as life without music! The hits of 1937 included.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 193 Sid’s American experiences had a potential significance for the Ambrose Orchestra because of his position within that orchestra and his relationship with its leader. Her contributions to the Sunday evening Radio Luxembourg shows were now also on a weekly basis. financial and health problems – and general circumstances beyond his control – would coalesce and rob Ambrose of his supreme personal position in the danceband firmament. I Can Dream Can’t I. Nice Work If You Can Get It. The end of 1937 also brought to a close the peak years of Ambrose’s band leading career. I Double Dare You. Things Are looking Up. Whispers In The Dark. Gypsy In my Soul. Bob White. The reputation of his magnificent 1930s orchestra. Can I Forget You. many that Ambrose didn’t record but which may have been featured in broadcasts and live performances. Not the conclusion of the story by any means. I Wish I Were In Love Again. including lucrative offers from Irving Mills and Paul Whiteman. In The Still Of The Night. Only two of the vocal team – Sam Browne and Vera Lynn – sang with the band at the Café de Paris on a regular basis until the end of the year. Moon Of Manakoora. Since September the band had been in residence at the Café de Paris and apart from the usual music for dancing support had to be provided for the nightly cabaret that was a feature of that venue. I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck. and must have attracted his biggest ever listening audience. The Folks Who Live On the Hill. Artists appearing there during Ambrose’s tenure included Marlene Dietrich. They All Laughed. but the end of the most rewarding phase. That relationship might have been severed had Sid opted to continue working in America . as usual. Any doubts that Ambrose may have had about engaging Vera on a fulltime basis had disappeared and by the time the record on which she sang The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot became a big hit in the run-up to Christmas he was already planning a major role for her in his next touring show. . You’re A Sweetheart. Wake Up And Live.

Vera was now required to join Evelyn Dall and a small show band that would tour variety theatres in the London area until Easter. At this time it was somewhat unusual for a band to retain two full-time female vocalists but as we shall see the contrasting singing styles of Evelyn and Vera soon became an additional popular feature. although he did not travel around with it. Apart from Evelyn and Vera. Since joining the orchestra full-time in the autumn of 1937 Vera had become very popular very fast. and he certainly didn’t delay in taking full advantage of the fact despite the objections of Evelyn. but all that is known about her is her first name – June. although he did agree to undertake some work on a casual basis. With Sid Phillips still in America.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 194 V 1938-1940 As the penultimate year of the ‘thirties began Bert Ambrose at the age of forty-two entered his third decade as a bandleader. As an interim measure Ambrose hired two promising young vocalists . who had once again teamed-up with Elsie Carlisle for a variety tour. . A girl vocalist also appeared regularly at the Café de Paris in place of Vera Lynn. Comedy routines were written by Ray Sonin and the musical arrangements were by Bert Barnes (who headed the arranging team during Sid’s absence). It was because of this dual role for members of the sextet and because broadcasts over the BBC airwaves went out live that the variety tour had to be restricted to the London area. and Alan Marsh for regular broadcasting work. and of course Max Bacon and Les Carew were featured in the comedy routines that were deemed to be an essential part of these tours. and the fact that she didn’t stay very long. One urgent task during the first week of January was to find a replacement for Sam Browne.Alan Kane to work at the Café de Paris. Once the New Year festivities were out of the way he concerned himself with preparations for the year ahead. Another attempt to hire Al Bowlly came to nothing. The band that supported the stage show at this time had the following line-up: THE AMBROSE SWING SEXTET Tommy McQuater (trumpet) Leslie Carew (trombone/+vocals) Danny Polo (clarinet/saxes) Bobby McGee (piano) Tiny Winters (bass) Max Bacon (drums/+vocals) All the members of this group joined with members of the band at the Café de Paris to form the full orchestra that was used for broadcasting purposes. the Three Admirals (aka the Manhattan Trio) took part in the stage show. Ambrose was obliged to formulate and direct this stage show personally. and eventually set a precedent to be copied by other bands. and also contribute to regular studio broadcasts with the main band. a point not lost on Ambrose.

This series. and were identical in format to the ‘MORNING NOON & NIGHT’ programmes that started in 1936. scheduled to last until Easter. In parallel with the BBC broadcasts the Sunday evening half-hour shows continued on Radio Luxembourg.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 195 The band that played at the Café de Paris had the following line-up:AMBROSE & HIS ORCHESTRA Bert Ambrose (violin/+leader) Ernie Lewis (violin/+deputy) Max Goldberg (trumpet) Eric Breeze (trombone) Joe Jeanette (alto/clarinet/flute/+arranger) Billy Amstell (tenor/clarinet) Bert Barnes (piano/+arranger) Albert Harris (guitar) Ralph Phillips (bass) Jack Simpson (drums) Alan Kane/June ? (vocals) Personnel shown above in bold type joined with members of the sextet to form the augmented orchestra (Jack Simpson switching to timpani/xylophone and two violins being added). The Bells Of St Mary’s…Vera Lynn On Linger Longer Island…Manhattan Three Nice Work if You Can Get It…Evelyn Dall Remember Me…Alan Marsh True Confession…Vera Lynn Some time during this series of broadcasts Al Bowlly is known to have participated in at least one programme as guest artist. A weekly series of live broadcasts from the BBC’s Maida Vale studios started in mid-January. Ambrose had once again secured the much coveted Saturday 5-6pm slot on the National Programme. . Here’s the play-list for 15th January 1938: The Snake Charmer…Instrumental. These were recorded at the IBC studios in Baker Street at intervals of roughly sixweeks. Roses In December…Alan Marsh The Gypsy In My Soul…Evelyn Dall The Lonesome Trail…Manhattan Three Silvery Moon And Golden Sands…Vera Lynn Washington Squabble…Instrumental Red Riding Hood…Max Bacon Hear My Song…Alan Marsh/Manhattan Three Popcorn Man…Evelyn Dall Monopoly Swing…Instrumental You Are My Lucky Star…Josephine Houston (guest artist) We Like Eliza… Manhattan Three. was called ‘AN HOUR TO PLAY’.

particularly in the press. An accelerating rearmament programme had to be paid for and given the worsening international situation there were now fewer complaints about this than had previously been the case. . and subsequently Ambrose’s broadcasts on European radio stations were one-off or shortseries events. As can be seen from the play-list. The number of listeners tuning-in to Ambrose’s BBC National Programme broadcasts is not known but given their peak transmission times it was probably in excess of fifteen million. and the band was really there to provide backing for the vocal numbers and comedy routines. If radio listeners were obliged to tolerate some of what they didn’t appreciate. For these less demanding (and less lucrative) cinema shows a revised programme was used. except during the half-hour cabaret slot when Ernie Lewis took over unless somebody important was appearing. along with other West End nightspots. Then as now most consumers of popular music preferred songs and had little interest in instrumental virtuosity.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 196 These radio Luxembourg shows continued until the summer of 1938. the stage show switched to cine-variety. Mary’s…Vera Lynn/Three Admirals Swing High Swing Low…Evelyn Dall Later. was beginning to lose money. the same cannot be said for variety theatre audiences. Both parts of the tour were highly successful and once again Ambrose had confirmed his credentials as a presenter of popular stage shows. probably minus the comedy routines. starting at the Gaumont-State (Kilburn) and finishing at the Granada (Tooting) towards the end of March. The stage show commenced in mid-January with a week at the Holborn Empire. One important guest that season was Gracie Fields. there was no shortage of instrumental numbers. Ambrose was well aware of this and anyone hoping to sample the jazz potential of the Ambrose Swing Sextet would have come away substantially disappointed. Not long after her appearance the cabaret was temporarily dispensed with because the Café de Paris. exchanging her usual comedy role for that of a night club torch singer. Only one instrumental number would be included in each stage show. but rather a longer-term trend due to increased taxation that particularly affected the upper classes in the late 1930s. then went to Finsbury Park and subsequently other London venues. Around this time she was reputedly the highest-paid film actress in the world and had just completed a stint in Hollywood. At the Café de Paris Ambrose resumed fronting the band on violin. Here’s a typical programme: Rhythm Makes You Feel Good…Evelyn Dall 12th Street Rag…Instrumental With All My Heart…Vera Lynn Callaway Went Thataway…Leslie Carew/Max Bacon/Evelyn Dall Crazy Rhythm… Three Admirals Red Riding Hood {monologue}…Max Bacon The Bells Of St. The BBC ruling that at least one number in every three should be an instrumental didn’t seem to be rigidly applied to studio-based danceband programmes. And this wasn’t just one of those temporary downturns in trade that occurred every so often.

It wasn’t only West End nightspots that were feeling the pinch. But the record companies were really interested in quick profits. One way of reducing the squeeze on profit margins was to seek reductions in the royalties paid to recording artists. British record companies were also suffering a downturn in trade and consequently seeking to reduce their production costs. Ambrose had good reasons for delegating so much responsibility to Sid Phillips. These didn’t enjoy massive quick sales but were nevertheless good earners over several years. . As he was unlikely to get a better deal from the other major British record company (EMI). To compensate for the loss of the cabaret Ambrose brought Evelyn Dall back to the Café de Paris when the stage show ended its tour. but categorically refused the management’s request to cut the size of the band. This was the situation faced by Ambrose when his contract with Decca/UK expired at the end of 1937. together with a number of re-issues. Some of these costs were rising as a direct result of the rearmament programme and could only be compensated for by raising the price of records.he simply had to preside over the best band in the world…and so on and so forth. During the first half of 1938 only a few titles held-over from previous recording sessions were released. Also. This in turn led to reduced sales. Sid Phillips returned to the Ambrose Orchestra in mid-February after six months in America. For the next three years Sid would devote much of his professional life to ensuring the success of the Ambrose band. particularly in the case of artists earning high royalties. with Ambrose it was a case of ‘all-or-nothing’ . Joe’s replacement was his assistant and protégé Les Brannelly (Leslie Holmes). Unfortunately. Ambrose immediately confirmed Sid’s position as chief arranger and virtual second-in-command. including the Embassy Club. It wasn’t the day-today running of the band that suffered but rather the band manager’s crucial role liaising between band members and the leader. This was the kernel of Ambrose’s argument when Decca asked him to accept reduced royalties as part of his new contract. Matters really came to a head after the departure of his band manager Joe Brannelly in the autumn of 1937. and remain available for freelance composing and arranging commissions. At this time Ambrose had around 175 records listed in the Decca/UK catalogue. Ambrose was in danger of pricing himself out of the category of recording he valued the most. Ambrose merely prolonged negotiations with Decca. Some of these dated back to the pre-1934 Brunswick era and most were selling well above the criteria set by Decca for deletion. Now Ambrose’s pre-1938 royalties were fixed by his contract and couldn’t be reduced at the whim of Decca. These reasons related to personal.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 197 Some establishments were obliged to temporarily close-down. but Les was only twenty-one and too inexperienced at this time to be a really effective ‘straw boss’. If this wasn’t done it suggests that the company was still making reasonable profits. he would continue to lead small ad-hoc bands under his own name for broadcasting and recording purposes. The company could however raise the aforementioned threshold. financial and health problems. particularly when their contracts came-up for renewal. One problem arising from Ambrose’s relatively high royalties related to his less commercial output – essentially the jazz-oriented instrumentals. In Ambrose’s case the threshold figure was quite high because his royalties were high and the profit margins relatively low. largely hidden from public view but nevertheless making it difficult for him to continue shouldering all the heavy responsibilities that had come his way. but meanwhile did not make any new records.

most did at one time or another and some on a regular basis. All this was really a break-down in band management and something that an effective band manager might well have smoothed over. Ambrose fired him in February for infringing the new ruling. Without exception during the 1930s Ambrose’s sidemen were regarded as ‘first-call’ sessioners and although there may have been those who didn’t take advantage of the fact. The incident was sparked by an evening broadcast on the BBC National Programme by a band playing under the name of a prominent arranger. Ambrose decided that in order to protect his interests some kind of curb would have to put on certain types of session work. but an incident that posed a threat to the very existence of high-quality full-time bands…or so he believed. What upset Ambrose early in 1938 wasn’t the participation of his sidemen in traditional session work. The programme had been recorded at a day-time session and the band just happened to include a number of Ambrose’s star soloists. Archer Street was essentially an outdoor employment exchange for freelance and out-of-work musicians. . Regular work such as playing nightly at a venue was also specified. had fulfilled this function with consummate skill and until the disasters of 1937 the Ambrose band was essentially a happy band. Ambrose was well aware of all this and actually made use of the very same service to augment his own band. broadcasting and recording sessions and any special jobs. This schedule was issued in advance and contained information regarding times and locations for such things as rehearsals. Operating in parallel with this ‘open’ system of casual employment was another less publicised arrangement for top-ranking musicians available for session work. Gracie Fields at a recording session why should Ambrose object? And in such cases he never did.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 198 Joe Brannelly. This was even less likely to succeed than a partial ban because there was no way it could be enforced. played drums in a band specially formed to back. Early in 1938 it suddenly became an unhappy band due to Ambrose’s inept handling of a problem that was essentially insoluble – ‘moonlighting’. but most were in full-time employment. The important thing is that traditionally session musicians remained anonymous. These ‘first-call’ musicians were so good that their services were always in demand. Provided band members complied with the schedule the rest of the time was their own and many used whatever spare time they had to undertake session work. with his Irish-American charm. so relations between the leader and his sidemen became strained. say. For the present no logical solution could be found. There was only one casualty in Ambrose’s war against ‘moonlighting’ – trombonist Eric Breeze. Unfortunately. They were not obliged to hang around Archer Street in the hope of obtaining session work – the work came to them via a number of specialist ‘fixers’. in his own spare time Max Bacon. Somehow their names became known to a show business correspondent who included them in a review of the broadcast in a national newspaper. In London. this proved to be unachievable and subsequently Ambrose imposed a total ban on all outside work undertaken without his permission. Some of these were genuine freelance musicians. Eric was very popular with the other musicians. Ambrose paid each of his full-time sidemen a negotiated weekly wage in return for which they worked to a schedule that complied with Musicians’ Union conditions. If. say. this kind of work was mainly sought by genuine free-lance musicians who congregated in Archer Street in the West End and negotiated for jobs with ‘fixers’ sent by whoever required their services.

Vera Lynn. *Indicates members of the band at the Café de Paris. ** Occasional additions. He wanted to spend some time in America developing his jazz technique. . Here’s the eventual line-up: AMBROSE & HIS ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Bert Ambrose (+violin)* Max Goldberg (trumpet)* Tommy McQuater (trumpet) Archie Craig (trumpet)* George Chisholm (trombone) Leslie Carew (trombone/+vocals) Woolf Phillips (trombone/+arranger)* Danny Polo (alto/clarinet/baritone)* Joe Jeanette (alto/clarinet/flute/+arranger)* Billy Amstell (tenor/clarinet)* Teddy White (tenor/clarinet/+arranger) Sid Phillips (baritone/bass clarinet)** Bert Read (piano/+arranger)* Eddie Lisbona (piano/accordion/+arranger) Ivor Mairants (guitar)* Jimmy Miller (guitar/piano/+vocals) Tiny Winters (bass)* Max Bacon (drums/+vocals) Jimmy Blades (timpani/xylophone/+drums)* Ernie Lewis (violin/+deputy)* Bill Manus (violin)* Billy Miller (violin) Norman Cole (violin/+vocals) [2 violas]** Evelyn Dall. Art Strauss. Eric Breeze merely transferred his talents to Jack Harris’ band…the very band that he had been ‘moonlighting’ with! Eric Breeze wasn’t the only band member requiring a replacement as spring approached. Stanley Black Reeds: Rhythm: Strings: Vocals: Arrangers: Personnel underlined comprised the stage show band. Drummer/percussionist Jack Simpson also left to resume freelancing. although in his case the parting of the ways was amicable. Alan Marsh Sid Phillips (chief) Bert Barnes. A general restructuring of the orchestra was initiated by Sid Phillips in the early summer of 1938. Alan Kane.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 199 Further carnage was avoided by the reappearance of Sid Phillips who after taking charge of the day-to-day running of the band chose to ignore Ambrose’s strictures and much of the former harmony was restored. Another change involved Bert Barnes who relinquished his performing duties but remained on the arranging team. Guitarist Albert Harris announced his intention to leave the band in late March.

He had also become.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 200 Before examining the structure of the orchestra and the thinking behind its formation we shall briefly consider the newcomers: Archie Craig’s background before joining Ambrose remains unknown other than that he left his native Scotland around 1936 and may have worked briefly for bandleader Teddy Joyce. George later recalled: ‘At first. I did – almost to the day’. The fact that Eric Breeze left the brass section around the same time was just a coincidence. Joe Loss and Jack Hylton. Woolf had gained valuable experience with top bands including those of Harry Roy. For the next two years he supplemented his meagre earnings in jazz clubs by undertaking session work. On leaving school he worked in several local dance bands including the Glasgow Playhouse Ballroom Orchestra. clarinettist and sax player who had lived and worked in Vienna until Hitler’s take-over of Austria in the spring of 1938. a highly competent arranger and when not required for band duties assisted Sid and Bert Barnes with orchestration tasks. Ambrose snapped him up and he joined the stage show band on clarinet and also played second tenor/clarinet in the main orchestra. He also became part of the arranging team and over the next two years contributed several original compositions to the band’s book. He arrived in Britain completely penniless. Teddy White was a British-born bandleader. with a very puzzled look on his face. Woolf later reminisced: ‘That first time with Ambrose…well I was just a kid and just couldn’t handle the pressure. funnily enough. along with all his money. It was while jamming at this venue with the likes of Fats Waller and Coleman Hawkins that George came to the attention of Benny Carter. Benny Carter. and said: “Come back and see me in a couple of years time”…which. who happened to be in Ambrose’s office at the time. overheard this and recommended George. Ambrose gave him a generous advance and the band had a whipround and presented him with a new set of musical instruments. under his older brother Sid’s tutelage. Everything went fine at rehearsals…just like being back in Teddy Joyce’s Juvenile Band…but that first night up on the stage at the Lewisham Hippodrome I went to pieces and just pretended to play. Two years on. winked. and asked: “Was that good?”’ Of course it was very good indeed. Ambrose wasn’t sure what to expect and after my first solo effort he turned to Ivor Mairants. Apart from his duties as guest arranger for the BBC Dance Orchestra. . Woolf Phillips had briefly played in the brass section early in 1936 after Ted Heath’s departure but had lacked sufficient confidence to play in such a high-powered section – despite encouragement and coaching from fellow trombonist Tony Thorpe. to bribe his way out of Austria. But not friendless…he was well known in British jazz circles and a personal friend of Sid Phillips and Danny Polo. Benny was putting together an ad hoc group for recording purposes and a European tour. George participated in both activities along with a number of Ambrose’s sidemen. and George soon became a key contributor to the revised ‘Ambrose sound’ that Sid Phillips sought to create. composer. In the mid-1930s he came to London and successfully auditioned for a place in Duncan Whyte’s jazz group at the Nest Club. his original collection having been used. When Lew Davis left the trombone section at the end of 1937 Ambrose ordered his ‘fixer’ to: ‘Go out and get me the best jazz trombonist available…regardless of cost’. He certainly played in Soho jazz clubs and it was probably on Tommy McQuater’s recommendation that Ambrose hired him. Ambrose soon cottoned-on to the situation…stuffed a wad of pound notes into my top pocket. George Chisholm was born in Glasgow in 1915 and started to learn the trombone in his early ‘teens after hearing Jack Teagarden on records.

Also. Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter. In 1929 he won a Melody Maker arranging competition and subsequently freelanced as an arranger and jazz pianist. but otherwise played timpani and xylophone. of course. Apart from Benny Carter’s brief contributions in 1936 the most interesting arrangements in Hall’s repertoire were the result of Bert’s efforts. In the band at the Café de Paris he played drums in place of Max Bacon. Stanley Black was born in 1913 and started to learn piano at the age of seven. Later he worked in the bands of Lew Stone and Harry Roy as well as recording with Louis Armstrong. Eddie Lisbona had been contributing original material to Ambrose’s comedy repertoire since 1935 and now took on the dual role of second pianist in the concert orchestra and co-pianist/accordionist in the stage show band. Both had been child prodigies. he got his first big break in 1929 in Percival Mackay’s band in which he played banjo. He spent some time in New York and then came to Britain in the mid-1930s to work as a composer. and both learned to sing. His talents as a composer. He was a Canadian who after completing his musical studies worked as a violinist with various bands and orchestrator for bandleader Percy Faith. In the main orchestra Jimmy Miller played second guitar and his brother became part of the augmented string section. Jimmy Blades was a classically-trained percussionist and self-taught jazz drummer who worked mainly in theatre orchestras before joining Ambrose. His primary contribution to the ‘Ambrose sound’ of the late 1930s was the way he scored for strings and reeds and will be discussed later. . On leaving school they turned to rhythmic music and comedy routines and became a double act working in variety and occasionally with local dance bands. In Ambrose’s stage show band Jimmy played piano and guitar. Greatly influenced by Eddie Lang. was a fine jazz soloist as well as rhythm player. and then joined Roy Fox with whom he remained until switching to Ambrose’s band. In 1931 he switched to a band playing at the New Princes Restaurant. Later. At the age of eleven he won a scholarship to the Matthay School of Music where he studied piano and composition. Bill Manus had played in Ambrose’s string section on an ad hoc basis for a number of years and now joined the full-time core of violinists. as well as providing arrangements for the full orchestra. In the mid-1930s he spent some time in South America playing and studying Latin American music. Jimmy and Billy Miller originally came from Aberdeen. Art Strauss joined the arranging team on a part-time basis. Jimmy on piano and Billy on violin. and when she got her own Decca recording contract in mid-1938 he often functioned as her musical director and arranger. It was while they were appearing in variety in Glasgow around 1936 that Jack Hylton spotted them and offered them a place in his touring show. like Albert Harris. and back with Ambrose it soon became clear his credibility as a jazz-inspired pianist remained intact. songwriter and orchestrator continued to be put to good use. spent six years with the band before leaving in 1934 to join Henry Hall’s BBC Dance Orchestra. He had. Ivor Mairants was a guitar player who.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 201 Bert Read’s return to the Ambrosian fold came as something of a surprise when it became known. and both men took part in some of the comedy routines. songwriter and freelance musical director. Jimmy took-up the guitar. he orchestrated most of Vera Lynn’s numbers with the Ambrose band.

the trends that influenced its formation. It was the need to cover this cost that now had priority.the Ambrose Octet and the Ambrose Swing Band. It was a neat solution to several problems. Since taking-up the residency the previous September. So too was the cost – approximately £50. .000 [about £2. that he was content to delegate the day-to-day running of the orchestra to others and concentrate on the business side. but because they did function after a fashion a consideration of ‘things as they might have been’ seems permissible. The notion. ‘sweet’ and ‘funny’ in equal measure. And there is just about sufficient recorded evidence to prove the point. But that’s not all – and here it gets a bit complicated! Both units would be organised and led by Sid Phillips and. We. and the means of doing so that claimed most of Ambrose’s attention from this time on. venue. however. but due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control only partially successful. although as in the stage show band. Ambrose had received several complaints that the band was playing too loud…but was now adding three players! There were. Ambrose had put together such orchestras before but full-time players had never formed such a large proportion as in the current outfit. of course. The line-up of the stage show band was somewhat unusual but of course it functioned mainly as a backing unit for the vocalists and comedy routines and so was obliged to play ‘hot’. and stage show outfits detailed above Ambrose also intended to form two special units . prevalent in some historical accounts. In the concert orchestra they functioned as second pianist and second guitarist respectively. Little wonder. It was what for convenience we might call a ‘concert’ orchestra. can leave Ambrose with his commercial headaches and indulge our interest in the structure of the orchestra.000 now] over the 1938/39 financial year. consequences and these will be considered later. Both would comprise top jazz soloists from within the ranks of the main orchestra and the same four-piece rhythm section. The way in which the stage show and residency bands could split from the main orchestra without the need for any substitution was particularly neat. These two groups were intended mainly for broadcasting and recording purposes (although live appearances were not ruled out) and their purpose was to present jazz and swing music in a more adventurous way than was commercially possible with the regular Ambrose orchestra.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 202 The wealth of musical talent contained within the Ambrose orchestra was truly awesome. then. Given that there was no bass and that Max Bacon had to leave the drum stool to take part in the comedy routines the primary rhythm function must at times have devolved onto pianists Eddie Lisbona and Jimmy Miller. Eddie Lisbona made occasional contributions on accordion. the nature of its output and how this compared with that of rival outfits …all in a nutshell of course! Firstly. that Ambrose intentionally inhibited the progress of jazz in pre-war Britain can’t really be justified given his (and Sid Phillips’) initiatives in the summer of 1938. logically sound. double as recording and broadcasting outfits…under his own name. Apart from the concert. it should be noted that the entire twenty-four piece line-up shown above was only intended to come into existence on special occasions. The problems that arose due to the existence of these two special groups will become apparent later. However the twelve-piece band allocated to the Café de Paris was really too big for the requirements of that establishment as its management was quick to point out.000. moreover.

There is also a great deal of significance in the fact that Sid Phillips was aware of both outfits during his American trip. Edwin Wilcox (piano) and Henry Wells (trombone). By this time. He grew-up in Cleveland. being himself a music graduate who. guitar. and also his admiration for Jimmie Lunceford. Ohio where his father was an organist and choirmaster. three trombones. His first full-time job was teaching music in a Memphis high school where he formed a student jazz band that played local gigs and showed sufficient promise for Jimmie to contemplate launching it as a full-time outfit. While still a child he learned to play piano and violin and after completing his elementary education was sent to a high school in Denver. In 1933 he brought the band to New York having secured an engagement at the Lafayette Theatre where it was an instant success. studied theory and orchestration at City College. No surprise then that the ‘big band’ element in Ambrose’s reformed orchestra in the summer of 1938 had exactly the same configuration as the Lunceford band – three trumpets. Sy Oliver was absolutely right for this kind of band. he had mastered the entire sax family and was able to supplement his income by playing in various jazz bands. clarinet. Jimmie worked in his spare time for a local dance orchestra. in between playing in Alphonso Trent’s touring band. Sid was struck by the fact that the ‘Lunceford sound’ was based on a two-beat medium tempo swing that was ideal for both large and small bands. In 1934 Irving Mills became the band’s manager and put it into the Cotton Club. he won a music scholarship to Fisk University. After a successful series of radio broadcasts in Memphis the band went out on the road. and standard rhythm. taught composition and orchestration at Ohio State University. Sid’s fascination with the Bob Cats was certainly significant. after graduating from high school. While there. New York. flute. and alto sax to the list of instruments on which he was proficient. It won’t be necessary to outline his consummate arranging skills or the excellence of the Lunceford band – the evidence is there a ‘plenty in the form of currently available recordings. Nashville from which he graduated in 1927. Although stylistically different. Subsequently. the mid-1920s.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 203 The prototypes for the two dual-purpose bands that Ambrose/Phillips intended to bring into occasional use were the Bob Cats (an off-shoot of the Bob Crosby band) and the Jimmie Lunceford band. By the early 1930s it was doing quite well although by this time complete control had been handed-over to Jimmie. Recording and broadcasting contracts followed and New York became the base for what was now called the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. he added trombone. For the first few years this co-operative band was called the Chickasaw Syncopators. Colorado. This came to fruition when three ex-Fisk students – all music graduates – went into partnership with Jimmy.Willie Smith (reeds). The same year an African-American trumpeter by the name of Sy Oliver joined the band and he soon became its principal arranger. five saxophones. With the encouragement of Wilber Whiteman (Paul’s father and music advisor to the Denver School Board) Jimmie. namely . . both outfits had certain rhythmic characteristics in common and for this reason the choice in each case was not unconnected. Apart from playing in the high school orchestra. James Lunceford was born into a middle class African-American family in 1902.

In both respects it was a big step in the right direction. or partly for business. Essentially. Guest performers included Bobby Hackett (trumpet).KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 204 Towards the end of Sid Phillips’ stay in America there occurred one of those events in the history of popular music that has to be labelled ‘highly significant’. Apart from proving that the presentation of an authentic form of jazz could fill a major venue. Benny Goodman. Apart from Goodman’s pivotal role on clarinet major contributions were made by his own star soloists. It was past. of course. Sunday (occasionally Friday) broadcasts continued on Radio Luxembourg. leaving Ernie Lewis to front the band at the Café de Paris. Shortly after returning to Britain in early February 1938 Sid Phillips outlined his American experiences in the Melody Maker. requiring a staggering thirteen million records each year. Ambrose took four weeks vacation. rather than mere variations in popular dance music. and most of the major (mostly white) bands that dominated the Swing Era were still obliged to base much of their output on the pop music of the day. The reason for subterfuge (if there actually was any) may have been to avoid speculation that he might relocate his career in America due to the worsening international situation. Count Basie’s sax player Lester Young and the Count himself on piano. Duke Ellington.) While Sid Phillips worked on the reconstruction of the orchestra in May 1938. Ellington’s sax men Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney. he actually made his way to America via a French port. present and future rolled into one. Although Ambrose was supposedly on a golfing holiday somewhere in France. The purpose of this trip is not known but may well have been entirely for pleasure. In fact this was to be Ambrose’s last visit to the United States until after the war. including Harry James (trumpet) Gene Krupa (drums). Lionel Hampton (vibes) and Teddy Wilson (piano). Sid also told Leonard Feather that a number of radio stations in the New York area had half-hour programmes comprising selections from Ambrose’s recorded output. By this time Ambrose’s studio-based Saturday afternoon BBC shows had come to an end. but there is no doubt that from this time on big band and small group jazz came to be recognised as distinct art forms. . Neither did it escape Sid’s attention that Ambrose enjoyed considerable success on the jukebox circuit (by the late 1930s there were around a quarter of a million jukeboxes operating throughout the United States. but these were. Whether this was sufficient to justify Goodman’s ‘King of Swing’ tag is debatable. this concert also consolidated Goodman’s anti-segregationist stance – at least so far as performers were concerned. but on the whole commercial considerations demanded a degree of compromise. Count Basie and others capitalised on the possibilities that this presented. and was therefore a commercial proposition. and that record show presenters (later called ‘disc jockeys’) on local radio frequently played Ambrose titles. This is what he had to say about the band that his arranging talents were so closely associated with: ‘Everywhere I went people said how much they thought about the Ambrose Orchestra…many musicians rated it as tops…Bobby Hackett told me he had worn-out five records of Streamline Strut…Hal Kemp admitted that he transcribed many of Ambrose’s recordings note-fornote… Paul Whiteman asked whether I could persuade Ambrose to send-over a number of arrangements to use on his radio shows’. pre-recorded. This was the concert held at Carnegie Hall in mid-January 1938 in which Benny Goodman’s orchestra teamed-up with leading jazz performers from outside the orchestra to present a programme of music that encapsulated the very essence of jazz and swing.

Ambrose reluctantly agreed and as he counted-in the band the King and Queen took to the dance floor – the very thing that Ambrose had dreaded. of course.) Although George had long since given-up the dedicated debauchery that. Like other purveyors of fine commodities to the Royal Household. Ambrose had presided over a number of similar events in the ornate palace ballroom and was now firmly established as a Royal favourite. The Duke.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 205 On his return to Britain at the end of May. Now the notion that a vocalist might perform at a Royal ball was not just radical it was completely unprecedented. had other ideas – and so too did the Duke of Kent. However that’s precisely what George did suggest to Ambrose. along with his other brother Edward (now Duke of Windsor). hoping no doubt that he would not have to put her on the stand and cause offence to those with the power to wreck the society side of his business. And he was particularly intrigued by Evelyn Dall – both as a person and a performer. Anything that might improve them was worth a try. the Duke of Kent was a talented jazz pianist – or so Ambrose maintained. it wouldn’t have gone unnoticed in certain quarters that the band in question had a significant Jewish contingent – a not insignificant ‘coded message’ around this time. he retained an interest in jazz in general and the Ambrose band in particular.chief confidant of the King and Queen. Evelyn Dall had been appearing there nightly since early April but now had to switch to the stage show. The regular vocalist at the Café de Paris was still Alan Kane. One special event that would normally have passed with little or no publicity was the Royal Derby Ball that took place at Buckingham Palace in early June. However. The ‘stage manager’ of the proposed incident was Prince George. Even a seemingly trivial incident might indicate something that couldn’t be expressed directly – Royal acceptance of natural American exuberance (some would say vulgarity) within the hallowed walls of Buckingham Palace. had no idea that everything was going according to plan! . Moreover. (Actually. Weekly late-night broadcasts from the Café de Paris commenced in early June and this coincided with the launch of another stage show tour. Former Duke Ellington vocalist Adelaide Hall. had been a denizen of the Embassy Club and also like Edward had participated in the after-hours jam sessions that Ambrose regularly organised for a bevy of Royal would-be jazz musicians. Ambrose faced a particularly heavy summer schedule. At some stage in the proceedings he came over to the bandstand and insisted that it was time for Evelyn to do her number. temporarily replaced Evelyn as featured vocalist. once dominated his life. Given the worsening international situation Anglo-American relations were now of paramount importance. Since providing the music for the Coronation Ball in May 1937. Ambrose benefited only indirectly because such services were by tradition rendered gratis. Duke of Kent . and of course a Royal suggestion was equivalent to a Royal command. Other messages also needed to be put into code in the summer of 1938. however. He. who had settled in Britain and was currently appearing in cabaret at the Florida Club. Ambrose’s band was the first danceband to play at the palace. unknown to the public-at-large. and this particular change was just one of many indicating that some long-established cobwebs were being swept away in Royal circles. Ambrose fussed and fretted but had to take Evelyn along. Prior to this military bands had been used. the indirect benefits were significant in Ambrose’s case because the Royal connection enabled him to charge premium rates for other High Society gigs. Evelyn.

and when she finished singing and the band stopped playing there was deadly silence throughout the ballroom (Ambrose later confessed that it felt as though the bandstand floor was opening up). To her it was no different than if she were on stage at the Holborn Empire – what you saw and heard was what you got…like it or lump it! Many didn’t like it. carrying headlines like: AMERICAN CROONER WOWS REVELLERS AT BRIT KING’S KNEES-UP. Sid was particularly pleased with the eight-piece band that supported the show. On reaching home she confided to her diary: Tonight I witnessed a most vulgar spectacle…and at the Palace of all places! Ambrose. The contrasting vocal styles of Evelyn Dall and Vera Lynn that had been a noted feature of Ambrose’s BBC winter broadcasts proved to be equally popular on stage and the vocal contributions of newcomers Jimmy Miller and Norman Cole also got good reviews. Those in-the-know could congratulate themselves – the mission had been successfully accomplished! Not long after this more diplomatic methods of courting American public opinion came into operation. including a young debutant attending her first royal event.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 206 When Evelyn Dall bounced onto the bandstand in a blue backless gown with silver sequins and launched into the chorus of Nice Work If You Can Get It the effect was electrifying. . One spin-off from this incident was that society hostesses started to insist that the bands they hired include a vocalist – one more bastion of instrumental-only dance music had been breached. But none was found. And it wasn’t only within the MU that ructions had occurred. now under the direction of Sid Phillips. an experienced bandleader. a move that was unpopular with less talented musicians who relied on session work to supplement meagre regular earnings or provide an income when not in regular employment. an organisation that he had helped to found some years earlier. and because other pressure groups representing employers of bandleaders and/or musicians were becoming involved it seemed essential to find some resolution to this particular problem. assumed control of this unit for the duration of the tour and Evelyn Dall acted as compère. so whatever proposals Ambrose outlined on that sultry Saturday afternoon in June appears to have come to nothing. of course. suddenly. by everyone else! Even so. but it’s doubtful whether they were as effective. the incident troubled some of the guests at that summer ball. A row broke out between bandleaders over how to handle the matter and this resulted in Ambrose’s resignation from the Dance Band Directors’ Association (DBDA). A few days after the palace ballroom incident Ambrose made his way to a rather dingy public hall just off Tottenham Court Road where he addressed fellow members of the London Branch of the Musicians Union (MU). A number of ‘first-call’ session musicians had formed a ginger group to represent their interests. the King and Queen broke into grins and started to applaud…followed. Even greater shock might have been expressed had she seen the next-day’s editions of American newspapers. Eventually. extraordinary war-time conditions put the matter to rest. brought along a singer…an American girl called Evelyn Dall whose thick Bowery accent reverberated around the gilded ballroom with an intensity that was positively stomach-churning. Teddy White. Then. What had started-off as a specific problem between Ambrose and some of his sidemen had now become generalised. The stage show. resumed in early June but apart from one week at the Liverpool Empire was confined to cine-variety in the London area. the orchestra leader. It was all getting rather messy. The problem of session musicians had resurfaced and a split in MU opinion needed to be ironed-out.

K. The 1938 one-reeler has two main puppetized scenes – Ambrose with orchestra and Sam Browne performing Harbour Lights …and a Harlem night club interior with a dancing couple and (voice only) Evelyn Dall singing Rhythm’s O. and had also attracted a Continental audience of significant proportions. matinée idol Jack Buchanan. Indeed. In Hollywood. hence the inclusion of Harry Richman and a number of other Americans to widen the film’s appeal. This cartoon (fortunately preserved) is quite remarkable. Here’s a typical programme from spring 1938: Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love…Evelyn Dall. Although Ambrose headed the cast list this reflected his celebrity status rather than acting ability. almost exactly two years after their inauguration. Trade screenings in March received good notices from press representatives. This opened at the Plaza cinema on the 10th of June. In Harlem. Jumpin’ At The Woodside…Instrumental. at least to British audiences. Possibly Ambrose felt he could do better by making one-off and/or short series programmes for other commercial stations because over the subsequent twelve months that’s exactly what happened. Flat Foot Floogie…Max Bacon/Evelyn Dall.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 207 On returning to London the show had to be cut from forty to thirty minutes. The Lady Is A Tramp…Alan Marsh. Not to American movie-goers though. Please Be Kind…Vera Lynn. he made over forty Puppetoons up to 1947. Another film that indirectly featured Ambrose and his band also originated around the same time – ‘PHILIPS BROADCAST OF 1938’. or the significance of the part he played. but probably for the same reason as with Decca – an insufficiently lucrative contract renewal. and then became a highly acclaimed special effects consultant and director of featurelength films. The late spring of 1938 also heralded the end of regular broadcasts by the Ambrose band on Radio Luxembourg. This colour cartoon film was made by George Pal who developed his ‘Puppetoons’ process in Europe while working as a film studio animator. In The Still Of The Night…Instrumental. Why Ambrose severed his links with Radio Luxembourg at this time isn’t known. and the comic abilities of the other two band members with supporting roles – Max Bacon and Leslie Carew – would have been familiar. and this gave an added boost to the usual pre-opening publicity. even by much later standards and when shown in America led to George Pal being offered a contract by Paramount. . not long after the Luxembourg shows ended he recorded a short series of broadcasts for Continental transmissions with the popular tenor Richard Tauber . one of the comedy routines being scrapped.and later. This was a short film sponsored by the Dutch-based multinational company mentioned in the title and was an early example of puppet-based animation. Of course Evelyn Dall’s acting credentials were by this time well known. The return of the stage show to London coincided with the West End opening of Ambrose’s latest film ‘KICKING THE MOON AROUND’. These Sunday teatime shows had been extremely popular with listeners in Britain.

but so far as is known their paths were never to cross again after the brief encounter in the summer of 1938. Benny agreed and rang-off. Regrettably. and it was Hammond’s British friend Leonard Feather who acted as ‘chaperone’ during Benny’s short visit. The exhibition did start on the appointed date. but the ballroom/concert hall wasn’t ready so Ambrose’s engagement had to be postponed until the second week in July. and then made arrangements to leave for France the following day. and who whisked him away to the Continent. In the meantime only one engagement encroached on the band’s rehearsal schedule – a special recording session at Decca. Ambrose and Benny Goodman shared a passion for golf. As far back as February it had been announced that Ambrose & His Orchestra would open a new ballroom/concert hall complex in May. Goodman decided to stay holed-up in his room. Evelyn Dall and Danny Polo for morning coffee at Ambrose’s Mayfair office. By this time the restructuring of the orchestra had been completed (although the orchestration team had certainly not finished the enormous task of reorganising/up-dating the dozens of arrangements that the new orchestra and its off-shoot outfits would require to function effectively). However. both for the day-time concerts and evening dances. Evelyn Dall and Vera Lynn provided the vocals. Perhaps they could meet-up? Ambrose suggested a private cocktail party at the Dorchester Hotel that evening…just a few old friends. before he left Benny did manage to join Ambrose. one of which – The Lambeth Walk – includes a brief example of what passed for ‘rap’ in the 1930s. no play-lists or programmes for the week in Scotland have come to light. The oneweek engagement required the band to give two performances a day in the concert hall and provide music for dancing every evening in the ballroom. who had slipped into Britain without publicity the day before and was now at a loose-end. They had played together in America occasionally since the late 1920s. who was under contract to Decca/US. but it was reported in the Scottish press that the evening dances were reasonably well patronised but the afternoon concerts were not. Benny never expressed any public opinions about Ambrose’s musical endeavours and at this time was very much under the influence of John Hammond. but not long after phoning Ambrose he was warned by the manager of his hotel that newspaper reporters were congregating in the lobby and requesting interviews and pictures. Did Ambrose’s participation in this recording session signal his return to regular recording for Decca/UK? Yes…but not in the immediate future. phoned Ambrose to cancel the engagement. Only two titles were recorded. For the last week of this engagement a largely substitute band operated under Ernie Lewis because Ambrose and most of the regular orchestra were in Scotland. The band returned to London with only two weeks to go before a ten-day tour of Holland and Belgium was due to commence. Later it was revealed that Benny was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A day or so after the recording session Ambrose received a telephone call from Benny Goodman. so we can leave the details until later. Apparently there would be no peace and quiet in Britain…he had underestimated his celebrity status. Apart from the professional interests they had in common. This was to be part of the great Empire Exhibition that would open in Glasgow’s Bella Houston Park at the same time. .KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 208 In mid-June Ambrose gave the management of the Café de Paris one months notice and the last late-night broadcast under his name was transmitted on 15th July. This was to provide orchestral backing for visiting American comedian Eddie Cantor.

At the end of the same week band members broke-up for two weeks vacation. . then. he had found favour with American record buyers by virtue of his work for bandleader Roy Fox. Ambrose’s irritation might well have been exacerbated by the same thing that probably kept people away from some concerts – the exceptionally hot and sultry weather that gripped Northern Europe that particular summer. No doubt Ambrose would have loved to get away from it all as well.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 209 The band that left for the Low Countries on 27th July comprised six brass. five reeds and five in the rhythm section and was styled ‘BERT AMBROSE & HIS SWING BAND’ for some. but no details are available. but there was too much business to take care of. So far as Ambrose was concerned only two names interested him – Freddy Gardner and Joe Crossman. performances. Both men were regarded in jazz circles as the best alto soloists in Britain at the time. and after this the band toured towns and cities in Belgium and Holland. Denny agreed to join Ambrose’s vocal team and a one-year contract was signed in August. but for a variety of reasons wasn’t yet prepared to go-it-alone. and a surprise that Ambrose had secretly arranged some weeks earlier. Alan Kane didn’t fit the bill so far as Ambrose was concerned and had been given the push when the Café de Paris engagement ended. irreplaceable. Denny Dennis was one of the top male vocalists in Britain in the late 1930s . Like Vera Lynn. Moreover. When the tour ended in early August the band returned to London. after six years with Roy Fox he was more of a featured singer than a mere band vocalist. A couple of days after arriving back Ambrose took the entire band to the Palladium to see Fats Waller who was just starting a British tour. Danny had warned Ambrose earlier in the year that he intended to resume his career in the United States – it was only a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’. but meanwhile Ambrose was obliged to find a new leader for the reeds section. The first thing on the agenda was to act on Sid Phillips’ suggestion that the band needed a top-ranking male vocalist. The tour was largely successful although Ambrose somewhat unprofessionally refused to play a number of venues because of low turn-out. One name that did crop-up in late July was Denny Dennis and Ambrose asked Sid Phillips to follow this up. After discussions with Sid Phillips. In Holland some titles were cut at Decca’s studio with a Dutch vocalist but again no information about these has come to light. generally doing three shows a day. The replacement of Danny Polo caused Ambrose an even bigger headache. some of whose recorded output was released in the United States. competent on a range of saxophones…and excellent clarinettists. Sam Browne was always Ambrose’s preferred choice. However. if not all. While he remained in Europe there was always the possibility that he might return to the Ambrose band (as indeed he almost did). like Sam Browne. but was unlikely to return in the near future due to the continuing success of his variety act. Further broadcasts did take place. and later Ambrose gave a party at which Fats was guest of honour. during the Ambrose band’s stint in Holland an opportunity to work in Europe arose and Danny decided to take this up. An early engagement was a broadcast on Radio Avre on the Friday evening. Once again. Denny had his own recording contract with Decca/UK and occasionally performed solo on radio. both were experienced section leaders. In Ambrose’s eyes he was. Evelyn Dall and Vera Lynn were the only regular vocalists. a superb silky-smooth swinging outfit. the same league as Sam Browne and Al Bowlly. like them. Clearly. Denny had first come to prominence with the Fox band.

the problem hinged around which ones would give the best return. Tribute To George Gershwin…Bert Read (piano). With Joe Crossman’s reappearance the jig-saw was complete and Ambrose could get down to planning the work schedule that would come into operation in September. Here’s a typical programme: Mamma I Wanna Make Rhythm…Evelyn Dall.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 210 Oddly enough Freddy Gardner had only recently left Roy Fox to join Bert Firman’s band and was too much of a gentleman to leave so soon after arriving. and with huge costs to be covered simply had to be got right.Tumultuous applause…eight curtain calls…a rousing. Ah Sweet Mystery Of Life…Instrumental. Sweet As A Song…Vera Lynn/Denny Dennis/Eddie Lisbona (accordion). Dear Old Southland…Denny Dennis. In late December the band would take part in a gala dance at the Royal Albert Hall and it was expected that there would be a special broadcast show on Christmas Day. the opening night at the Birmingham Hippodrome would have dispelled them. The show was a huge success and the next day’s newspapers carried reports with phrases like: . Little Lady Make Believe…Vera Lynn. it didn’t go without notice that one performance actually ‘stopped the show’…Vera Lynn’s rendition of Little Lady Make Believe. Lullaby In Rhythm…Jimmy Miller (vocal)/Teddy White (clarinet). Most of the first week back was spent in rehearsal but there were also a number of try-out concerts in Southampton and a big ballroom gig in Southsea. Ambrose and Joe Crossman clearly had something in common! Ambrose’s schemes had been finalised by the time the band reassembled at the end of August. The Darktown Strutters’ Ball…Instrumental. . The tour would then alternate between provincial locations and the London area. starting in Dublin in early November. I Played Fiddle For The Czar…Max Bacon/Les Carew/Evelyn Dall. Throughout September the full orchestra was to tour provincial variety theatres with a number of dances and concerts thrown in for good measure. These plans were outlined to members of the orchestra at a band meeting that Ambrose held in his Mayfair apartment at the end of August. Recording sessions would coincide with the London variety dates and broadcasts transmitted while the band was away from London were to be pre-recorded. The tour proper started on Monday 5th September in Birmingham. Says My Heart…Evelyn Dall. Joe Crossman had no such qualms even though he also had only been with his current band (Lew Stone’s) for a few weeks. roaring reception…spine-tingling performances…fabulous visual effects…stunning gowns…and so on. Jumpin’ At The Woodside…Instrumental. If Ambrose had any doubts about the kind of reception he would receive on this tour following the summer disappointments in Scotland and Holland. Also. This was one task that could not be delegated. There were plenty of opportunities. a number of recording sessions for Decca/UK and a television spectacular. On returning to London in October the variety shows would continue together with a series of one-hour Saturday afternoon broadcasts.

Christopher Columbus. When the band returned to London at the end of September there was no let-up in the gruelling schedule. Also.Sing Sing Sing. Bach Goes To Town. Lisbona) Cinderella Sweetheart…Vera Lynn Voo Doo…Instrumental (comp. indeed more had to be fitted-in because Ambrose was about to resume regular broadcasts. week-end concerts were held and dancehall engagements sometimes interspersed with variety appearances. Teddy White and Art Strauss. the band also played cover versions of current American swing numbers. Apart from the evening stage shows. It seems that at least part of Ambrose’s bandwagon was moving in the direction sign-posted Swing Era – unfortunately the recorded. and Smoke House Rhythm. Hors D’Oeuvres…Instrumental (arr. evidence is virtually non-existent so far as covers of American big-band classics are concerned. then Finsbury Park. Phillips) Take A Course In Rhythm…Evelyn Dall. The provincial part of the tour continued with one-week engagements in Glasgow. Ambrose returned to the airwaves on Saturday October 8th with the prime-time 5-6pm slot on the National Programme. Manchester and Leeds. and on Sunday we would stop at a couple of towns on the way to the next week’s engagement and do afternoon and evening shows. as opposed to anecdotal. including: . but it was great and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world’. at weekly intervals. The orchestra that Ambrose took into the BBC’s Maida Vale Studio for this series of broadcasts had a line-up of seventeen (excluding vocalists). and recording sessions at Decca.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 211 Another reviewer commented on Ambrose’s vastly improved ‘stage presence’ compared with previous appearances: ‘This time he actually came-over as a human being rather than a gesturing automaton’. Here’s the play-list: Killer-Diller…Instrumental (arr. New Cross. For the first week of October the band played at the Stratford Empire. dashing back and forth between houses at the variety theatre…With Ambrose you were obliged to work your socks off. Phillips) Sweet As a Song…Vera Lynn/Denny Dennis. Apart from original compositions emanating from members of the arranging team like Sid Phillips. Phillips) Goodbye To Summer…Denny Dennis Ah! Sweet Mystery Of Life…Instrumental (arr. Eddie Lisbona. Brixton and Lewisham. (comp. some week-day evenings we would share an evening dance date with another band. . or a tea dance. Phillips) I Never Knew…Bert Read – piano solo Little Lady Make Believe…Vera Lynn Music Maestro Please…Denny Dennis Yancy Special…Instrumental (arr. The BBC was now the principal outlet for Ambrose’s instrumentals given the necessary predominance of vocals and comedy items in the stage shows. Barnes) Love Walked In…Denny Dennis A-Tisket A-Tasket…Evelyn Dall Plain Jane…Instrumental (comp. Leslie Carew later recalled: ‘There would usually be a concert on the Saturday afternoon. Phillips) I’m Gonna Lock My Heart…Evelyn Dall Cotton Pickers’ Congregation…Instrumental.

Decca already had access to Bob Crosby’s and Jimmy Dorsey’s recorded output as well as that of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France and a cracking small British band led by Nat Gonella. he had got most of what he wanted. debut. It’s difficult to say what kind of dent in Decca/UK’s income resulted from Ambrose’s one-year absence. Such songs are soon forgotten. In return he would be obliged to remain firmly rooted in the pop music sector. Indeed. The record that Ambrose made with Eddie Cantor in July was released in September and proclaimed by Decca/UK to be . Evelyn Dall was probably the most televised variety performer on British television. During this time sales of the 175 Ambrose records already in the catalogue remained buoyant and some previously unreleased titles were issued. Not due to the words of the original song but rather the ‘rap’ bit that someone added in Cantor’s version.V. its release coincided with the Munich Crisis and Neville Chamberlain’s famous (later notorious) ‘peace in our time’ speech. The first recording session was in mid-October and it took only two weeks for Decca/UK to release the four titles cut at that session. Eddie Cantor’s rendition of The Lambeth Walk was regarded in some quarters as support for ‘appeasement’ and American isolationism. having co-starred in a show that went out monthly throughout most of 1938. restricted as it was to the Home Counties. On the 27th October Ambrose. . In Decca’s newly established Swing Series there would be no place for the Ambrose Octet however star-studded. This also was regarded by some as an anti-war song and either condemned or applauded according to respective points of view. Vera Lynn later recalled: ‘I was rehearsing with Ambrose when the news came through and we all stopped work and gathered round someone’s portable radio…It was one of those things that stays with you forever whatever else you forget’. but few doubted that television was destined to become a major branch of the entertainment industry. He was off to join his brother-in-law Joe Brannelly who earlier in the year had set-up his own band promotion/public relations business. including a substantial advance against future royalties. although instrumentals were not entirely discouraged. On one of Ambrose’s radio shows Vera Lynn sang a song entitled: They Gave Him A Gun To Play With.THE RECORD OF THE YEAR. although Ambrose and Evelyn Dall had paved the way two years earlier.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 212 Ambrose concluded the best deal he could with Decca/UK in early September. So far as Decca was concerned Ambrose must take his place alongside Lew Stone. Vera Lynn. The two-month variety tour finished towards the end of October with a oneweek show in Dublin. Oddly enough. but the Munich Crisis left its mark. Maurice Winnick and Josephine Bradley on the ‘Blue & Gold’ label and make the best he could of Tin Pan Alley’s output. Evelyn Dall. Despite having little new coming on-stream Ambrose remained Decca/UK’s biggest attraction. Of course the audience for television in Britain in 1938 was small. Denny Dennis and the Ambrose Octet appeared in a television show that went out live from Alexandra Palace. Financially. Charlie Kunz. It was also towards the end of October that twenty-two year old band manager Les Brannelly handed-in his notice. This was Vera’s T. Another example of a coded message…or not as the case may be! Another incident along the same lines illustrates how jittery people were becoming as times got ever more dangerous.

For studio-based broadcasts Ambrose received three guineas per band member per hour. Ambrose had set-up AOL in the late 1920s in order to protect his personal wealth in the event of the main orchestra and/or other bands that he controlled going-under. And the same thing applied to touring contracts.200 now] per broadcast. Half-way through the 38/39 financial year it became clear that so far as Ambrose Orchestras Ltd (AOL) was concerned insufficient money was coming in to cover outgoings. He did this by transferring money from his own account into the AOL account. And for Ambrose there was worse to come! Ambrose never expected to make any profit from BBC broadcasts. Provided AOL had enough money available there was no problem…it was just like any other business with a weekly wage bill. costs incurred such as touring transportation and accommodation).KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 213 In early November the BBC Director of Dance Music. arrangers. By today’s standards this doesn’t seem excessive for a prime-time radio show. which is just as well because he never did! Indeed. stage shows) – plus some auxiliary staff – numbered thirty. Brown informed him that there would be no continuation and no Christmas broadcast – Ambrose had been axed! According to Brown. that Ambrose used actually worked for. and most of the other activities involving the thirty people mentioned above. droppedin on Ambrose during a Saturday evening broadcast. Problems with the BBC in the autumn of 1938 were dwarfed by a general financial crisis that hit Ambrose four-square at the same time. he was ‘too expensive for the BBC’. and the money in his own account came from personal contracts or agreements. For Ambrose’s outfit this came to around £80 [about £3. For example. . AOL was in the band supply business (subsidiary activities like artist management were minor in comparison). relatively minor. it was usually a case of him subsidising the BBC…but only because the kind of broadcasts he wanted to transmit exceeded the requirements of the BBC. recording. Any weekly sum that Ambrose couldn’t personally cover required an overdraft arrangement. broadcasting contracts. ever surfaced. Ambrose had also asked for confirmation that his proposals for a one-hour radio show on Christmas Day had been accepted. all the musicians. with the proviso that some future programmes be recorded to enable the provincial tour to be resumed. vocalists. and were paid by. Because Ambrose was in effect hiring these thirty people from AOL it was up to him to ensure that sufficient money was paid into AOL coffers to cover the wage bill (and other. In theory. This was the tragedy of Ambrose’s broadcasting career – he had great difficulty in persuading the BBC that what he had to offer deserved to be treated as something other than unadulterated dance music. The personnel connected with Ambrose’s main activities (broadcasting. All this became something of a cause célèbre in the national and trade press in the run-up to Christmas and no rational explanation. Ambrose’s recording contract was between himself and Decca. giving a weekly wage bill of £1000. This was the last programme of the series and Ambrose had requested a continuation. Phillip Brown. but if the BBC weren’t particularly concerned about what went out at tea-time on Saturday then Ambrose’s programme may have seemed excessively lavish. AOL. The average weekly wage was £33. other than the somewhat suspect one given. plus 33⅓%. And for such fare the BBC paid rates governed by agreements negotiated with the Dance Band Directors Association (DBDA) and the Musicians Union (MU). etc.

like the BBC payments and the £1. he was always in a state of personal financial deficit. It seems likely that Ambrose spent his entire adult life living on the margin – i. For example Bert Read and Joe Jeanette were designated staff arrangers. who could always be ‘bought’ by the highest bidder. The band that accompanied the stage show had the following line-up: Teddy White (clarinet/+leader) Archie Craig (trumpet) Les Carew (trombone/+vocals) Eddie Lisbona (piano/accordion) Jimmy Miller (piano/guitar/+vocals) Max Bacon (drums) Billy Miller (violin) Touring continued right up to Christmas. The vultures were starting to gather! .but things weren’t so good in the autumn of 1938! Ambrose was unable to transfer sufficient funds to AOL on a regular basis to cover their outgoings. The band used for recording purposes was now essentially an ad hoc outfit. Given his potential earnings it would have been easy to obtain credit. and remain now. Clearly. at least for a reduced company. Les Carew and Jimmy Miller the comedy routines.e. Ambrose’s predicament was largely hidden from public knowledge by virtue of those activities that continued. so good . In late November Ambrose was obliged to partially disband. These were then. and Ernie Lewis functioned as Ambrose’s ‘fixer’. But in the late 1930s times were becoming abnormal and uncertain. at least in normal times. Although the broadcasts had finished there was still a full schedule of recording sessions booked for Decca and plenty of opportunities for variety dates. Some incomes are known. the books couldn’t be balanced. The stage show continued to tour with Evelyn Dall. Vera Lynn and Denny Dennis providing the main vocal content and Max Bacon. Now the audited accounts of AOL are one thing . But such things as royalties from record sales (a major source of income for Ambrose) have never been revealed. And waiting and watching in the wings were those with more realistic ambitions – in particular Geraldo. by his own (later) admission.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 214 So far. such as the stage show. mostly in the London area due to the need for some of the company to attend recording sessions. And apart from an ultra-lavish lifestyle Ambrose was. loans and overdrafts on a rolling basis.200 a week he earned from variety tours. Put perhaps somewhat simplistically. A few remained at least nominally on the full-time payroll. unavailable for scrutiny. given that Ambrose was one of the chief instigators in driving-up the earnings of star players like Joe Crossman. The rest had either joined other bands or were working freelance. although for a variety of reasons many of Ambrose’s former sidemen were included. But even if they were it would shed little light on Ambrose’s true financial situation.Ambrose’s personal financial dealings another. losing money due to his gambling addiction at an average of £100.000 a year [about £4million now] throughout the 1930s. Those who were in the know – including fellow bandleaders – probably had little sympathy. Given all this upheaval it is a tribute to all concerned with the recorded output at this time that the distinctive Ambrose Sound remained essentially intact. Ambrose had no qualms now when it came to ‘poaching’ musicians from rival bandleaders – the very practice that he had been objecting to earlier in the year.

D. In general.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 215 Here are the major titles recorded by Ambrose in the autumn of 1938 almost all of which had been released by Christmas: [Vocal by Denny Dennis…Little Lady Make Believe. Change Partners. A number of the songs recorded by Denny Dennis were covered by Evelyn Dall or Vera Lynn elsewhere. Don’t Let The Moon Get Away. Cinderella Sweetheart. The Sweetest Song In The World. Falling In Love With Love. which Evelyn introduced on a radio show. Music Maestro Please. On The Bumpy Road To Love.R Jones. I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart. Two Sleepy People (+Denny Dennis). Most Gentlemen Don’t Like Love. You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby. had a ‘nose’ for hits – but songs that made it big when first released didn’t always stand the test of time. This Can’t Be Love. Finally for 1938 we shall take a look at those popular hit songs not listed but which were probably featured by Ambrose: At Long Last Love. Just A Kid Named Joe. While A Cigarette Was Burning. Goodbye To Summer. US releases shown upright. Decca. [Vocal by Les Carew…The Spreading Chestnut Tree. Love Walked In. Sing For Your Supper. [Vocal by Evelyn Dall…Joseph Joseph. Says My Heart. Music Makes The World Go Round. Small Fry. San Antonio Rose. Get Out Of Town. Change Partners. Blue Skies Are Round The Corner. Heart And Soul. You Go To My Head. You Couldn’t Be Cuter. I’ve Got A Pocket-full Of Dreams. The Little Drummer Boy. Another example is I’ve Got A Pocketful Of Dreams. Ol’ Man Mose. so he must have been getting it right whatever we might now think of some of his output. [Vocal by Vera Lynn…There’s Rain In My Eyes. each of the three vocalists were allocated a particular arranger although here again there were exceptions. F. so Ambrose was allowing her to ‘plug’ her own records. I’ll Be Seeing You. The Umbrella Man. How many of these titles would have been recorded by Ambrose had he renewed his contract with Decca earlier in the year is impossible to say. Sixty Seconds Got Together. We should also remind ourselves that Decca/UK and (to a lesser extent) Decca/US supplied an international market and that the Ambrose band was by now well established globally. like most other record companies. More to the point would those titles that we now recognise as ‘standards’ have been recorded? Ambrose. Please Be Kind. made most released records available for a minimum of three years. Chiquita Banana. September Song. according to several sources. Significantly. Love Walked In. For example Vera Lynn sang Little Lady Make Believe in the stage show and A Garden In Granada on radio. after which continued availability depended on sales achieving a fixed target figure. Really The Blues. . A Garden In Granada. Don’t Be That Way. In this respect Ambrose was particularly successful. Vera recorded both titles under her own name. Cinderella Stay In My Arms. The Lambeth Walk (+Norman Cole).

and they would be backed by a reorganised show band that was to be called the Ambrose Octet (even though there were nine players!). rather than a succession of unrelated items. To provide additional vocal support for the stage show he engaged a guitarist who was also making a name for himself as a popular vocalist – George Sandiford. because Ambrose did not intend to participate in these shows. Now wearing his ‘producers hat’ Ambrose. sometimes in tandem with Vera Lynn. The absence of Denny Dennis from the tour probably reflected Ambrose’s need to have a top-flight vocalist available for recording sessions. and one week George was featured. Ambrose wanted a more integrated approach. Meanwhile he accepted Ambrose’s offer to join the stage show. One item on this show was a slot introducing new talent. much of the time would be spent touring provincial centres. The band that supported the stage shows until the summer of 1939 had the following line-up: THE AMBROSE OCTET Teddy White (clarinet/+leader) Ben Dudley (trumpet) Les Carew (trombone/+vocals) Eddie Lisbona (piano/accordion) Jimmy Miller (piano/guitar/+vocals) George Sandiford (guitar/+vocals) Les Farrell (bass) Max Bacon (drums/+vocals) Max Farman (timpani/xylophone/+drums) + Evelyn Dall and Vera Lynn During the second week of January rehearsals were held in London under the direction of Sid Phillips and on Monday 16th the show opened in Glasgow and the following week transferred to Edinburgh. which couldn’t always be held while the road show was in London. Ambrose contacted him through the BBC and offered him a job with a band he controlled at the Café Anglais.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 216 During the first week of January 1939 Ambrose concluded a deal with the (UK) Paramount Organisation for a stage show tour that was intended to run almost continuously throughout the year. The main attractions were to be Evelyn Dall and Vera Lynn. George Sandiford was a major asset and fitted-in well with the kind of show that Ambrose wanted to present. an exclusive London nightspot. he was an enthusiastic participant in comedy sketches. Ambrose first became aware of this young Glaswegian’s talents the previous year while listening to the popular radio programme ‘IN TOWN TONIGHT’. George accepted. He later recorded this under his own name and it became a big hit. and during late-night broadcasts popularised a song called Penny Serenade. . devised a new kind of flexible show that could be geared in part to regional susceptibilities. Although dates in the London area were included. As well as playing guitar in the band and vocalising. Also. together with Sid Phillips and Ray Sonin. It would fall to Evelyn Dall to provide the necessary continuity.

However. Special arrangements were prepared for this unit and rehearsals were held on regular basis. with a modified programme. Even so. the only outcome was a couple of live appearances. A Garden In Granada…Vera Lynn. The two weeks in Scotland were a huge success and after this. Penny Serenade…George Sandiford. and along with much else were lost during the war. Highland Swing…Jimmy Miller/Evelyn Dall.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 217 Here’s a typical programme: Jumpin’ Jive…Evelyn Dall. had Ambrose been able to record the output of this snappy all-star outfit the results would surely have been mighty interesting. Most of the arrangements prepared for this band – a number of jazz standards and original numbers – never got beyond the rehearsal stage. St Louis Blues…Instrumental. Ready Steady Stop {monologue}…Max Bacon Two Sleepy People…Vera Lynn/George Sandiford. Swing That Thing…Evelyn Dall. The use of the title ‘Ambrose Octet’ for the stage show band is the source of some confusion because Ambrose formed another band around this time that had the same name-tag. Here’s the line-up: THE AMBROSE (JAZZ) OCTET Tommy McQuater (trumpet) George Chisholm (trombone) Joe Crossman (alto/clarinet) Billy Amstell (tenor/clarinet) Bert Barnes (piano/+arranger) Ivor Mairants (guitar) Tiny Winters (bass) Maurice Burman (drums) + Evelyn Dall and Vera Lynn These days it’s considered rather naughty for those relating past events to indulge in ‘what-might-have-been’ speculation. This was an ad hoc outfit that was supposed to present the kind of small-group jazz that was being promoted in America by Benny Goodman. and returned to the London area at the end of February. the show moved to Manchester. Ring Dem Bells…Instrumental. then Bolton. Bob Crosby and others – the ‘band-within-a-band’ format. The Ambrose (jazz) Octet appeared in a half-hour show on television in February and towards the end of March performed at the ‘JAZZ JAMBOREE’. an annual charity concert sponsored by the Musicians’ Union. The Chestnut Tree…Leslie Carew. .

There wasn’t sufficient support among the British public at the time. Unlike Hammond. The Heralds of Swing made their début in time to take part in the aforementioned ‘JAZZ JAMBOREE’. who supported his journalistic ambitions and helped him to get work on the Melody Maker. just as Ambrose’s jazz-inspired group came to nothing. And just to complicate matters further. Sid Phillips. Feather believed that star jazz musicians in the Ambrose band were not being given sufficient chance to develop their talents to the full. However. Essentially. They don’t like good jazz…what they want is Come Into the Garden Maud or Knees Up Mother Brown…and when they don’t get what they want they either sulk or throw things at you!’ The distinguished conductor Sir Thomas Beecham was equally forthright around this time: ‘The British don’t really like music…merely the noise it makes!’ In his case the frustration related to the difficulty in keeping the London Philharmonic Orchestra as a functioning unit without compromising musical standards. this ten-piece outfit was attempting to do the same thing as Ambrose with his jazz octet. By the late 1930s he had become London correspondent for the American trade paper Metronome and he also contributed to other American journals. His interest in jazz came early and he was a quick learner. Albert Harris and George Chisholm. Although similar to Hammond in outlook and musical and journalistic talents. The man who launched the Heralds of Swing was Leonard Feather. Billy Amstell and Sam Browne. His first major influence was Spike Hughes. for example. was working for Jack Harris when he attended a session to record his own composition Tootin’ Around in February. although some were also playing at Ambrose’s recording sessions. Joe Crossman was another example – hopping between bands led by Jack Hylton. Ambrose. Leonard Feather didn’t share Hammond’s overbearing and abrasive approach to life. had this to say in an interview with Leonard Feather – ‘The British. Lew Davis.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 218 The jazz octet’s personnel comprised musicians who were either working for other bands or free-lancing. who was in the audience when the Heralds performed. Billy Amstell. Ambrose. four of their number also being in the Ambrose (jazz) Octet and most of the rest had previously been members of Ambrose’s main orchestra. on the whole. Guest artists at this concert included Fats Waller. or his privileged High Society background. like many in authentic jazz circles. Feather got on quite well with Ambrose and on a number of occasions interviewed him for various journals. are musically ignorant. Lew Stone and Ambrose. a number of top jazz musicians launched a co-operative venture called the Heralds of Swing. As a youth he had worked for British Lion Films but in the mid1930s switched to journalism. Adelaide Hall. a few months later. . The music might have been very different but the problem was much the same. Feather used his growing influence to get short-term recording contracts for small jazz groups nominally led by such Ambrosian luminaries as Danny Polo. The output of these groups was relatively small and sales figures disappointing. he didn’t dismiss Ambrose’s jazz-inspired output as ‘utterly worthless’ but still longed for the day when art would triumph over commercial considerations. was suitably impressed but despite the best efforts of all concerned the Heralds of Swing never became Britain’s first successful full-time jazz ensemble. In some respects he was the British equivalent to America’s John Hammond. but it represented some of the very best jazz to be recorded in Britain before the war.

Pogson (oboe/cor anglais)* Bert Read (piano/+arranger) Ivor Mairants (guitar) Tiny Winters (bass) Maurice Burman (drums) Eddie Lisbona (piano/accordion/+arranger) Jimmy Blades (timpani/xylophone/marimba) Ernie Lewis (violin)…[+ 3 violins/viola]* Evelyn Dall Vera Lynn Max Bacon Leslie Carew Robert Wilson* The Singtette (vocal group)* Sid Phillips (chief) Teddy White Art Strauss Bert Barnes Reeds: Rhythm: Strings: Vocals: Arrangers: Full-time personnel shown in bold type. Apart from the broadcasts Ambrose managed to obtain enough work to justify re-forming a full orchestra. Phillip Brown was ordered to mend fences and quickly. including a big dance at the Albert Hall in mid-March. the influential newspaper columnist Collie Knox had used the incident to lambaste the BBC.O. In two national newspapers Ambrose had come first in polls for ‘best danceband leader’ and in the widely-read magazine Radio Pictorial had been voted RADIO’S MUSIC MAESTRO No 1. *Occasional additions. There was also the possibility of a residency at the London Casino. . or four special one-hour shows on Saturday afternoons – he opted for the latter. Also. Ambrose was now given a choice between a series of halfhour shows on a week-day evening. Here’s the new line-up: AMBROSE & HIS ORCHESRA Director: Brass: Bert Ambrose Max Goldberg (trumpet) Tommy McQuater (trumpet) Archie Craig (trumpet) Lew Davis (trombone) George Chisholm (trombone) Paul Fenoulhet (trombone)* Dave Shand (alto/clarinet) Joe Jeanette (alto/clarinet/flute/+arranger) Billy Amstell (tenor/clarinet) Harry Lewis (tenor/clarinet) Sid Phillips (baritone/bass clarinet)* E.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 219 In mid-February Ambrose was invited by the BBC to return to broadcasting. The BBC was getting a bad press and the incident could no longer be considered trivial. It had been decided at a high level that the continuing row over his banishment must come to an end. a large restaurant/ballroom/theatre complex (not a real casino).

. and if Ambrose had been able to keep such a band together as a stable entity then his supreme position in the British big band firmament might have remained intact. but many interesting items remained unrecorded…at least on the Decca label. Phillips]…Instrumental My Own…Vera Lynn I Must See Annie …Max Bacon Jeepers Creepers …Evelyn Dall Violin In Vienna…Denny Dennis/Jean Peugeot (violin) Burmese Ballet [comp. Presumably the normally intransigent Decca recording executive reckoned they might enjoy reasonable sales after exposure over the airwaves. One factor that made recruitment for this band somewhat easier was that coincidentally Jack Harris was obliged to give-up his star-studded band for the same reason that had bedevilled Ambrose earlier. Munro]…Robert Wilson/Singtette Desert Star [comp. part of which was broadcast by the BBC. Harris’ disbandment proved to be temporary because he got the London Casino contract rather than Ambrose and subsequently mounted a successful ‘poaching’ operation that affected other bands besides Ambrose’s. In midMarch the augmented orchestra played at a charity costume ball at the Royal Albert Hall. Trocadero (Elephant & Castle) and the Granada (Tooting). In fact six weeks was the limit. Here’s the play-list for the show on 11th March 1939: When Day Is Done [arr. the band appeared on stage at a number of London cinemas. However. It also played for dancers at the Empress Hall and Olympia Ballroom on at least one occasion at each venue. Phillips]…Instrumental Grandma Said…Vera Lynn Goodnight Ladies [arr. including the Gaumont-State (Kilburn). Other recording activity involving this band included a number of sessions at a private studio at which some 16”/33⅓ rpm transcription discs were cut for use in America – possibly by local radio stations.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 220 Given the virtual ‘all-star’ composition of this extravagant line-up it’s tempting to wax lyrical about it. White]…Instrumental The Same Old Story…Vera Lynn The Chestnut Tree. but no details have so far come to light.Les Carew/Jimmy Miller/Singtette Romany…Robert Wilson Hold Tight …Evelyn Dall Mexicali Rose…Denny Dennis Early Morning Blues [comp. during those six weeks five major broadcasts.. . Lisbona] During its brief existence as a complete entity. after which several key sidemen left on band-hopping expeditions. There were also four recording sessions for Decca at which a few of the swing instrumentals featured in the broadcasts were recorded. The four Saturday 5-6pm radio shows started on the National Programme in early March. four recording sessions and a number of live performances took place.

And The Angels Sing…Vera Lynn. Hurry Home…Vera Lynn/George Sandiford. including Max Goldberg.000 now] and must have gone some way to improving his financial situation. crashing cymbals. Screeching trumpets. gone there to do – dance correctly? How indeed! In the second week of April the stage show was out on the road again for a (mainly) provincial variety theatre tour that would run continuously until mid-July. Romany…George Sandiford. My Own…Vera Lynn. Bert Read. Alexander’s Ragtime Band…Instrumental. Joe Crossman. Lew Davis. A dedicated ballroom dancer who attended one of the dances for which Ambrose’s big band provided the music wrote this at the time: . This earned Ambrose £18. With all this cacophony going on how could dancers possibly be expected to concentrate on what they had. inappropriate ‘hot’ solos…a gyrating blonde belting out Jeepers Creepers. presumably. My Wife’s Gone And Left Me {sketch}… Max Bacon/Leslie Carew. . followed by another blonde.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 221 By mid-April several key players either left or relinquished their full-time status. This was the stage show’s touring schedule: WEEK LOCATION 1 Coventry 2 Brighton 3 London 4 Sunderland 5 Glasgow 6 Bradford 7 Liverpool 8 Leeds 9/10 London 11 Nottingham 12 Birmingham 13 London 14 Manchester And here’s a typical programme: Talk To Me…Evelyn Dall. Billy Amstell. less animated but oozing sentimentality. Rigoletto {melodrama}…Evelyn Dall/Max Bacon/Jimmy Miller. A-Tisket A-Tasket…Evelyn Dall.Last night my wife and I staggered out of our favourite ballroom totally bemused by the offerings of the over-sized guest orchestra conducted by Ambrose. Tommy McQuater and Dave Shand. at least in the short-term. Huckleberry Duck…Jimmy Miller/Leslie Carew. Ambrose may have been pleasing variety and radio audiences with his mixture of pop music and big band swing but not everyone was impressed.000 [about £720.

with intermittent storage where necessary (they also provided a piano tuner!). and this affected the availability of a number of key players. a motor coach would be chartered. It was essentially the duty of the band manager to smooth-out ruffled feathers. it hadn’t been the money side of things that triggered her resignation but rather the resentful hostility of Evelyn Dall. Not directly fired by the blonde of that ilk. Apart from two evening performances Monday through Saturday. The weekly schedule while on tour was quite intense. Most of Sunday had to be devoted to travel and the stars of the show (in this case the vocalists) would be expected to support local charitable events on Saturdays. begged her to stay and offered to double her salary to £40. Ambrose sat through a performance of the stage show. and large music and record stores often held promotional events that required their presence. the results of which were destined for the American market. One thing’s for sure. and no need to spend hours seeking-out dingy theatrical digs. for members of the touring company there was no way of avoiding relationships whether good. Sid Phillips also used musicians from the Ambrose Orchestra and Denny Dennis for his own recording purposes. However. received a bombshell. Otherwise. there was usually at least one afternoon matinee and rehearsals on Monday morning (often extending into the afternoon). usually by a railway company operating a door-to-door service. Four Decca recording sessions took place in mid-June and so too did a number of recording sessions for Continental commercial radio stations. but rather her counterpart in the stage show – Vera Lynn. but since the departure of Joe Brannelly there hadn’t been an effective band manager. No travelling through the night crammed into private cars. Large items like props. Sid also recorded a series of programmes for Radio Eireann (the Irish station). however it is important not to gloss over the fact that personality clashes as well as acrimonious differences of opinion over professional matters arose among band members from time to time. often causing more problems than anything else. After the show Ambrose approached Vera. Although she accepted Ambrose’s offer. Vera was merely obliged to give two weeks notice whenever she wished to quit…and now she so wished! On receiving her letter Ambrose dropped everything and rushed-up to Glasgow where the stage show was appearing. the band rostrum and two pianos (!) were transported by the famous cartage firm of Pickfords who had a division specialising in the movement of theatrical freight between theatres. it was transportation and accommodation that dominated the lives of touring performers. For journeys over a hundred or so miles the company travelled by train in reserved first-class compartments. Not being under contract to AOL. Audience reaction merely confirmed that Vera Lynn was an indispensable asset. again using a contingent from the Ambrose band. Although well past the point at which he needed convincing of Vera’s value in the scheme of things. who had remained in London with the remnants of the big band. . Accommodation was usually in good private hotels or guest houses. The Heralds of Swing also spluttered into and out of existence throughout the summer. Ambrose’s personnel were better-off than many because he always ensured as much comfort as possible. bad or indifferent – at least while they were in the provinces. Heavy luggage and musical instruments were handled separately. We can leave aside the details.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 222 It was during the fifth week of the variety tour that Ambrose. While the stage show continued its perambulations throughout May and June the rather confusing comings and goings of musicians associated with Ambrose’s main orchestra were under way.

My Own. My Prayer. His last live appearance with the Ambrose band was at a lavish society event at Blenheim Palace that spanned the entire weekend following the recording session. Ferdinand The Bull. I Feel Like A Stranger*. That Sly Old Gentleman. To Mother With Love. A society gossip columnist noted: ‘…after the prime minister and archbishop had left. Mexicali Rose. Wishing.. The Masquerade Is Over. There’s Something About An Old Love. Denny contributed vocals to around forty Decca titles – and what a contribution! With Sid Phillips providing most of his orchestrations (and directing the band during his sessions) Denny was at his very best. Hurry Home. . Ambrose was hired to provide suitable theme music throughout the entire proceedings and for this he required the services of around fifty musicians. Ain’t Cha Coming Out. Sing A Song Of Sunbeams. all the young studs and their fillies began to let their hair down…Ambrose’s band was in fine fettle and before long everyone was having a spiffing time singing popular songs like Jeepers Creepers. Hold Tight and Roll Out The Barrel’.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 223 During the first week of July the stage show returned to London and Ambrose put together a full orchestra for a Decca recording session and a big social event. Unfortunately he didn’t get on too well with Ambrose and some kind of dispute arose in the spring of 1939 that scuppered any chance of a contract renewal. The Beer Barrel Polka. presumably working in shifts. Hear My Song. The remaining members of the now inactive full orchestra also took summer holidays at the same time. And The Angels Sing. I Promise You. and Ambrose enjoyed a brief respite playing golf in Scotland. whose contract with Ambrose expired at the end of July. The second week of July found the stage show in Manchester. The Pretty Little Quaker Girl. various day-time events were followed by a grand buffet supper and masked ball. Continued…. democratic decorum. A New Moon. I Have Eyes. [Vocal by Evelyn Dall…I Got Love. Grandma Said. South Of The Border. Angels Never Leave Heaven. Deep Purple. If Ever A Heart Was In The Right Place. Jeepers Creepers. Proceedings commenced with a banquet and dance on the Friday evening and finished with a champagne breakfast on the Sunday morning. The Decca session was notable for being the last one before the war and also the last to involve Denny Dennis. Hold-Tight. I Shall Always Remember You Smiling. If I Didn’t Care. Riviera Stomp. Here are some of the new titles that were recorded between January and August 1939: [Vocal by Denny Dennis…The Donkey Serenade. [Vocal by Webster Booth/Sylvia Cecile…Sweethearts. I Paid For That Lie I Told You. During his one-year stint with Ambrose. and draconian tax policies made such events a thing of the past. Little Sir Echo (+Denny Dennis). To You Sweetheart Ahola. Only Once (+Denny Dennis). The Blenheim Palace ball has gone down in the annals of High Society as the last of the no-expense-spared grand occasions before war. [Vocal by Vera Lynn…Day Dreaming. [Vocal by Max Bacon/Leslie Carew…Did You Go Down Lambeth Way.. after which everyone was granted two weeks break. and the dowager duchess had retired for the night. On the Saturday.

and released in America in the autumn…ahead of Autry’s! By the end of the year it had outsold every other version. Because Ambrose could only bring all his star players together at infrequent intervals throughout 1939 it’s not surprising that the big band instrumentals were recorded at a limited number of sessions and because of Decca/UK’s aversion to such material many took a long time to appear in the catalogue. Eddie Lisbona and Art Strauss. Ambrose’s American releases were also subject to delay in many cases. And something similar occurred in 1939 with a country-and-western type song called South Of The Border. Obviously this could only apply to material published and recorded in the UK before it was available in America. Two other titles released by Decca/US in 1939 certainly prove the point about delayed reaction because both had been recorded by Ambrose in 1936 but not previously released in America. The Penguin. War Dance Of The Wooden Indians. especially where circumstances made possible its release ahead of rival companies. but Ambrose had also commissioned material from Teddy White. there were some exceptions. A Burmese Ballet. Early Morning Blues. Decca/US got in first and reaped the immediate benefits. Voodoo*. In 1935/6 he had big hits in America with two numbers that originated in Britain – I’m On A Sea-Saw and I’m In A Dancing Mood. But there was much that never reached the ears of the public. Early Morning Blues. even though by this time it was being covered by Bing Crosby and several top swing bands. For Sound and It’s A New World both with vocals by Jack Cooper. The point is that such a privileged release enabled Decca/US’s pluggers to get complementary copies to disc jockeys ahead of rival companies. Ambrose’s version of South Of The Border was recorded in June 1939. Some of these were Sid Phillips’ compositions. Mr Reynard’s Nightmare*. and The Penguin were released in America in 1939 – the first two titles being particularly well received by reviewers of swing music and attracting favourable comparisons with the output of top American bands like Larry Clinton’s. US releases shown upright. Plain Jane. Some were shelved (not ‘rejected’ in a true sense) and not finally released until thirty years after being recorded! Around a dozen original big band instrumentals were in the pipeline awaiting recording dates immediately prior to the war. This song was written by the British song writing team of Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Carr especially for American ‘singing cowboy’ Gene Autry who appeared in London in 1939. Hullabaloo. Hullabaloo. Although American bands and singers covered these songs. . Wedding Of The Sophisticated Dutch Doll. This had worked before in Ambrose’s case. Man About Town [Decca/US]. Although most of Ambrose’s record titles were released within a few weeks of being cut. Most of this work. However there were times when Decca/US would release an Ambrose record in double quick time. These were O. Given the quality of what we do now have access to on record it’s inevitable that much of interest got passed-over. and neither covered by American performers at any time. Instrumentals were particularly prone to delayed release and it was not unusual for this to be several months. Blue Romance. Tootin’ Around*. was rehearsed by the band and some of it was broadcast and/or used for stage performances. *Unreleased.K.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 224 [Instrumentals…Ah Sweet Mystery Of Life. as well as cover versions of American swing numbers. So far as big band instrumentals were concerned only Plain Jane.

Teddy White. Muskrat Ramble…Instrumental. Edmundo Ros. Stan Roderick George Chisholm. Little Sir Echo…Vera Lynn/Jimmy Miller. Max Bacon George Sandiford*. Here’s a typical thirtyminute stage show that took place at the Roxy cinema in Dalston just before war broke-out: ‘Taint What You Do…Evelyn Dall. Jack Cooper. Eddie Lisbona. Ambrose completed the formation of his ‘new’ orchestra which he claimed at the time would be…‘the best I’ve ever had’. Sing a Song Of Sunbeams…George Sandiford. Meanwhile. Harry Smith (alto/clarinet) Joe Jeanette (alto/clarinet/flute/+arranger) Billy Amstell (tenor/clarinet) Harry Lewis (tenor/clarinet) Sid Phillips (baritone/bass clarinet)* Stanley Black (piano/+arranger) Jimmy Miller (piano/+vocals) Ivor Mairants (guitar) Sid Colin (guitar/+vocals) Tiny Winters (bass) Jock Cummings (drums) Tom Webster (timpani/vibraphone/marimba) Ernie Lewis (violin). Bert Barnes. If I Didn’t Care…Vera Lynn. Here’s the proposed line-up: AMBROSE & HIS ORCHESTRA Director: Trumpets: Trombones: Reeds: Bert Ambrose Ernie Wilde. Vera Lynn. fixers and other functionaries – all beavering away on tasks related to a new full-time orchestra – the stage show recommenced its activities in Plymouth. which sold much better in the US than in Britain. *Occasional additions. then Southport. Billy Anders (violin)…et al* Evelyn Dall. Art Strauss. Archie Craig Joe Curran. The Beer Barrel Polka…Evelyn Dall. Rhythm: Strings: Vocals: Arrangers: . Subsequently it returned to London for cinevariety dates plus rehearsals with the re-formed orchestra. Ambrose’s full-timers returned to active service at the end of July presumably refreshed after their two-week break. After this it went to Blackpool.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 225 Around 120 Ambrose titles were listed in the Decca/US Popular Records Catalog in 1939 including virtually all his instrumental output. Paul Fenoulhet Woolf Phillips. While Ambrose remained in London with a bevy of arrangers. the Singtette* Sid Phillips (chief). Leslie Carew (+vocals).

who was returning home after working in Europe for four years. Ivor Mairants. The combination of Stanley Black. and two other newcomers to the rhythm section were Sid Colin on second guitar and Jock Cummings on drums. joined Ernie Lewis full-time on violin. all doors were closed on the ‘serious’ orchestral side of the business so he transferred his expertise to ‘less serious’ – but ultimately more profitable – Latin American rhythms. However. Billy Anders. Put another way. Tom Webster was also responsible for the exotic sounds required for Latin American numbers and this usually involved other members of the orchestra. now re-joined the band. The number of extra strings occasionally added varied. the transfer of Max Bacon to the vocal department had been long overdue! About the new percussionist. But for an Afro-Caribbean. we needn’t dwell any longer on this interesting development because – for reasons that will soon become clear – Ambrose’s ambitions didn’t last long enough to make any real impact. The inclusion of a second tenor in the reeds section was now considered essential and Harry Lewis. another unknown quantity. A notable feature of the new outfit was the four-piece trumpet and trombone sections – quite advanced for the time. Although Max Bacon had played some vibraphone in the late 1920s (he was one of the first to do so in Britain) Ambrose regarded the xylophone as preferable because of its greater percussive effect. Ambrose hosted a farewell party for Coleman and others at the Palm Beach Club in Soho. Jock was influenced by the trend towards greater subtlety in drumming and cymbal technique a la Count Basie. although whatever the number it always seemed to be more than was actually the case. he had now changed his mind. Tom Webster. Like his immediate predecessor Maurice Burman. Just before Coleman left.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 226 The full orchestra commenced rehearsals during the second-to-last week in August. . Edmundo Ros came to Britain from the Caribbean in 1937 hoping to put his studies and training in classical music to good use. the Mills Brothers. and Jock Cummings was. little is known except that he was an outstanding vibraphone player. however gifted. Even more surprising was the inclusion of three virtually unknown and relatively young newcomers in the trumpet section – all notable jazz soloists with minimal danceband experience. the Dandridge Sisters…and Coleman Hawkins. although some members were also playing in the Ambrose Octet which was still supporting the stage show in the London area. Ambrose was very keen on authenticity in this area and added a young drummer-percussionist to the arranging team to assist in such matters. according to one observer…‘Like four right hands controlled by a common brain’. Apparently. particularly on clarinet. This transferred overall tempo control to the bass player and the drummer was no longer obliged to thump away on the bass drum (so drowning-out the bass player). Stanley Black joined the band on first piano. He too was relatively unknown but had impeccable jazz credentials. They were quite a distinguished bunch and included Fats Waller. who had briefly occupied the chair earlier in the year. By the time Ambrose started to recruit players for his new outfit most of the American celebrities who had been visiting or working in Britain that summer had departed. Ambrose’s string ‘sound’ was highly praised at the time and was largely due to the expertise of arranger Art Strauss. Tiny Winters.

Appropriately. Such albums retailed at fifteen shillings [about £30 now] and came with artwork.also with the title: REMINISCING WITH AMBROSE (!). however. although it seems unlikely that the whole aggregation shown above would have taken part in this. Called ‘REMINISCING WITH AMBROSE’ this show was meant to celebrate Ambrose’s broadcasting career to date – eleven years in all. . a violent thunderstorm hit London that evening while the cabinet met to formulate an ultimatum to Germany. Significantly. sleeve notes and a stout case with carrying handle. twelve original recordings of the listed titles were destined to be part of a forthcoming six-record ‘album’ due for release by Decca/UK in November . Ambrose’s radio ‘plug’ for his forthcoming album misfired because the broadcast had to be cancelled. The records and case could. The stage show continued as usual.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 227 The first scheduled date for the orchestra during the first week of September was a gala dance at the Empress Hall ballroom. Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle (still a successful variety duo) would also be taking part. due for transmission on September 9th. For reasons that will soon be made clear neither the gala dance nor this broadcast took place. Six days before it was due to be transmitted war brokeout. On Friday September 1st Hitler invaded Poland and for the next couple of days most people stayed at home glued to their radios. As well as the regular vocalists. This would be Ambrose’s first album and was aimed at the Christmas trade. although in the case of the broadcast it’s worth taking a look at some of the proposed content: South American Joe Hors D’Oeuvres Body And Soul Cohen The Crooner* La Cucaracha The Moon Was Yellow* Smoke Gets In Your Eyes* The Continental Lullaby Of Broadway* Empty Saddles* No No A Thousand Times No* All Through The Night* Top Hat White Tie And Tails* Organ Grinders Swing* When Day Is Done* All these titles were re-workings of Ambrose’s recordings and for those marked * the original vocalists were to be featured. and one band (not Ambrose’s) coincidentally ended its late-night broadcast with Irving Berlin’s haunting song Let’s Face The Music And Dance. but on the Saturday most places of entertainment closed early. the cost of Decca/UK’s ‘Blue & Gold’ label ten-inch records at this time was two shillings [about £4 now]. Incidentally. The first major scheduled broadcast for the full orchestra was a pre-recorded special Saturday evening studio-based show on the BBC National Programme. be purchased separately so enabling the cost to be spread over time.

etc. clubs and restaurants were all affected and the results were potentially catastrophic for the huge entertainment industry. as we shall see shortly. including additions. Whatever disruption occurred as a result of the short-lived close-down it didn’t last more than a week or so. cinemas. So far as the latter programme was concerned. As Ambrose put it later: ‘With the world about to crash round our heads endless debates about whether to add a fourth trumpet to the band or do a rumba version of The Lady Is A Tramp seemed pretty pointless’. comedy. and at a stroke what had been important a few days before wasn’t anymore. Years of debate and controversy over what we would now call ‘dumbing-down’ by the BBC was unceremoniously swept-aside as two new country-wide networks came into being – the Home Service for news. but many others didn’t and it was decided that the BBC must provide more programmes with a similar appeal. Regional transmissions had enabled a degree of choice to be exercised on the part of listeners. Few questioned the need for such a programme. ‘serious’ music. No doubt Neville Chamberlain’s government believed it was doing the right thing. and the General Forces Programme for variety. The main orchestra. alarmed at the prospect of half a million or so entertainment workers claiming the dole. morning. Some of the Continental commercial stations closed-down. and this will become apparent as our story develops. but debate and controversy over its content would continue unabated throughout the war. cruelty. Tens of thousands of employees were about to be deprived of a living and thousands of businesses made bankrupt. but by the time a deputation of entertainment industry bigwigs (including Jack Hylton) called on the Minister of Labour the order had already been rescinded at the instigation of the Treasury. light/dance music.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 228 The next day war was declared. although some guest performers were featured in the first half including Naunton Wayne. . Given the extra time enjoyed by the Ambrose outfit it would be nice to know what they got up to at the Hippodrome. and so too had commercial stations like Radio Luxembourg. dance halls. etc. Theatres. Both television and regional radio were axed for the duration. it would have been impractical to take such a large company of performers on the provincial tour that was to follow-on in October and the orchestra was indeed scaled-down to seventeen musicians. Because of the possibility of aerial bombardment a ban on public assembly was imposed and consequently all places of entertainment were shut-down forthwith. current affairs. Radio Eireann and many others. was the main feature and a different format to the usual variety one was adopted. Broadcasting was also affected by the outbreak of war. The best that can be done is to acknowledge the fact…and press on regardless! Immediately war was declared all kinds of emergency powers and regulations came into effect. noon and night.. The show at the London Hippodrome did take place during the last two weeks of September. its purpose when fully functioning would be to provide entertainment for the masses seven days a week. Ambrose’s pessimism was understandable but a trifle premature. However the point he was making can’t be ignored by anyone writing or reading about things that do indeed seem pointless against the background of human suffering. a dance routine (possibly the Tiller Girls) and Arthur Young demonstrating a new musical instrument called the Novachord – the first electronic keyboard to be marketed in Britain. Ambrose had responsibility for the entire show. but no programme or review has so far come to light. heroism and momentous events that would eventually engulf the entire world. One thing though is for sure.

Pennsylvania 6-5000…Instrumental. It was in fact wildly successful and had it not been for the need to give the band a break from the gruelling schedule he could have continued touring the provinces. dancehalls. If Ambrose had initially harboured doubts about the success of the tour given the uncertainties of the time. The Beer Barrel Polka…Evelyn Dall. Carlisle.a soldier.three trumpets. The five-week tour commenced during the first week of October at the Palace Theatre in Manchester then went to Glasgow. both of whom played in the orchestra). and Preston.was probably devised by Ray Sonin and/or Sid Colin. By this time she was without doubt the ‘star of the show’ and Ambrose had the good sense to give her the closing item. For reasons that social historians haven’t entirely been able to figure out. Audiences soon learned the words of the song and. The Latin-American numbers required the vocalists concerned to wear appropriate costumes with Evelyn Dall in a ‘tooty-fruity’ outfit emulating Carmen Miranda (a big hit on Broadway in 1939). Note that around half the items were war related including Vera Lynn’s first contribution which was written and arranged by Art Strauss. four reeds. And this wasn’t an exception because all forms of entertainment were enjoying boom conditions that would last throughout the time later known as the Phoney War. seven rhythm (including two pianos and two guitars) and Evelyn Dall. Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant-Major…Leslie Carew. people flocked to theatres. Vera Lynn. Sunday concerts were held at Southport. The sketch . South American Way…Vera Lynn/Jack Cooper. they were soon dispelled. In The Mood…Instrumental. Brazil…Instrumental (Stanley Black/Jimmy Miller – pianos). encouraged by Vera. By November 1939 the song We’ll Meet Again had already been published in America but it was Vera Lynn who introduced it to British audiences after discovering an advance copy in a music publisher’s office. Incidentally Evelyn’s version of Begin The Beguine was a rumba arranged by Edmundo Ros and different to the Stanley Black version that Ambrose later recorded.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 229 The revised line-up comprised: . three trombones. Begin The Beguine…Evelyn Dall. sailor. Max Bacon and Jack Cooper exclusively on vocals and comedy routines (ably assisted as required by Jimmy Miller and Sid Colin. and airman spoof . Art Strauss made an arrangement for her and she recorded it under her own name. Here’s a typical fifty-minute programme: Jumpin’ Jive…Evelyn Dall. and despite the blackout and increased entertainment taxes. spontaneously joined in the final chorus. Newcastle and Birmingham. It was an instant hit and became ‘her song’. How Ashamed I Was…Max Bacon/Leslie Carew/Sid Colin. restaurants and clubs. The usual weekday variety shows were combined with guest appearances at local ballrooms and day-time concerts at troop encampments and armaments factories. cinemas. Run Rabbit Run…Jack Cooper. We’ll Meet Again…Vera Lynn. Calling The Shots {sketch}…Max Bacon/Sid Colin/Jimmy Miller. . Liverpool. Lilacs In The Rain…Jack Cooper. Moreover. They Can’t Black Out The Moon…Vera Lynn.

Stairway To The Stars. How Ashamed I Was (+Max Bacon/ Les Carew). [Vocal by Vera Lynn…I’ll Remember. Heaven Can Wait. Chicago. The Washing On The Siegfried Line. Honolulu. How Beautiful You Are. Gulliver’s Travels (+Evelyn Dall/Vera Lynn). I’m Sending You The Siegfried Line. There’ll Always Be An England. many chose to believe Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain when he asserted that: ‘Hitler has missed the bus’. Flying Home. Nursie Nursie. [Vocal by Evelyn Dall…My Heart Belongs To Daddy. but this was the jazz-oriented unit brought into being for special purposes. Little Brown Jug. An interesting possibility. although even if they could have seen what was to come it might have made little difference. If A Grey Haired Lady Says ‘How’s Yer Father’. the personnel involved with the three outfits overlapped. Rhymes Of The Times (+Max Bacon/Les Carew). . Somewhere In France With You. Adios. Love Never Grows Old. In mid-December Ambrose announced that he would be forming a twelve-piece band for the May Fair residency. US releases shown upright. Darn That Dream. La Mer. Two further points of interest also emerged from his statement – a return to regular broadcasting and a continuation of the stage show in the London area supported by a band similar to the Ambrose Octet. I Concentrate On You. In early November Ambrose entered into discussions with the new owners of Ciro’s who sought his return (the restaurant had been closed since Jack Harris relinquished ownership some months earlier). Do I Love You. The Lady’s In Love With You. I Didn’t Know What Time It Was. And just to confuse matters. The Lamp Is Low. but another old haunt – the May Fair Hotel – was also bidding for the maestro. Anyway. As details weren’t finalised until the New Year we can consider them later. There were also several recording sessions for Decca. Ridin’ Home. For others it really was a case of ‘eat. which was due to commence on the 22nd of that month. but no broadcasts. The extent to which people on the home front were living in a Fools Paradise would become clear later. I Get Along Without You Very Well. Here are the recordings that Ambrose made in the autumn of 1939: [Vocal by Jack Cooper…Run Rabbit Run. and it was to this venue that Ambrose agreed to return. Have You Met Miss Jones. And these were the major hits of the year not listed elsewhere: At The Balalaika. but restyled the Blue Lyres. Undecided. Tara’s Theme. [Vocal by Leslie Carew…Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant-Major. [Vocal by Sam Browne…Nasty Uncle Adolf. Goodbye Sally. Sunrise Serenade. drink and be merry…! At the conclusion of the provincial tour in early November the full orchestra was once more scaled-down and a stage show toured cinemas in the London area until mid-December.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 230 Sales of sheet music and records also rose significantly so it wasn’t just a case of people wanting to be part of a crowd. Moonlight Serenade. Lonely Sweetheart. An Apple For The Teacher (+Evelyn Dall). There would also be an Ambrose Octet.

and that was what they gave themselves up to’. We can take a look at the line-up in each case. For most of the time he did manage to keep a core of musicians in full-time employment. On the night he opened a capacity crowd of six-hundred attended. but was still obliged to supplement them with outsiders for most purposes.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 231 Ambrose’s return to the May Fair in late December was hailed as a major national event and received an unusual degree of press attention. but first something rather important must be considered…from this time until the end of the war Ambrose’s personnel situation was extremely unstable. And so ended 1939 – and a lot else besides! The bands that Ambrose required for his modus operandi emerged as working entities during the first week of January 1940. . AMBROSE & HIS ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Tommy McQuater (trumpet) Arthur Mouncy (trumpet) Tim Casey (trumpet) George Chisholm (trombone) Leslie Carew (trombone/+vocals) Reeds: Harry Smith (alto/clarinet) Joe Jeanette (alto/clarinet/flute/+arranger) Billy Amstell (tenor/clarinet) Andy McDevitt (tenor/clarinet) Rhythm: Stanley Black (piano/+arranger) Ivor Mairants (guitar) Tiny Winters (bass) Jock Cummings (drums) Vic Burtwell (timpani/xylophone/marimba) Strings: Ernie Lewis (violin/+deputy) Billy Anders (violin) Billy Miller (violin) Vocals: Evelyn Dall Vera Lynn Jack Cooper Max Bacon Arrangers: Sid Phillips (chief) Eddie Lisbona Teddy White Bert Barnes Art Strauss Edmundo Ros Members of the non-augmented May Fair band show in bold type. Some members of the band were far from ecstatic – they would have to give themselves up to the softlyplayed saccharine-sweet sounds demanded by the May Fair’s management and clientele. One gossip columnist gushed ecstatically: ‘There was a feeling of happiness and gladness that Ambrose was back among them. This means that all wartime line-up lists must be regarded with caution.

This outfit was intended to appeal to jazz lovers. Ambrose got nowhere when he again tried to interest the BBC and Decca/UK in the group’s potential as a jazz unit. also in the London area. and like the American model was supposed to function as a ‘band-within-a-band’. Here’s the line-up: THE AMBROSE (JAZZ) OCTET Tommy McQuater (trumpet) George Chisholm (trombone) Frank Weir (alto/clarinet) Andy McDevitt (tenor/clarinet) Stanley Black (piano) Ivor Mairants (guitar) Tiny Winters (bass) Jock Cummings (drums) + Evelyn Dall /Vera Lynn (vocals) . Moreover. then. although on some recordings dating from this time the string section has clearly been supplemented. circumstances cut short its life. It did (as we shall see) but. As in previous years the name Ambrose Octet was also used for a group that Ambrose/Sid Phillips based on Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats. and despite being a nine-piece outfit was called the Ambrose Octet. There was no actual bandstand in the Starlight Room where Ambrose played at this time and so larger-than-usual bands could always be accommodated (though at the expense of some tables and dance-floor space).KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 232 Some major changes. Nor is it clear what size orchestra Ambrose used for recording sessions. And here’s the stage show band: THE BLUE LYRES Tim Casey (trumpet) Leslie Carew (trombone/+vocals) Harry Smith (alto/clarinet) Harry Lewis (tenor/clarinet) Jimmy Miller (piano/guitar/+vocals) Eddie Lisbona (piano/accordion) Sid Colin (guitar/+vocals) Tiny Winters (bass) Max Bacon (drums/+vocals) Vic Burtwell (timpani/xylophone/+drums) Vera Lynn (vocals) This band (including Vera Lynn) toured cinemas in the London area on and off for about two months. How much augmentation took place during broadcasts is not known. During the ‘off’ times an alternative unit (with Evelyn Dall and Vera Lynn) toured variety theatres. as before. particularly in the brass section – and the return of some old faces. This alternative band had Billy Amstell on clarinet in place of the two Harry’s.

According to Stanley Black: ‘Bert had quite a good grasp of theory. . However.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 233 Several arrangements for this group were written by Sid Phillips. The tunes (all instrumentals) that Ambrose arranged during the first few months of 1940 were all based on classical themes: Liebestraum {Liszt} Nocturne {Chopin} Waltz {Tchaikovsky} Serenade {Schubert} Prelude {Bach} Caprice {Paganini} Whether a danceband version of Liszt’s Liebestraum was really in the best possible taste is questionable but ‘jazzing the classics’ was very popular at the time and many big bands – including Jimmie Lunceford’s – indulged in the practice. It was perhaps inevitable that the BBC chose to ignore Ambrose’s request for his own separate jazzoriented programme given the confusion that this may have caused among dim-witted listeners. At the time such sentiments didn’t have much currency even in rhythm club circles. Normal arrangements supposedly had to be approved by the publisher of the music and were sometimes copied from recordings almost note-for-note by the less scrupulous bandleaders. These arrangements were probably broadcast and a couple recorded by Decca. the subsequent introduction of a programme similar in intent and called ‘RADIO RHYTHM CLUB’ was perhaps no coincidence. That he did have the ability to arrange was confirmed by Sid Phillips and others. Some were notorious for this including Hal Kemp in America and Jack Harris in Britain. Bert Barnes and others and rehearsals were held regularly even though no one was quite sure what they were rehearsing for! Only one public performance of this jazz unit was reported at the time – at the annual ‘JAZZ JAMBOREE’ in April. (considered later). genuinely appreciated jazz was anathema to some among the jazz fraternity. One interesting point is that because these titles were in the ‘public domain’ the arrangements were subject to copyright and so Ambrose could claim royalties just like a composer. When it was put to a prominent member of a provincial rhythm club early in 1940 that: ‘You’ll surely agree that Ambrose has the talent to bring out the best in his players’ he replied: ‘I’ll agree to no such thing…Ambrose has no talent…it’s the players who bring out the best in him. Even more remarkable to some was (and maybe still is) the notion that Ambrose understood – in a musical-technical sense – what was going-on in his own orchestra and from time-to-time contributed arrangements (although where he found the time to do so is another matter). but after the war they did because some of those expressing them at the time later became influential commentators. This was certainly true of the earnest young man who made those early wartime remarks. The notion that Ambrose. and that’s all there is to it’. or any commercial bandleader. although he wasn’t in any sense brilliant…he had a reasonable orchestration technique and occasionally wrote arrangements which were routine but quite genuine’.

the half-hour stage show being a single presentation after which the band made a hurried return to the May Fair for the nine o’clock start. Bless ‘Em All…Leslie Carew/Max Bacon. However. Amstell]…Instrumental. Starting in mid-January Vera Lynn and the Blue Lyres commenced a tour of London variety theatres. Strauss]…Instrumental/Billy Miller (violin) Careless …Vera Lynn. One O’clock Jump [arr. Lisbona]…Instrumental. Even so Ambrose’s presence at the May Fair ensured that the Starlight Room did exceptionally good business. So Deep Is The Night [arr. Seventeen Candles …Vera Lynn. January and February 1940 were the coldest months on record and there were some quite heavy snowfalls. Evelyn Dall and Max Bacon could attend when the stage show was also on the road. It’s A Lovely Day Tomorrow…Vera Lynn. Pinocchio {medley}…Evelyn Dall/Sam Browne/Vera Lynn. Durations ranged between thirty minutes and an hour – usually somewhere in-between. Rosita … Sam Browne. Stratford. Scrub Me Mama With A Boogie Beat [arr. In late January a Pathé film crew turned-up at the May Fair and filmed the band during one of the broadcasts. Bella Bambina [comp. This short film was shown in cinemas throughout the country. Ambrose treated these broadcasts as shows rather than mere presentations of dance music but given the erratic nature of the scheduling it’s difficult to see how the likes of Vera Lynn. Art Strauss]…Sam Browne. although they were always listed in the Radio Times as star attractions. Finsbury Park and Ilford. Broadcasts continued at irregular (but mostly weekly) intervals at various times. Jack Harris may have filched Ambrose’s orchestrations but he didn’t stay a thorn in his side for long because in the spring of 1940 he returned to America and became resident bandleader at the famous Stork Club. Roosevelt Jones. there was no regular day of the week or time slot allocated to his broadcasts and all schedules were subject to change at short notice. with an occasional Saturday late-night slot. In mid-March Ambrose took the regular May Fair band on a tour of London cinemas. Tootin’ Around [comp. Late night broadcasting on the General Forces Programme commenced from the hotel in early January. Here’s a typical programme: Hitchhiker Gets A Lift [comp. Hackney. (For this particular broadcast Sam Browne was standing-in for Jack Cooper) . My Wubba Dolly …Evelyn Dall. It seems that Evelyn Dall was otherwise engaged and Jack Cooper confined to the May Fair. Another girl vocalist was hired around this time but nothing about her is known and she doesn’t seem to have taken part in the broadcasts. including weekly stints at New Cross. As usual. Barnes]…Evelyn Dall. Phillips]…Instrumental. Although most outside broadcasts had been axed after the start of the war some were resumed in 1940 and Ambrose was an early beneficiary. The result was a Pathetone ‘short’ that featured the orchestra and Evelyn Dall performing Franklin D.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 234 .

the home station of the RAF Central Band. Of course. What he didn’t expect was the wholesale removal of eight key players at a stroke. It was around mid-March 1940 that rumours started to circulate on the Archer Street ‘grapevine’ that a number of Ambrose’s sidemen would soon be leaving him to join the RAF. Jock Cummings. Supposedly. and if they were lucky playing in sparetime bands.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 235 Some studio-based radio programmes were also recorded around this time – at Bush House the headquarters of the BBC Empire Service. Andy McDevitt. Sid Colin and Jimmy Miller were deliberating on their future one fine spring day around the Ides of March when their attention was drawn to a rather unusual ‘call to arms’ by the RAF’s Director of Music – Wing Commander O’Donnell. After the thirty-minute show most of the band had to dash-off to the May Fair. many in the band were eligible for call-up so the rumours didn’t excite much attention even though mention was made of them in the Melody Maker. He had let it be known that professional musicians joining the RAF need not allow their musical talents to go to waste. Ambrose was unaware of these goings-on and that particular Monday – April Fools day as it so happens – the May Fair orchestra was scheduled to appear in an early-evening stage show in Kilburn. And so on the first Monday in April seven hopefuls turned-up at RAF Uxbridge. So far – so what? A bunch of Ambrose sidemen joining the RAF and then being dispersed to various training centres in the usual manner. was resigned to personnel being picked-off in ones-or-twos. Some of the variety content of the Forces Programme was transmitted from Bristol rather than London but during the Phoney War period use was still being made of various London studios for live and recorded music programmes. and the bothersome process of finding adequate replacements. This suggests that they were intended for overseas transmissions. But even humble danceband musicians posted to various commands around the country might expect to join semi-official spare-time dancebands. like all the other bandleaders. Broadcasting schedules were very erratic at this time and even the Radio Times can’t be relied on as a true guide as to what was broadcast – or when. George Chisholm. Some of the very best might be accepted into the ranks of one or other of the central RAF bands. someone broke the news to him. This was due to start at 7. By the spring of 1940 about two-hundred professional musicians had volunteered for the RAF although most of these had to be content with playing in the spare-time bands that did indeed come into being at RAF stations around Britain. and…well what exactly did happen next? The story goes that Wing Commander O’Donnell became aware that a group of star players from the Ambrose band had arrived on his doorstep and there and then decided to form what would officially be called the RAF No. Only one of these – Stanley Black – was actually conscripted. Harry Lewis. 1 Dance Orchestra. But that’s precisely what the Ambrose contingent hoped to avoid.30pm and the boys who had gone to Uxbridge arrived at the theatre with only minutes to spare before curtain-up. one of which was being expanded to symphony orchestra proportions. Later that evening. or possibly the next day. and later (unofficially and more affectionately) the Squadronaires. including Ambrose. or the location may have merely been a wartime measure. . the others volunteered on block. At this time Ambrose was recuperating from the ‘flu (the broadcast detailed above was directed by Art Strauss and regular work at the May Fair was being supervised by Ernie Lewis). Ambrose. even though their official duties would be far from musical in nature. According to legend Tommy McQuater.

Regrettably. Both Teddy White and Edmundo Ros left Ambrose’s arranging team on becoming full-time bandleaders. Ambrose was assisting Teddy White to set-up a band for a residency at the Lansdowne House Restaurant and Doreen seemed an ideal choice to be his vocalist. . that the four who were members of the Ambrose (jazz) Octet would appear at the ‘JAZZ JAMBOREE’ the following Sunday (April 7th). Evelyn Dall and Vera Lynn to do their stuff. the torch was passed by force of circumstances to the Squadronaires. In this group Bert Barnes played piano. Ambrose had to make the best of things…it was his patriotic duty no less! However.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 236 At a stroke Ambrose had lost half the May Fair band and two key members of the stage show. well there were no British equivalents to the great American bands of Benny Goodman. late of the Ambrose Octet. and many later. although she remained under contract to Ambrose for the next year or so. Ambrose’s reputation as leader of Britain’s most stylish band had been established by the time swing music emerged as a truly mass phenomenon in America. And so far as swing was concerned. as we shall see.whatever pretensions Ambrose had to play more than an insignificant role in the development of jazz and swing music in Britain ended as the curtain came down on that show. Other band changes will be outlined after we have considered those in the vocal department. there were two important concessions that he did wring out of some of those departing. This was Eddie Macauley who had been recommended by Arthur Young. Edmundo Ros also got a lot of encouragement from Ambrose a little later when he formed a small band that specialised in Latin American dance music. who impressed him greatly. who questioned the very notion that outfits that were essentially dancebands could be significant in jazz terms. Since early in 1940 Sid Phillips had also been leading a small band – the Sid Phillips Swing Trio . they would all be leaving at the end of the week. switched to Ambrose’s main orchestra on the departure of Jock Cummings. In return for this favour Ambrose arranged for Frank Weir. although there were some in Britain at the time. Artie Shaw. but like Sid retained his place on Ambrose’s arranging team. to join Arthur Young’s Swingtette – a small jazz-oriented club band. The third member of Sid’s band. Firstly. Moreover. It was probably also through Arthur Young that Ambrose became aware of a girl singer called Doreen Villiers. and it’s debatable whether he could have retained this status even if there had been no war. The Ambrose Octet did appear at the 1940 ‘JAZZ JAMBOREE’. and secondly that the two players whom he considered to be ‘indispensable’ (Tommy McQuater and George Chisholm) give him first option to employ their services whenever they might be available. The eighth key player to leave was Stanley Black. Only his reputation remained intact after circumstances made further development impossible. no details of the programme have come to light. its first and last public appearance as then constituted. (Even this was a concession on the part of the RAF because they should have gone into service the day they enlisted). but one thing seems certain . by the time circumstances changed for the better it would be too late to pick up where he had left off. drummer Maurice Burman. Ambrose introduced the proceedings with a few words (for which he received a standing ovation) and then left the Octet. although here it was a case of call-up and Ambrose had sufficient advance warning to find a suitable the newly-opened Club Le Suivi. Harry James and Glenn Miller until well after these bands had enjoyed their peak success in the early-to-mid 1940s. To a great extent. Tommy Dorsey. And.

an accompanist and musical director. Once the stage shows had ceased the best that Ambrose could offer was regular vocalising at the May Fair. so there! Ambrose was. as a completely independent performer she would have no guaranteed regular income. impresario Tom Arnold approached Ambrose with a proposition for a stage musical based around the talents of Evelyn Dall. mortified and this was compounded when it became apparent that his own agent. Vera Lynn was also contemplating a career change in the spring of 1940. In June. was aiding and abetting the transitional process. After all. But Vera was well aware of all this and still wanted to do it. She had first come to prominence with the Roy Fox band in 1935 and had a similar singing style to Evelyn Dall. Evelyn Dall had also been given the opportunity to record for Decca/UK as a solo artist. and the BBC had given her the chance to star in a radio show called ‘SATURDAY AT NINE-THIRTY’. For example Vera Lynn had her own recording contract with Decca/UK and by early 1940 was selling more records in Britain than Bing Crosby.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 237 The hiatus caused by the departure of so many key personnel resulted in the (temporary) abandonment of the stage show concept. Evelyn made her final contribution to Ambrose’s recorded output. Called ‘PRESENT ARMS’ this war-oriented show would be Evelyn’s first venture into musical theatre since her Broadway debut in 1935. The show opened at the Birmingham Hippodrome in early May and a week later transferred to the Prince of Wales Theatre in the West End. Their all-in weekly salaries did largely reflect this fact but more to the point so did their professional activities away from the bandstand. Coincidentally. a lawyer…and have the tenacity to resist the predatory ‘sharks’ that then (as now) infested ‘the business’. an accountant. Leslie McDonnell. In 1939 Evelyn came first in the Melody Maker poll for Top Female Vocalist. and a number of other variety performers including Max Bacon. Maybe it wasn’t an aversion to the microphone or studio-based work as such. a manager. possibly a publicist. . She was also occasionally taking part in radio variety shows as a guest artist. Evelyn Dall seems to have had little interest in radio work or making records. Both Evelyn and Vera had fan clubs and apart from their regular work appeared in advertisements and were often featured in show business and fashion magazines and press articles. Evelyn’s replacement at the May Fair was a girl singer called Mary Lee who had been recommended by Maurice Burman. would have to hire an agent. and Ambrose readily agreed. Subsequently she concentrated on stage and film work and only broadcast with the Ambrose band as a guest artist. In Evelyn Dall’s case routine work with the Ambrose Orchestra temporarily ended when she joined the cast of ‘PRESENT ARMS’. comedian Max Wall. of course. As she was doing quite well in the latter capacity so far as topping-up her regular salary was concerned it must have been quite tempting to keep things as they were. but rather a feeling that her main appeal was visual and she always seemed more at home in front of an audience or a camera. whose songs she tackled with gusto. They were both stars in their own right notwithstanding the connection with 1940 the positions were reversed. Unlike Vera Lynn. Ambrose was well aware that Evelyn Dall and Vera Lynn could not now be regarded primarily as band singers. but returned briefly to regular vocalising at the May Fair in August. intermittent recording sessions and the chance to freelance when not so engaged. and Vera came second .

and occasionally thereafter Ambrose provided arrangements and (anonymous) orchestral backing for her Decca recordings. Reeds: Rhythm: Strings: Vocals: Arrangers: . accepted the inevitable and. Her final credited broadcast with Ambrose (which may have been pre-recorded) was in late July and she made her last record for him around the same time. and it’s difficult to be precise about the date she left. However. extracted a number of post-departure commitments. he had volunteered for the army earlier in the year but weighing-in at twenty stone was unceremoniously rejected! The band that Ambrose formed after the departure of so many of his sidemen wasn’t in any sense ‘cobbled together’ or musically inferior. The parting of the ways was quite amicable. His days as drummer with the main orchestra were now over. This meant that Vera drifted out of the Ambrose orbit in much the same way as she drifted in. Max Bacon also wished to concentrate on developing his career as a solo performer but wasn’t so keen on leaving the security of the Ambrose fold. she seems to have started touring variety theatres as a solo act before this. but not necessarily with any band that Ambrose might form for stage shows. as usual. Let’s take a look at the line-up in the spring of 1940: AMBROSE & HIS ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Arthur Mouncey (trumpet) Tim Casey (trumpet) Leslie Carew (trombone/+vocal) Bruce Campbell (trombone)* Joe Crossman (alto/clarinet/baritone) Joe Jeanette (alto/clarinet/flute/+arranger) Billy Amstell (tenor/clarinet) Harry Smith (tenor/clarinet) Eddie Macauley (piano) Ivor Mairants (guitar) Tiny Winters (bass) Maurice Burman (drums) Ernie Lewis (violin)…et al* Vera Lynn Jack Cooper Mary Lee Evelyn Dall* Sid Phillips Bert Barnes Art Strauss Peter Knight *Occasional additions. For the time being he would be fully occupied with the show ‘PRESENT ARMS’. Incidentally.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 238 After a lot of huffing and puffing Ambrose. as usual.

though not necessarily full-time. but apart from this change the instrumental personnel remained reasonably stable for the rest of the year. shown above as a part-time arranger. On hearing her voice Ambrose was completely bowled-over and later the same evening contacted the show’s producer Ronnie Waldman and through him got Anne’s home telephone number. Legend has it that one evening Ambrose was listening to a popular radio show called ‘MONDAY NIGHT AT EIGHT’. Peter Knight. and the significance of her arrival on the scene cannot be overemphasised. A number of the musicians listed in the above line-up did have a continuous. It was while taking part in one of these that Anne came to the attention of Ronnie Waldman who invited her to take part in ‘MONDAY NIGHT AT EIGHT’. Anne recalled her audition for Ambrose that fine spring day in 1940: ‘My mummy took me along to the May Fair Hotel and I felt very nervous. An occasional feature of this programme was the introduction of a new singing talent and on the evening in question Anne had been selected to take part. but as she was only twelve at the time there could be no follow-up. association with Ambrose during the early war years. dark blue shirt. or so it seemed to me. and there was a degree of personnel continuity throughout the war. it must be emphasised that such lists have to be treated with caution. Many years after the event. replaced Eddie Macaulay as regular pianist at some stage during the summer. Eventually he reached Anne’s mother and invited Anne to audition at the May Fair the very next morning. We waited for what seemed ages and then a side door opened and two men marched-in…both were dressed like gangsters. and through a friend of the family came to the attention of Jack Hylton the bandleader and impresario.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 239 Again. Anne Shelton (real name Patricia Sibley) was born into an Irish family in the South London suburb of Dulwich. Certainly. An important full-time addition in the spring of 1940 was a young girl singer called Anne Shelton. some broadcasts were studio-based and pre-recorded. We were escorted down a wide staircase and into to a large room with pillars…it was a restaurant with a small dance area at one end and there was some kind of rehearsal in progress. white tie and a trilby hat…“So you’re the little girl with the big sound…well girly lets see what you can do shall we?” . She attended a local convent school and apart from singing in the school choir had no specific voice training or musical education. For recording purposes a substantial string section was sometimes added but no one can remember whether the band was augmented by extra brass players and/or a string section for broadcasts from the May Fair at this time. even as a child she possessed a unique singing style and innate sense of rhythm. however the players shown in bold type formed the regular band at the May Fair and were essentially full-timers. However. Hylton invited her to record a couple of titles with his band. My nervousness turned to terror when one of the men came over and drawled: “Welcome to the organisation!”…it was Mr Ambrose wearing a light grey suit. and for these the band was usually fully augmented. By the time she reached her ‘teens Anne had developed a magnificent vocal technique and encouraged by her mother she entered local talent contests.

KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 240 I was led over to a piano which wasn’t on the bandstand and away from where the rehearsal was taking place. Ambrose emerged from behind the pillar with a grin on his face and the next day my mummy and daddy signed a five year contract on my behalf. Continued…… . went and hid behind a pillar! I was still pretty nervous but once I started to sing all my fear went…and it was always like that for me. the session being shared with Vera Lynn. Eventually he said “O. Are You Having Any Fun. It was a fine start. this was not to be the end of Mary’s connection with Ambrose. ‘Neath The Shanty Town Moon. Serenade Of Napoli. nor the last time her Dalllike attributes would be called into service during the absence of the ‘real thing’ as we shall see. Turn On The Old Music Box. I Can’t Love You Any More. When I Dream Of Home. On 7th June she recorded Begin The Beguine at Decca’s studio. In An Old Dutch Garden. Here are the main titles recorded since the beginning of the year: [Vocal by Jack Cooper…Bella Bambina. El Rancho Grande. So Deep Is The Night. and on 25th June she recorded A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square at a session also attended by Evelyn Dall. When You Wish Upon a Star (+Vera Lynn). the tune and words of which I knew almost backwards. Someone then brought over a microphone. perhaps expecting the worst. Tiggerty-Boo. Chatterbox (+Vera Lynn). However. although her contributions to broadcasts from the May Fair were not credited in the Radio Times until she officially replaced Vera Lynn in August. Both of Anne’s contributions ensured that the two songs would be big hits for Ambrose. sweetheart don’t worry. The Lady On The Cameo. Meet The Sun Half Way. And all I could think about was that I wouldn’t have to work in Woolworth’s!’ By the end of the week Anne was singing at the May Fair and her first studio broadcast with the band was transmitted the following Sunday. we’ll find something suitable”…and that something was Begin The Beguine.K. By the time Evelyn Dall and Vera Lynn made their final contributions to Ambrose’s Decca recording career about half the output for 1940 had been recorded. I’ve Got My Eyes On You. Scatterbrain. There’s A Boy Coming Home On Leave. Cuban Romeo. Carry On. Pinocchio (+Evelyn Dall/Vera Lynn). Indian Summer. I Haven’t Time To Be A Millionaire. In fact he was very kind and I sat next to him and in a gravely voice he asked me things like: “What’s your range honey?” and “What’s your favourite key sugar?”…and I hadn’t a clue about either. The Gaucho Serenade. I Was Watching A Man Paint A Fence. The Woodpecker Song. Seventeen Candles. particularly when Ambrose realised that Anne was equally adept at ballads and up-tempo numbers. Arm In Arm. The Singing Hills. Where Or When. Rosita. The man at the piano didn’t seem quite so gangster-like now and had at least taken off his hat. In The Quartermaster’s Store (+Leslie Carew). Over The Rainbow. Anne Shelton’s success meant the end of Mary Lee’s brief time with the Ambrose Orchestra. shouted “shut up” into it and with some difficulty adjusted it down to my height. If I Should Fall In Love Again. My Capri Serenade. Anyway. Ambrose.

including in Central London. All that was about to change – and with a vengeance – as summer succeeded spring in 1940. [Instrumentals…In An Eighteenth Century Drawing Room. Subsequent broadcasts by Ambrose were studio recordings. bombs occasionally fall in Central London. JUNE…Allied troops evacuated from Dunkirk. beat-back French and British armies. This particular Billboard Chart had been introduced in the summer of 1940 and included a TOP TEN BEST SELLING SINGLES list. By The Wishing Well. Although not at this stage of the war deliberate. Waltz Of The Flowers. rather than (sampled) radio and juke box plays. but the Billboard Chart superseded earlier ones in popularity from this time on. and Vera’s powerful vocal (which was credited on the record label) aroused interest in the U. invasion scare starts. and all remaining outside broadcasts from hotels and restaurants came to an end. JULY…Luftwaffe start bombing British military and industrial targets. some bombing of civilian areas occurred. MAY…Germans invade France.000 in the US. Fools Rush In. Both systems had their good and bad points. So too did Anne Shelton’s American release which for a short time was ahead of recording artists like Bing Crosby and Glenn Miller in the race to enter the Billboard ‘Music Popularity Chart’. US releases shown upright. In a nut shell these were the main momentous events that even the most dedicated hedonist would have been aware of at the time: .S.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 241 . Germans invade Low Countries. I’m In Love For The Last Time. Careless. Note that one of Vera Lynn’s last contributions was released in America – only the second time this had occurred since she joined the band. [Vocal by Anne Shelton…Begin The Beguine. cinemas. Bert Barnes’ haunting arrangement of this number. despite hikes in entertainment taxes. Unlike previous charts this latest one was based on actual (sampled) record sales. which had peak sales of 84. [Vocal by Evelyn Dall…No Mamma No.APRIL…start of Blitzkrieg. the quality is of the highest order and some titles are quite outstanding. During the Phoney War phase the goings-on in Europe made little impact in America precisely because there was little actually going on. When Our Dreams Grow Old. Nocturne. There was to be nothing ‘phoney’ about what was next on Adolf Hitler’s agenda. clubs and dance halls continued to enjoy the boom conditions that had started in the autumn of 1939. A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square. Don’t You Ever Cry. would have qualified for inclusion in the new Chart had this been introduced earlier is not known but seems likely.[Vocal by Vera Lynn…Goodnight Children Everywhere. AUGUST…Battle of Britain starts. Serenade. Theatres. Whether Ambrose’s late-1939 hit South Of The Border. SEPTEMBER…start of the Blitz on London and major towns and cities. invasion scare intensifies. You Made Me Care. Despite the upheavals that took place in the ranks of the Ambrose Orchestra coincidentally with recording sessions for much of the above output. . restaurants. Until well into July entertainment and sporting fixtures continued in London much as before. and these continued to be transmitted until the autumn of 1940. I Love You Much Too Much. Liebestraum. Winston Churchill forms coalition government.

but even if he had been called-up he would not have faced combat duties because he was so obviously a major celebrity. The proposition supposedly came from Air Commodore His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent (Prince George of the Embassy Club). a task made somewhat easier when his tenure at the Club Le Suivi ended in late October.even during the Blitz (which would last until the late spring of 1941) he retained his apartment and office in Mayfair. and Sid Phillips took over responsibility for recording and broadcasting commitments. including a posting in the special constabulary. Ivor Mairants was deputed to preside over the May Fair band for the last two weeks of its existence. The services wanted celebrities to join their ranks because it set a good example but didn’t want the unwelcome publicity that would come from famous fatalities. At this time he was also involved with voluntary war tasks. Ambrose’s temporary departure from the scene gave him virtual control of what was left of the band. to be ‘suffering from extreme mental and physical exhaustion’. To turn down the chance of becoming a squadron leader with a relatively cushy posting seems inexplicable. A bomb fell very close to the May Fair one night while the band was performing and although they were playing in the downstairs restaurant rather than the Starlight Room it was still an unnerving experience. ‘Farmer Ambrose’ may seem even more improbable than ‘squadron leader Ambrose’. Permanent members of the May Fair band took staggered holidays during August. but its usefulness as a safe haven during heavy bombing raids on London wouldn’t have gone unappreciated! Ambrose wasn’t inclined to pin-point the farm’s location. and who better to assist him in these tasks than the ex-maestro of the Embassy Cub. that’s precisely what Ambrose did. but it seems to have been just outside the London area and only about forty minutes drive from the West End. . Around mid-September Ambrose decided to end his residency at the hotel. he had the lives of his employees to consider.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 242 Ambrose was over the maximum call-up age. It was probably some kind of war-related motive that induced Ambrose to acquire a small farm ‘somewhere in Hertfordshire’. In order to get an early release from his contractual obligations to Gordon Hotels (the owners of the May Fair) Ambrose was obliged to feign illness claiming. The Duke was also too celebrated to be put in mortal danger so had to be content with the post of Chief Welfare Officer to the RAF’s Home Command. although Ambrose remained on duty throughout that month. Although Sid no longer officially functioned as Ambrose’s chief arranger he had remained loosely connected with the band over the previous few months and continued to contribute routine arrangements. Not that he seems to have spent much time there . He was due to take two weeks vacation in September and as the end of August approached the bombing raids intensified. but despite the urgings of colleagues like Billy Amstell and Sid Phillips. and anyway…what was the point of it all? This question was even more valid now than it had been one year earlier. according to a report in the Melody Maker. The permanent members of the orchestra (including vocalists) now numbered a dozen or so stalwarts and these were assured that their jobs were quite safe even though Ambrose would be ‘recuperating’ in Torquay for the foreseeable future. Apart from his own life. In Ambrose’s case a proposed posting in the RAF came to nothing. One of his duties was to oversee entertainment provisions and recreational activities. however that’s what he actually became in the summer of 1940. even though he still had four months to go on his contract.

Around this time Max Bacon was in a car smash-up in the blackout and was hospitalised for the next three months with two broken legs. but not released until well after air raid shelters had become unfashionable topics of conversation! Apart from this special gathering an ad hoc Ambrose Orchestra only came together for Decca recording sessions for the remainder of 1940. . Jessie Matthews. Until You Fall In Love. Evelyn was involved in short-wave transatlantic broadcasts for a while then went to Scotland to appear in the pantomime Robinson Crusoe which opened in Edinburgh in late December. I’m Spending Christmas With The Old Folks. According to a report in the Melody Maker the show was broadcast coast-to-coast one Sunday evening in late October (but no details have come to light). All The Things You Are. The continuing Blitz meant that many musicians were now out of work because show business had been badly affected. and only one part – subtitled Getting Around – was later recorded by Ambrose. The Breeze And I. The Best Things In Life Are Free. This was required for a special pre-recorded radio show to be broadcast on American network radio. Without A Song. Ambrose was able to pull the necessary strings to get some of his former star players back for the recording session. Ferryboat Serenade. I’ll Never Make The Same Mistake Again. [Instrumentals…Mood Indigo. Dame Myra Hess (the concert pianist) and Michael Redgrave. Maybe. The original idea had come from official government sources and was essentially a propaganda exercise. Trade Winds. Where The Blue Begins. Apart from an augmented Ambrose Orchestra (directed by Sid). For some reason it wasn’t published at the time. and according to the Melody Maker report Sid’s composition was received with enthusiasm in America. In response to Ambrose’s request Sid composed a suite in three movements called Aspects In An Air Raid Shelter. Softly As In A Morning Sunrise. Blueberry Hill. I’m Stepping Out With A Memory Tonight. others split their time between Ambrose’s recording sessions and work for other leaders – a good example being Joe Jeanette who joined the Savoy Orpheans about this time. What Ambrose wanted was an original composition arranged for the orchestra. the plight of the victims of air raids among the American public and the broadcast was clearly intended to capitalise on this. In fact there was by now enormous interest in. Jack Cooper joined the RAF around the same time. George Arliss. The title of this work – and the music – was to reflect the courage of the British people under attack by the ‘dastardly Hun’. [Vocal by Anne Shelton…I’ll Never Smile Again. Evelyn Dall and Max Bacon undertook solo broadcasting assignments after the show ‘PRESENT ARMS’ closed at the end of August. There’ll Come Another Day. Star Dust. These are the recordings made by the Ambrose band during the second half of 1940: [Vocal by Jack Cooper…By The Sleepy Lagoon. Sierra Sue. Ambrose asked Sid Phillips to undertake a commission that was not at all routine. and sympathy for. Goodnight Again. Many West End theatres had closed-down and people were staying away from dance halls for obvious reasons. Some former fulltimers worked for Ambrose part-time and freelanced. Oh What A Surprise For The Duce.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 243 Just before he left the May Fair in September 1940. participants in this recorded show included Jack Buchanan. We’ll Go Smiling Along. [Vocal by Sam Browne…Every Day Is One Day Nearer.

You Are My Sunshine. all major towns and cities coming under attack. A kind of resilience mingled with fatalism took hold. How High The Moon. And here are the popular hits of 1940 that may also have been featured by the Ambrose band: All Or Nothing At All. Even so the near-hedonism so much in evidence during the months of Phoney War had largely disappeared. South Rampart Street Parade. The Nearness Of You. Symphony Moderne. Anne Shelton. Tuxedo Junction. Cabin In The Sky. The year 1940 ended with the most horrific air raids on London so far and on Tuesday December 31st the day after the night of the very worst of them Ambrose.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 244 Some of the big band swing instrumentals popular in America at the time were featured by the Ambrose Orchestra while it was still at the May Fair. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- VI 1941-1949 The Blitz continued throughout the winter of 1941. although there were those in high places who found this difficult to accept as we shall see later. Java Jive.000 now] of my own money to go to the winner…let the public decide!’ Ambrose merely brushed the proposal aside and sent Joe a cheque for £100 (which of course wasn’t cashed). Mister Meadowlark. Johnson Rag. Sam Browne and an assortment of musicians made their way through the chaos and debris to the Decca studios to record four songs . but not recorded. A year earlier a rather cheeky bandleader called Joe Loss had issued a public statement that went as follows: ‘It has always been my ambition to have a better band than Ambrose and now that I have I want to prove the point by challenging him to a battle between our bands…what’s more I’m prepared to put-up £100 [about £ of which was called ‘Yesterdays Dream’. Popular entertainment continued because without some form of escapism from grim reality life couldn’t have gone on regardless. Here are some possible titles: Big Noise From Winnetka. It’s A Great Day For The Irish. Friendship. You Stepped Out Of A Dream. And yet life – where it wasn’t taken prematurely – went on regardless. Celery Stalks At Midnight. and anyway Joe Loss didn’t have a band in the early months of 1940 that was in any meaningful sense ‘better’ than Ambrose’s. actually care? . Wabash Cannon Ball. And for Ambrose that’s just about all that would be left of his glittering career. In the winter of 1941 survival was what mattered rather than such things as who had the best swing band in town or which girl vocalist topped this or that popularity poll. One O’clock Jump. even Joe Loss. Well Did You Evah. Only one year on and the situation was not quite so clear cut…but one year on did anyone. Frenesi.

Shortly after Ambrose returned to full-time duties Sid joined the RAF. and occasionally performed with an ad hoc group. as outlined earlier. Stanley Black re-joined what was left of Ambrose’s outfit after being prematurely discharged from the RAF. He continued to arrange. Eric was an accomplished accordion player and Ambrose helped him to form a swing quartet. a staggering quantity for the time. After Sid departed. Of course this number would have declined as time went on and deletions occurred. but what tickled him when he heard the record was that Anne sang it in the same key that he had chosen for Jack Cooper and ended it an octave higher – an unusual range for a girl vocalist. Originally he had been an occasional member of the arranging team and even after becoming first pianist had continued to supply orchestrations. Ambrose later confessed that he had contemplated disbanding for the duration of the war in order to concentrate on talent management and the promotion of stage shows. One arrangement in particular impressed Ambrose . This was a number called Oasis. The income from such activities could have been supplemented by royalty payments from the sales of his previous recordings of which there were currently one-hundred and forty listed in the Decca/UK catalogue (and almost as many by Decca/US). This was a re-working of an arrangement that Edmundo Ros had written for Evelyn Dall. Fluency in four languages. and even composed a war-related symphony that was broadcast by the BBC in 1944. got him a recording contract with Decca and encouraged his composing endeavours of which Oasis was a major example.Begin The Beguine. If Ambrose’s band now had no particular edge over other top British bands it wasn’t the fault of the new chief arranger that Ambrose appointed early in 1941. a working knowledge of five others and outstanding problem-solving skills ensured that after basic training he was given a commission and posted to important intelligence work. as ever. However it was Anne Shelton who got to make the recording. and it was probably an assurance from Decca/UK that the Ambrose band would remain their most favoured recording outfit that convinced Ambrose to stay on board. If the RAF reckoned that the services of Stanley Black weren’t essential for winning the war then it was the opposite for Sid Phillips. and it was he who first sang the song on radio. By then Stanley had left the band.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 245 In some respects the end of 1940 would have been a convenient point to end this story of a band that many had considered to be one of the finest in the world for much of the previous decade. After the war he resumed his musical career and led a number of small club and touring bands and regularly recorded with these and larger outfits. Stanley Black’s arrangement was. Bert Barnes remained on Ambrose’s arranging team for a while even though there was now little to do of any substance. In Stanley’s arrangement the vocal part was originally intended for Jack Cooper. composed by a young man whom Ambrose had taken under his wing – Eric Winstone. For the next three years he contributed directly to the war effort but was still able to devote some time to music. superb but Ambrose was no longer in a position to present the best arrangements in the best possible way – the big band magic had slipped away! . And in this respect he had little to complain about – over the twelve months of 1941 Ambrose added eighty-five new titles to the Decca catalogue. One major task that might have come his way was allocated to Stanley Black – this was to write an arrangement of one of the very few big band instrumentals that Ambrose recorded during the war.

He later commented: ‘Bert was an absolute fanatic about the internal precision of the band – the slightest hint of ragged playing. .KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 246 Even so the tune’s exposure by Ambrose on the radio. dropped notes. All the other orchestrators were part-time and because few details of arranging responsibilities during the war have survived it is not usually possible to be specific about who did what. and a recording (also released in America). Stanley also played piano with the full orchestra when it came together for regular recording sessions and occasional broadcasts. Apart from supervising orchestrations. ably assisted by Stanley Black who wrote many of his arrangements. Albert Harris replaced Ivor Mairants. and then return to the London area where Sam Browne and Anne Shelton would take Evelyn’s place while she made a film (of which more later). Stanley Black was astute enough to realise that the intricate orchestrations of the past were a thing of the past. This had been a success until the start of the Blitz but a shortage of engagements had forced him to disband. erratic tempo or playing out of tune never escaped his attention and his responses ranged from cutting sarcasm to a fearsome stare’. In January 1941 Ambrose resurrected the stage show. missed cues. but it can be assumed that the biggest proportion were written by Stanley Black during his tenure as chief arranger. Ambrose’s perfectionist tendencies were second nature and Stanley was well aware that they would have to be satisfied. It was also typical of the output of the American orchestra leader/arranger André Kostelanetz whose weekly network radio shows attracted huge listening audiences and it comes as no surprise to learn that Stanley Black was one of his greatest admirers (an admiration that was eventually returned). Because of a heavy recording schedule for Decca it had been decided to start with a short provincial tour headed by Evelyn Dall. straightforward ensemble arrangements that could be played by good sight readers after minimal (or sometimes no) rehearsal would be the order of the day. did bring Eric Winstone a degree of publicity that helped his career progress. Later. One of the first arrangements that Stanley wrote for Ambrose early in 1941 was Just One Of Those Things and this was typical of the best that could be expected from this time on. On guitar. Dougie Robinson was a promising young player who later became a highly regarded lead alto player. Here’s the line-up for the stage show band: THE AMBROSE OCTET Teddy Foster (trumpet/+leader) Leslie Carew (trombone/+vocals) Dougie Robinson (clarinet) Stanley Black (piano) George Shearing (piano) Albert Harris (guitar) Tiny Winters (bass) Eric Delaney (drums) + Evelyn Dall (vocals) Teddy Foster returned to the job he had held before forming his own band. As Ambrose’s chief arranger. Simple. he led a successful big band.

In fact George worked regularly although intermittently for Ambrose until some time in 1944. Joan Greenwood and other experienced actors were wasted.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 247 Eric Delaney. Fats Waller and Art Tatum. The film’s male lead was Vic Oliver. He was born in 1919 and had been blind from birth. The band on duty that fateful night was an Afro-Caribbean contingent led by Ken Johnson and was one of the finest British swing bands around at the time. Ambrose had been allotted his usual ‘fictional’ bandleader role but he pulled out of the project due to his ‘fictional’ nervous breakdown in the autumn of 1940. first with the Ambrose Octet and later as occasional featured pianist with the full orchestra. By March the worst was over but it was that very month when tragedy struck the Café de Paris in the form of a direct hit while it was packed with customers. and one of which (Elmer’s Tune) was recorded by Ambrose. alternating between band work and solo playing in clubs and restaurants. although some of the London dates were at West End cinemas and involved three stage shows throughout the day. a young newcomer. However. . Oliver’s wife Sarah Churchill was given a leading part and this merely sealed the fate of the film. George played second piano with the Ambrose Octet and then teamed-up with the famous jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli and as a duo they toured variety theatres under Ambrose’s aegis. Later. and even dedicated vintage film buffs now regard it as a prize ‘turkey’! The stage show commenced its winter tour in late January at the Birmingham Hippodrome and then alternated between London and provincial theatres. George’s playing style reflected the popularity of boogie woogie at this time and he contributed a number of arrangements in this style that were broadcast. ‘HE FOUND A STAR’ was hailed as ‘the worst film of 1941’ by critics. The best efforts of Evelyn Dall. Evelyn’s two songs (Salome and Costa Rhumba) came over well and both were later extracted from the film and turned-up in America in 1943 as Jukebox Soundies – an early form of music video. because the Blitz was still very much in progress. He first came to Ambrose’s attention in 1939 and it was probably on Ambrose’s recommendation that he was included in a part-time group formed by jazzman Harry Parry especially for the BBC programme ‘RADIO RHYTHM CLUB’. was in effect standing-in for Max Bacon who was still recovering from injuries sustained in December. George Shearing’s wartime association with Ambrose is usually expurgated from jazz histories and biographical notes. The film that Evelyn Dall temporarily left the stage show to star in was called ‘HE FOUND A STAR’ and was based on a popular novel of the time (Ring O’Roses) by Monica Ewer. By the age of three he could pick-out tunes on the piano and by the time he was sent to Linden Lodge School for the Blind at the age of eleven he was an accomplished self-taught pianist. a violinist/comedian who worked on a popular radio show called ‘HIGH GANG’. After a year or so playing in a band made up of blind players he began to freelance. And all the while the stage show performers were dodging whatever the Luftwaffe chose to direct their way. By the time he left school he was an accomplished all-round pianist but particularly outstanding in the jazz field. It was at this school that he received a formal musical education and also started listening to records by such jazz greats as Earl Hines. Originally. The evening shows were supplemented by one-off appearances at military bases and armaments factories during the day.

Good Night And God Bless. A month after the Café de Paris incident another tragedy occurred when a land mine fell on a block of flats in Soho. including some from the Squadronaires and a few from the now defunct Ken Johnson band. By June 1941 over fifty titles had been recorded since the first recording session in January of that year. Sam Browne. one of which was occupied by the popular singer Al Bowlly. Our Love Affair. Something To Remember You By. Over The Hill. Let There Be Love (+Sam Browne). Only Forever. [Vocal by Sam Browne…Just One Of Those Things. This pattern of bursts of high-quality radio work once or twice a year would continue throughout the war years. I Don’t Want To Cry. The London I Love. Here’s a selection: [Vocal by Anne Shelton…Moon For Sale. The First Lullaby. Although it had been in existence since the late 1930s. My Romance. Let’s Be Buddies. *Unreleased. Forever And A Day. Ain’t Misbehavin’*. As expected. Frenesi. Ambrose’s version of Eric Winstone’s composition Oasis was introduced during this series of broadcasts. He was one of only a few top British vocalists who could compete on equal terms with the likes of Bing Crosby. It’s Always You. To make a good impression Ambrose formed a large Kostelanetz-style concert orchestra and gathered-up as many star players as he could. Room Five Hundred And Four. Falling Leaves. Johnny Peddler. Do I Love You. The King Is Still In London. Clearly he preferred this to the alternative of continuous broadcasting with an ‘inferior’ outfit. Doreen Villiers and a group called the Chirpettes. Along The Santa Fe Trail. You Say The Sweetest Things Baby. Ambrose was able to use the concert orchestra at a couple of Decca sessions in May and several of the titles recorded were featured in the broadcasts. US releases shown upright. America I Love You. I Want My Mamma. Vocalists included Anne Shelton. There Goes That Song Again. [Vocal by Doreen Villiers…Yes My Darling Daughter (+Anne Shelton). Stormy Weather*. who was killed in the blast. Down Argentina Way. Every Time I Look At You.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 248 Ken Johnson was killed and several members of his band badly injured. these broadcasts received a great deal of attention and critical acclaim and it was noted by more than one commentator that much of Ambrose’s recorded output wasn’t as good. this band was only just beginning to get the attention it deserved and had it not been for the Café de Paris tragedy might well have emerged as one of the most important big bands in post-war Britain. A Pair Of Silver Wings. Five O’clock Whistle. We Three. How Did He Look. although it didn’t get recorded until July. The Last Time I Saw Paris. A Little Steeple Pointing To A Star. and with two of the others – Denny Dennis and Jack Cooper – in the services Sam Browne was left as the principal male civilian band vocalist of the early 1940s. When That Man Is Dead And Gone. My Yiddisher Momma. St Louis Blues. . mainly on the General Forces Programme. Ambrose returned to the airwaves in early May 1941 and broadcast at intermittent times for a few weeks. You’re Breaking My Heart.

They Met In Rio (+Anne Shelton). The Ambrose Players provided the orchestral backing but not credited on the record labels. A rifle bullet entered an open window by which he was sitting and penetrated his neck. When Night Is Through. Good Night Again. Inside My Wedding Ring. Apart from his touring duties. bass. Aurora. His fingers were now deftly inserted in a number of different pies all connected with the entertainment industry but not all known about. Green Eyes (+Anne Shelton). Sam Browne and Anne Shelton provided the vocal content and later in the tour another Blonde Bombshell – film star Greta Gynt – was added. There’s A Land Of Beginning Again. [Vocal by Sam Browne…Just A Little Cottage. The personnel who formed this band are not known although the line-up is believed to have comprised – piano. The personnel of the Ambrose Octet at this time aren’t known for sure but Teddy Foster. Both Stanley Black and Anne were withdrawn from the Octet-based show in the autumn of 1941 because Ambrose wanted them to head a separate touring unit. What Do We Care. To this end he asked Stanley Black to form and lead a full-time ten-piece band – the Ambrose Players – that was to support Anne Shelton during variety tours and at troop concerts. Stanley Black continued to oversee orchestrations for the recording band and probably arranged most if not all of Anne Shelton’s songs. I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire. trumpet. violin and vibraphone. Moonlight In Mexico. The full orchestra now only met for recording sessions although these were held regularly throughout the year. which started touring again in the early summer. Fortunately his vocal cords were not damaged but he was incapacitated for several months. Apart from supervising recording sessions. Max Bacon returned to the stage show. By the end of the year another batch of titles had been recorded. drums. After this the stage show band was reduced to a three-piece backing group for Evelyn Dall and Max Bacon. When Anne was ‘otherwise engaged’ – usually with film commitments – the Ambrose Players undertook ballroom work and troop concert engagements and were certainly more than just a backing group. Continued…… . Eric Delaney may have been retained as second drummer/timpanist after Max Bacon’s return. Stanley Black. Some records were made by Anne for the low-cost Rex label in late 1941 under her own name. navy and air force bases. etc. Amapola. Minnie From Trinidad. Les Carew and George Shearing were all present when the tour started. Concerto For Two (+Stanley Black – piano). London Pride. Here are some of them: [Vocal by Anne Shelton…Boa Noite. Kiss The Boys Goodbye. Evelyn Dall. The Booglie-Wooglie Piggy. and subsequently confined its performances to one-off shows at army. Doreen Villiers sang with Harry Parry’s Radio Rhythm Club Band and later Geraldo’s Orchestra. Lights Out. three saxes (doubling clarinets). Daddy. Stanley Black was replaced as first pianist in the Ambrose Octet by Norman Hackforth a freelance pianist and songwriter. Dougie Robinson. Ma-MaMaria. Ambrose spent most of the second half of 1941 sitting behind a desk rather than fronting a band.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 249 After the broadcasts and one recording session with Ambrose. The variety tour involving the Ambrose Octet seems to have come to an end in the summer after Sam Browne sustained injuries while travelling to Oxford (where the stage show was performing) by train. It seems likely that any remaining full-time personnel not attached to the Ambrose Octet or Ambrose Players undertook session work when not required for recording purposes. guitar. I Know Why. and armaments factories.

For Ambrose. and acquired a common purpose at the start of 1942. Lazy River. It was now a case of ‘saving the world for democracy’ and from this time on American values. Home Sweet Home. though. The popular dance known as the ‘jitterbug’ – tailor-made for the Swing Era. I Could Write A Book. Perfidia. Apart from the enemy. Blue Champaign. could no longer be ignored by the world at large. Sand In My Shoe. Flamingo. And here are the notable hits of 1941 not so far listed: Autumn Nocturne. US release shown upright. Under Blue Canadian Skies. The Anniversary Waltz. Rose O’Day. [Vocal by Leslie Carew…Hey Little Hen. Take The ‘A’ Train. . Of course it wasn’t all quite so free-and-easy in reality – the major radio networks restricted their pop music output mainly to songs emanating from Tin Pan Alley-based publishers and playing records over the air was still somewhat restricted (local radio stations. The jukebox industry for example. economic. [Vocal by Alan Kane…The Kiss Polka. Jersey Bounce. remained a curiosity in Britain and was seen only on the silver screen until the arrival of the first American servicemen in mid1942. I’ll Remember April. invariably ignored both restrictions with impunity). like the huge popularity in America of the British song A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square. [Instrumental…Oasis. All the arguments about American isolationism and how far to go in aiding Britain melted away in ‘the land of the free’. And some trends didn’t make the transatlantic crossing until years after their first appearance in America. For the world in general one of the most momentous events of the war years occurred – the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the entry of the United States into what had now become the Second World War. America might have been ‘swing crazy’ by the early 1940s but there were far fewer opportunities in Britain for a similar indulgence. The Hut-Sut Song. I Hear A Rhapsody. which by 1942 was consuming more records each year than ordinary buyers. something to be even more resolutely resisted than previously. Dolores. 1941 ended with little going on but much planned for the future. I’ll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time. Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. be they political. Bewitched Bothered And Bewildered. For starters the flow of musical ideas was almost entirely in one direction – although the exceptions were sometimes significant. There I’ve Said It Again. In America radio audiences had a degree of choice barely imaginable in Britain and any time of the day or night merely twiddling the tuning dial would get whatever kind of entertainment a listener wanted. there were those among America’s new allies who found this new reality profoundly disturbing and so far as the popular aspect of culture was concerned. social or cultural. Note that Jack Cooper and Alan Kane were only brought in to cover for Sam Browne at single recording sessions in the autumn.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 250 [Vocal by Jack Cooper…Shepherd Serenade. I’ve Got Sixpence. Deep In The Heart Of Texas. but in terms of popular culture the relationship was more complex. Love ‘em – hate ‘em time had arrived! America and Britain may have shared a common language.

KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 251 By 1942 the great American swing bands had become part of the pop music scene and the names of the dozen or so bandleaders who led the very best of them are well known and need not be mentioned. the above details must be treated with caution. one example being emerging Rhythm & Blues styles. One thing is known for certain . Even so. sometimes with little or no warning. Early in January 1942 Ambrose re-formed the travelling stage show. This time he was given a weekly Sunday evening slot and the shows were called ‘HERE WE GO’. The new stage show was called. sporadic attacks still took place and on one occasion the train on which the touring group were travelling was strafed from the air by machinegun fire. which remained surprisingly prolific given the demands on labour and materials for vital war work. Although the worst air raids were now over.Glenn Miller. And there was plenty going on away from the mainstream that heralded very different kinds of popular music. it seems that as in previous years the show alternated between provincial variety theatres and cine-variety in the London area. In March Ambrose returned to the airwaves after an absence of one year. and while it was in the London area some members of the band may have undertaken other work. In the interim Ambrose’s many fans had to make-do with his recorded output. There may have been a number of personnel changes while the stage show was touring. somewhat ambiguously: ‘STARS OF THE AIR’. In 1942 he had clocked-up over thirty Top Ten hits in the Billboard singles chart since its introduction two years earlier. ports and troop installations – all on the touring itinerary – were also liable to sudden bombing concerts for the armed services and at armaments factories were an important feature. Sam Browne and Evelyn Dall were joined in the vocal/comedy department by glamorous singer Gloria Brent and actress-comedienne Maudie Edwards. No itinerary or performance programmes relating to this touring show have been found nor is it known how long it lasted. The supporting band had the following line-up at the start of the tour: THE AMBROSE OCTET Teddy Foster (trumpet/+leader) Leslie Carew (trombone/+vocals) Dougie Robinson (clarinet) Norman Hackforth (piano) George Shearing (piano) Albert Harris (guitar) Tom Bromley (bass) Max Bacon (drums/+vocals) Again. However. except for the most popular (but not necessarily the best) of them all . bandleaders weren’t enjoying a clear field because by the early 1940s a ‘new’ kind of independent vocalist was emerging typified by Frank Sinatra and Lena Horne. Because Evelyn had film commitments scheduled Ambrose hired Mary Lee to take over her part as and when required. And in the same year he was awarded the very first Gold Disc for his recording of Chattanooga Choo Choo. . Armaments factories.

Reeds: Rhythm: Strings: Vocals: . Max Bacon* *Occasional additions. On weekdays it was used as a cinema. however apart from the broadcasts (which may have been recorded) Ambrose used it for Decca recording sessions in March at which eight titles were cut. In April Ambrose commenced a weekly Sunday variety show at a venue near Marble Arch. and Evelyn Dall. Given that some players in this orchestra were permanent members of other bands (most notably the Squadronaires) it can only be classed as a temporary outfit. Guest performers included the popular comedy duo Flanagan & Allen. Another point worth noting is that the reed section comprised five players and at first sight appears to replicate Glenn Miller’s approach to such things.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 252 For the broadcasts Ambrose formed an orchestra that had a rather interesting line-up: AMBROSE & HIS CONCERT ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Bert Ambrose Tommy McQuater (trumpet) Dave Wilkins (trumpet) Chick Smith (trumpet) George Chisholm (trombone) Leslie Carew (trombone/+vocals) Woolf Phillips (trombone) Carl Barriteau (clarinet) Dougie Robinson (alto/clarinet) Joe Jeanette (alto/flute/+arranger) Harry Smith (tenor/clarinet) Andy McDevitt (tenor/baritone) Stanley Black (piano/+arranger) George Shearing (piano) Ivor Mairants (guitar) Tom Bromley (bass) Jock Cummings (drums) Eric Delaney (timpani) Syd Simone (violin)…et al Anne Shelton Sam Browne Evelyn Dall*. but had stage facilities so was ideal for the kind of show he was presenting. Perhaps the recorded items (indicated later) give a clue. Press comments at the time were highly favourable and these broadcasts undoubtedly helped to preserve Ambrose’s reputation as a top civilian bandleader. Anne Shelton and Sam Browne took part in all the programmes. Sam Browne and Max Bacon. Denny Dennis*. The Ambrose Octet road show was still touring at this time along with Evelyn Dall. How long this show ran for isn’t known. He introduced these shows himself and fronted a twelve piece band presumably comprising musicians from the regular recording orchestra. Max Bacon and Denny Dennis took part on various occasions as guest performers.

KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 253 George Shearing left the Ambrose Octet about this time because Ambrose teamed him up with Stéphane Grappelli for a separate variety tour called ‘MELODY PARADE’. If You Haven’t Got Dreams. By late spring more than twenty titles had been recorded since the beginning of 1942 – here’s a selection: [Vocal by Anne Shelton…That Lovely Weekend. Stanley Black and the Ambrose Players also continued touring. Blue Tahitian Moon. By now Anne was recording as a solo artist on the Decca label. [Vocal by Sam Browne…Time Was. Tomorrow’s Sunrise. How Green Was My Valley. By Candlelight. How About You (+Anne Shelton). [Vocal by Denny Dennis…The White Cliffs Of Dover. Humpty Dumpty Heart. [Instrumental…Stage Coach. You Are My Sunshine. Flamingo. Someone’s Rocking My Dream Boat. Ma I Miss Your Apple Pie. mainly in the Home Counties due to recording and broadcasting commitments. I Don’t Want To Walk Without You. This show included Don Marino Baretto & His Cuban Orchestra – an Ambrose-sponsored band that became very popular from this time on. [Vocal by Alan Kane…This Love Of Mine. although all her arrangements and orchestral backings were provided (uncredited) by Ambrose’s personnel. The Shrine Of St Cecilia. Anne Shelton. Elmer’s Tune. The Sailor With The Navy Blue Eyes. Here are the results: MELODY MAKER COMPETITION BAND OF 1942 Leader: Brass: Bert Ambrose Tommy McQuater (trumpet) Dave Wilkins (trumpet) Kenny Baker (trumpet) George Chisholm (trombone) Ted Heath (trombone) Harry Hayes (alto) Joe Crossman (alto) George Evans (tenor) Aubrey Franks (tenor) George Shearing (piano) Ivor Mairants (guitar) Tom Bromley (bass) Maurice Burman (drums) Anne Shelton Stanley Black Reeds: Rhythm: Vocalist: Arranger: . In Old Mexico. It’s Spring Again. US releases shown upright. In May the Melody Maker held a poll among its readers to select an all-star band intended to promote a wartime naval charity event and make a fund-raising record.

[Vocal by Dorothy Carless…I Threw A Kiss In The Ocean. White Christmas. Even so. Rolling Along. Indeed there is no information available on what Ambrose did between the summer and the end of the year. Her solo recording efforts were orchestrated and directed by Stanley Black. Nor is it known how long this residency lasted. Also compare the personnel in Ambrose’s concert orchestra with the competition band – there are some differences but not many. Shortly afterwards Ambrose concluded the Sunday band shows and undertook a new venture – a short-term residency at a recently launched all-services club in premises once housing the ill-fated London Casino. Since 1939 band vocalists had received label credits on Decca’s ‘Blue & Gold’ records. By 1942 Anne Shelton had become far too popular as a solo performer to be regarded as a mere band vocalist. but no line-up details are available. However. [Vocal by Bernard Hunter…One More Kiss.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 254 The song chosen to be recorded by the Melody Maker competition band was I Don’t Want To Walk Without You and if this title seems familiar then just refer back to the list of Ambrose recordings on the previous page. Only You. she was given her own radio show called ‘INTRODUCING ANNE’. My Devotion. Her first film – ‘KING ARTHUR WAS A GENTLEMAN’ . Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition. Three Little Sisters. Moonlight Becomes You. Cookhouse Serenade. Ambrose took a seventeen-piece band into this club. which coincided with the emergence of rock’n’roll in Britain. My Serenade. Nightingale. Anne was also given the opportunity to take part as guest singer in popular radio programmes like ‘WORKERS PLAYTIME’ and since 1941 had co-hosted the long-running radio show ‘CALLING MALTA’. The competition band performed at a Royal Navy charity function in Portsmouth and subsequently made a record. such inclusions were now deemed essential. Always In My Heart. Subsequently. South Wind. was released in 1942. and an augmented Ambrose Players performing anonymously under the tag: ‘with orchestral accompaniment’. except that regular recording sessions took which she co-starred with comedian Arthur Askey. and with vocalists’ increasing popularity vis-à-vis the bands they sang with. Sam Browne remained a highly popular vocalist until the mid-1950s and had a number of hits as a solo recording artist. . Possibly he intended to concentrate on recording as a solo artist and return to independent variety theatre work. During her absences the Ambrose Players functioned as an instrumental outfit primarily playing ballroom engagements. Where In The World. her contribution to Ambrose’s recorded output was also deemed to be important (to Decca as well as Ambrose) so she continued in this role even though it meant a certain amount of duplication. When not otherwise engaged she toured with Stanley Black and the Ambrose Players. For some reason Sam Browne stopped working for Ambrose towards the end of 1942. [Vocal by Leslie Douglas…Jingle Jangle. by all accounts. Here are some examples: [Vocal by Anne Shelton…Hey Mabel. exceptionally good. he continued to contribute to the output of bandleaders other than Ambrose until the end of his recording career. and it’s a pity that this group never got to record in its own right because it was. Breathless. Evelyn Dall and Max Bacon.

That Old Black Magic. although in the closing weeks of 1942 rumours started to circulate in show business circles that the BBC was going to get tough on purveyors of ‘slush and sob-stuff’ although no one was quite sure what this meant. I’m Glad There Is You. However. Perdido. Others were unknowns spotted by Ambrose and hoping to make it big under his tutelage. Experienced or not. And this meant stepping on some rather powerful toes. not just the way they were sung. This one had its beginnings in the summer of 1942 when Tawny Neilson was appointed to oversee the BBC’s dance music and jazz output. After several months’ deliberation. Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me. . The Warsaw Concerto. Ambrose also made use of experienced singers like Alan Kane. I’m Old Fashioned. I’ve Got A Girl In Kalamazoo. Dear Old Donegal. Serenade In Blue. wives and sweethearts’. Ambrose also took steps to build-up an activity in which he had previously merely dabbled – artist management. A String Of Pearls. Idaho. Of course from the moment that war broke-out there were those inside and outside the BBC who genuinely believed that pop music of the Tin Pan Alley kind should be discouraged. the committee came to the somewhat ambiguous conclusion that ‘dance music is losing support’. If the bands as such couldn’t truly be faulted then their vocalists would do very nicely. who altered his output accordingly and almost went out of business. Moonlight Cocktail. There Will Never Be Another You. I’ll Be Around. In some cases the performers who put their careers in Ambrose’s hands were established acts like comedy duo Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen. Tangerine. With My Head In The Clouds. and to add insult to injury his glamorous wife – Peggy Cochran – was one of the first to be targeted by the ‘anti-slush brigade’! Of course the ‘anti-slush brigade’ were ‘only obeying orders’. I Had The Craziest Dream. The committee – known as the ‘anti-slush brigade’ in music industry circles – didn’t really get down to business until 1943. Denny Dennis and Jack Cooper when they were available. Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Joe. Perhaps it was to further the prospects of newcomers like Bernard Hunter and Leslie Douglas that Ambrose included them in the roster of vocalists who contributed to his recorded output in place of Sam Browne from this time on.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 255 As well as reviving his band supply operations early in the war. but as we shall see their brief also extended to the kind of songs that were being sung by band vocalists. The Fleet’s In. Jukebox Saturday Night. Even some bandleaders felt the same way – Jack Payne for example. perhaps even banned for the duration. Readers familiar with the titles may like to speculate which songs lent themselves to ‘whimsicality’ and/or ‘sobbing’: Cow-Cow Boogie. Responding to (mainly) outside pressure the BBC formed a committee to review dance music presentation. danceband vocalists who broadcast over BBC airwaves were about to become the victims of one of those wartime hysterias that erupted on the home front every so often. Pennsylvania Polka. Finally for 1942 let’s take a look at some of the hits not recorded by Ambrose. Rousing marches and patriotic songs delivered by military bands and Wagnerian-style singers would stir the nation into action…anything else would sap morale and (according to one newspaper) ‘…pander to the whimsicalities of mothers. and the popular singer Dorothy Carless. Happy Holiday.

a natural substance that could only be obtained from the Far East. And it has to be remembered that much of what Ambrose did get in income was personal to him – it didn’t come via his company Ambrose Orchestras Ltd. they did continue but the situation was complex. How then could new records be made at all? The answer came in the form of ‘shellac drives’ – recycling old records of which there were tens of millions in existence. Here are the approximate numbers of new Ambrose records released over the previous three years: 1940 38 1941 43 1942 20 At the start of 1943 all of these records should have been readily available in retail stores in accordance with the ‘three year tradition’ that most record companies adopted at this time (although even major recording artists like Ambrose occasionally suffered ‘instant flops’ which were deleted ahead of the traditional limit). Even so. This was good news for the (still mainly) middle class purchasers of new records. nor has the amount of money paid to him in advances and royalties (these two aspects being critically interlinked). but not so good for second-hand record dealers who catered for a largely working class clientele. Decca were obliged to suspend the availability (not delete) some of the earlier records and cut-down on the number of new releases. the pre-war agreement whereby some of Decca/UK’s recording artists had some of their titles released by Decca/US – and vice versa – came to an end. Despite the lack of new releases. Moreover. Not surprising because this was shellac. but they were never spectacular. It would be nice to know the annual sales figures for Ambrose’s records but this information has never been revealed. Since the entry of Japan into the war. Ambrose’s records continued to be featured on American radio stations throughout the war. supplies that had previously been difficult to obtain now dried-up completely. When the United States entered the war Decca/UK was obliged to relinquish overall control of Decca/US. by this time two 6-record Albums had appeared – LATIN FROM MAYFAIR and AMBROSE INSTRUMENTAL SPECIALITIES. One thing is known for certain – whatever income Ambrose was receiving from record sales or any other source the tax burden would have at least doubled since before the war.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 256 1943 opened with an important announcement by the record industry regarding the supply of new recordings – the raw material used to make records was in exceptionally short supply. It was just about enough to keep Ambrose in the public eye in America. The company continued to make annual profits throughout the war years. some Decca/UK ‘F’-designated records continued to be made available in the United States. both of which proved to be popular. and his reputation remained reasonably undiminished. Consequently. including the few new titles released in the US by Decca/UK. At this time Ambrose had around two-hundred records listed in the Decca/UK catalogue. . And what of Ambrose’s record releases in America? Well. some dating back to the early 1930s and all enjoying sales sufficiently high to justify their inclusion. Ambrose’s final ‘new’ release on the Decca/US label came in 1941 at which time he had around 140 titles listed in the Decca Popular Records Catalogue. However. and progressive deletions from the Decca/US catalogue.

He had formerly been employed as a light entertainment functionary by the BBC. Yet another programme that Anne regularly took part in was ‘WORKERS PLAYTIME’. David Miller was the host for this ‘wheel-of-fortune’-type quiz show that involved audience participation and prizes. Ben Pollack and Duke Ellington’s drummer and multi-percussionist Sonny Greer. Although not listed in the film credits. Evelyn Dall and Anne Shelton and is generally regarded as one of the best British film musicals to be made during the war. This never extended much beyond the kind of humour that pleased variety theatre audiences. and others. Like his immediate partner Sam Browne he should have been a wealthy man by the time he left Ambrose. Max Bacon’s last assignment with two of his Ambrosian colleagues was to appear in a film musical that was released in the spring of 1943. was still running and as was the other programme in which she took part – ‘CALLING MALTA’. years later it was Gene Krupa who nominated Max for a place in a jazz drummers’ ‘Hall of Fame’. Evelyn Dall and/or Anne Shelton appeared with the Ambrose Players at troop concerts and services clubs. Anne Shelton and Denny Dennis provided the vocals. Funnily enough. by the time war broke-out he was more intent on developing his career as a comedian. he was a heavy gambler and perpetually in debt. With so much radio work and intermittent film commitments there was little time left for other engagements and so the Ambrose Players began a series of Sunday concerts and weekday dances in the London area. (On being told this Max exclaimed: ‘Phoneytastic!’) Until the mid-1930s he was generally regarded as one of the best jazz drummers in Europe and apart from Gene Krupa his admirers included Dave Tough.‘INTRODUCING ANNE’ . not all of which were ultimately used. Occasionally. In the summer of 1943 Ambrose launched yet another kind of road show quite different to anything that had gone before. A typical example of the patter he came out with goes something like this: ‘Ladies and mantelpieces…what do you think of the weather we’ve been having lately…turned out ice again ain’t it?’ He successfully toured variety theatres for about ten years and after the war had his own radio show. Ambrose resumed broadcasting early in 1943 with a short series of half-hour Sunday evening shows on the Forces Programme. In the summer of 1943 a professional compère called David Miller was hired to travel around with the Ambrose Players. Anyway. All these drummers had to come to terms with important changes in the way rhythm sections contributed to the big band style in the late 1930s and early 1940s when the driving force of the section passed to the bass player.for which Stanley Black and the Ambrose Players provided the backing. This was called ‘RADIO FUN AND GAMES’ and started its tour at the Manchester Hippodrome in July. successfully adapted their technique…Max didn’t.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 257 In January 1943 Max Bacon left Ambrose to team-up with Sam Browne for a tour of variety theatres. . a lunchtime show that was broadcast twice a week from factory canteens. and presumably some musical content. Sonny Greer. Anne’s weekly radio show . Stanley Black arranged and supervised the orchestral backing for the songs specially written for this film. but like Sam. Part of Max’s act was a take-off of Gene Krupa and for five minutes or so he would bash and crash away at a drum kit as if to exorcise in public the past frustration of restraints placed on his soloing ability. making just enough to live on. Later he played small parts in comedy films. theatrical productions and on television. Apparently these shows were very popular but the tour only lasted for a few months. ‘MISS LONDON LTD’ starred Arthur Askey. but few others. The film premiered at the Leicester Square Theatre in mid-May.

In September 1943 Ambrose initiated and presented an important charity show at the London Coliseum before an audience that included Mrs Churchill and the Duchess of Kent. . Guest artists included Flanagan & Allen. During the ban no new recordings with any kind of instrumental music on them could be made except for special items intended for use by the armed services. Tommy Trinder. Darling. Taking A Chance On Love.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 258 The ‘anti-slush brigade’ got down to business in April and Tawny Neilson was obliged to announced a blanket ban on all danceband vocalists over BBC airwaves while an ‘audit’ was held. Subsequently. Three Dreams. Someday Cherie. This show raised £4. for the time being! By the end of July Ambrose had recorded around twenty titles for Decca since the start of the year: [Vocal by Anne Shelton…Every Night About This Time. A Fool With A Dream.000 now] for refugee relief and was one of several charity events that Ambrose organised during the war. You’ll Never Know. It’s You That I Love. the shows at the Palladium were devised and supervised by its resident producer – George Black. Recording artists like Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald were obliged to make-do with purely vocal backing and big bands couldn’t record at all for the ordinary record market. Unlike most variety theatres. Anne Shelton and the Ambrose Players (directed by Stanley Black). [Vocal by Denny Dennis…There Are Such Things. To top the bill at the Palladium was every British variety artist’s ambition. Ambrose had finished his series of broadcasts by this time so wasn’t involved in this particular kafuffle. As Time Goes By.800 [about £192. and those who did were regarded as the cream of the profession. who in some ways emulated the Great Ziegfeld. Why Don’t You Fall In Love. There’s A Harbour Of Dreamboats. Tessie O’Shea. of course. It was also around this time that Anne Shelton topped the bill at the London Palladium. Dearly Beloved. You’d Better Not Roll Those Blue Blue Eyes. and star performers like Anne Shelton and Vera Lynn were no longer regarded as mere band vocalists. accompanied by Stanley Black on piano. For the time being the critics of the BBC (which included a sprinkling of MPs) were satisfied…but only. September 1943 was also notable as the month in which Decca/US negotiated an agreement with the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) that partially ended a ban on musicians working for record companies. but this was enough to rekindle the interest in Anne Shelton (who sings on both sides) that was first aroused in 1940. I Want Somebody To Love. You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To. This had been imposed in August 1942 and applied to all American record companies. Only one new Ambrose record was released in America in 1943 by Decca/UK (just after the ban ended). At The Crossroads. The Lady Who Didn’t Believe In Love. only vocalists on an ‘approved list’ would be allowed to broadcast with bands. You Were Never Lovelier. Evelyn Dall. US releases shown upright. The audit took place over several weeks and a number of popular band vocalists didn’t make it onto the approved list. David Miller was the compère. This audit was to consist of a review of band vocalists’ recorded output and in some cases personal auditions before a panel of BBC officials.

peak listening time during the war. I Left My Heart At The Stage Door Canteen. Having sorted-out the bandleaders and vocalists they now turned their attention to the actual songs. Towards the end of the year the BBC’s ‘anti-slush brigade’ flexed their muscles once more. Whether the glamorous and talented Dorothy Carless was still on Ambrose’s books by this time isn’t known. Do Nothing ‘Till You Hear From Me. Johnny Zero. Holiday for Strings. All Or Nothing At All. Ambrose had someone else in mind for regular vocalising at Oddenino’s. This Is The Army Mister Jones. No Love No Nothing. It Can’t Be Wrong.30 and 10pm. [Vocal by Bob Arden…My British Buddy. Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. Here are some of the remaining Ambrose recordings for 1943: [Vocal by Anne Shelton…Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer. The ban was lifted only two weeks after it had been imposed. To intimidate bandleaders and their vocalists was one thing – the powerful Music Publishers Association quite another. This was Bob Arden who had first come to public attention while singing with the popular Joe Loss band. . Anyway. I Couldn’t Sleep A Wink Last Night. One band supply job that came his way in the autumn of that year involved a smart restaurant in Regent Street called Oddenino’s. Bob had now put his future in Ambrose’s hands.several US hits of 1943 came from the Broadway show ‘OKLAHOMA’ but public performances of songs from this show were prohibited in Britain until it opened in London after the war]. They’re Either Too Young Or Too Old. Hit The Road To Dreamland. Harlem Nocturne. in the recording orchestra string section. So Tired. but not of course their particular war. [Note: . Homeward Bound. That Old Black Magic. In fact this was a revival of a song that had been popular during the First World War. Ambrose returned to the airwaves on December 26th (his first Christmas radio show for several years) and this was followed by a series of six half-hour programmes on Sundays between 9. Two of these ‘others’ were Rex Eaton (who doesn’t appear to have lasted very long). it was called Paper Doll – a big hit in America for the Mills Brothers. and hired a vocal quartet led by Nadia Doré called the Debonaires. I Had The Craziest Dream. One in particular aroused their ire. along with other hopefuls. However. [Vocal by Jack Cooper…If I Had My Way Dear. who apart from being a competent violinist was a reasonably good vocalist. Yes Indeed. This was Sydney Simone. Bessa Mucho.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 259 Ambrose continued to consolidate his interests in band supply and artist management throughout 1943. We Mustn’t Say Goodbye. it was duly banned…but not for long. The ‘anti-slush brigade’ had lost the immediate battle. Tico Tico. and Peter Gray. Anne Shelton was the regular guest artist and Evelyn Dall is believed to have taken part in at least one of the shows. Speak Low. [Vocal by Rex Eaton…Close To You. For these broadcasts Ambrose formed a concert orchestra. but regularly. To lead the band at this venue Ambrose chose a young man who had been working part-time. so what the objection to it could have been remains a mystery. And here are some of the hits of 1943 not recorded by Ambrose: Brazil.

Here’s the line-up: AMBROSE & HIS ORCHESTRA Director: Trumpets: Trombones: Reeds: Bert Ambrose Kenny Baker. as well as playing piano in the main orchestra. Chick Smith. and he soon formed a similar rapport with Anne Shelton and functioned as her rehearsal pianist. and one of the best British big band recordings of the war years. It was arranged by Stanley Black and was also one of his final efforts as Ambrose’s chief arranger. This band made several public appearance in London in the New Year and was highly praised for a number called Tenement Symphony which was broadcast and recorded. Unlike previous holders of the post. Rhythm: Strings: Vocals: . Dave Wilkins Jack Bentley. Leslie Carew. and musical director for solo recordings. Carl Barriteau (clarinet) Dougie Robinson (alto) Harry Smith (alto) Aubrey Franks (tenor) Bill Apps (tenor) Benny Greenwood (baritone) Stanley Black (piano/+chief arranger) George Elliott (guitar) Tom Bromley (bass) George Firestone (drums) Reginald Leopold (violin)…3 violins* [2 violas/cello/harp]* Anne Shelton The Debonaires Evelyn Dall* *Additions for broadcasts. Stanley Black had told Ambrose the previous autumn that he intended to form his own band in the near future. However. As there was nothing that Ambrose could do or promise that would change Stanley’s mind the situation had to be accepted with good grace. and others. and composed and arranged on a freelance basis. personal arranger. As a replacement pianist/arranger. Ambrose obtained the services of a young and outstanding musician called Johnny Franz.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 260 Ambrose’s broadcasts were well received and for their duration he managed to keep the band in full-time employment. Jock Bain. The decision to revive the idea of a specific BBC band had been taken for reasons that remain unknown. Stanley wasn’t precluded from undertaking other work and during his tenure at the BBC (which lasted until 1952) he performed and recorded under his own name. As an arranger. it came as something of a surprise to Ambrose. his abilities were akin to those of Stanley Black. when it was announced early in 1944 that Stanley Black was to become leader of a newlyformed BBC Dance Orchestra. This was the last really outstanding Ambrose record to be issued on Decca’s ‘Blue & Gold’ label.

Charlie Barnet and above all John Hammond. Evelyn Dall (now no longer under long-term contract to Ambrose’s organisation) opened in a new stage show at the London Coliseum called ‘SOMETHING FOR THE BOYS’. was completely clueless about money matters. Leslie’s band was fully financed by Ambrose for the first year or so of its existence and eventually became as successful as Carl Barriteau’s. After the demise of the Johnson band Leslie had joined Geraldo’s superb orchestra.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 261 Since the tragic circumstances of March 1941 when a direct hit on the Café de Paris brought an end to Ken Johnson’s (Afro-Caribbean) band Ambrose had made use of talented sidemen. trumpeter Leslie Hutchinson. In Britain it wasn’t until the war that any meaningful degree of integration took place if we leave aside a few isolated cases in the 1930s (the bands of Jack Hylton. Artie Shaw. Ambrose however. In 1942 Ambrose encouraged Carl Barriteau. Always at her very best in stage spectaculars Evelyn and the show in general got good reviews and would certainly have enjoyed a long run had not wartime circumstances intervened. like Tom Bromley. The general manager of AOL at this time was Jack Davis. For the record we can note the names of Benny Goodman. and Billy Cotton spring to mind). except for the million-and-one ways in which millions could be spent! Towards the end of March. to form his own band after a tour with the Ambrose Octet. and a subsequent one-record release the following year. In this case it was the launch of the first V1 bombing raids on London and the sudden falling away of theatre audiences as the bombardment increased. but worth pointing out that she took good care of financial matters (auditors never had any trouble finding-out exactly what was going on at AOL). merely one in a long line of staffers who kept the Ambrose ‘music machine’ running smoothly. In the spring of 1944 Ambrose invited another former Johnson star soloist. It would take a lot of space to describe Joan’s roles over and above those connected with the usual secretarial duties. Since the end of the Blitz in 1941 Ambrose Orchestras Ltd (AOL) had been based in the Regent’s Park area but in the spring of 1944 Ambrose felt that the time had come to return to Mayfair. Although Ambrose didn’t finance Carl Barriteau’s band he did help him get a recording contract with Decca and took an interest in the development of the band. She recorded two titles from the show and Decca released both on a record in the summer. as being in the forefront of integrationist policies. but super-efficient and ultra-loyal. . to form a band composed entirely of Afro-Caribbean musicians. Not only was she glamorous. formerly a star soloist with Ken Johnson. The reason for her reluctance to record isn’t known for sure. This American musical had songs by Cole Porter and had opened on Broadway a year earlier. Although Carl continued to play for Ambrose on a part-time basis his own band was a great success and his soloing prowess on clarinet fully recognised (for seven years running he topped the Melody Maker ‘best clarinettist’ poll). Evelyn retained her recording contract with Decca (which had been established in 1940) until the end of 1946 but after a couple of records were released in the first year of the war appears to have declined further recording opportunities until the 1944 effort mentioned above. Jack Payne. but had recently left this outfit to freelance (including working on a part-time basis for Ambrose). who survived. The most constant administrative functionary at AOL was Joan Smith – invariably described as Ambrose’s glamorous secretary. In America in the 1930s moves to present ‘integrated’ bands in public got underway in the second half of that decade and continued well into the next. In April he leased Albemarle House which was just off Berkeley Square.

his own band’s position must have given cause for concern – it came in sixth from top. It wasn’t long before Glenn was promoted to Major and the band retitled the ‘American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Force’. In May the results of the annual Melody Maker readers’ poll were announced. but ill-health ended his service career while the band was touring naval bases in the Pacific. usually on Saturday mornings.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 262 The summer of 1944 was also the time of the D-day landings and a drainingaway of service personnel from the London area. True. Since the mid1930s no top American band had played in Britain. names like Benny Goodman. but so too did the runner-up – Geraldo’s orchestra. And so it wasn’t only Melody Maker readers who felt a thrill of anticipation when it was announced that Captain Glenn Miller and the US Army Air Force Band would be arriving in Britain in early July. Nor was it long before Glenn was lured into the embrace of the BBC in the name of consolidating Anglo-America relations. and not displeased that Carl Barriteau’s outfit came third in the ‘best band’ list. Glenn Miller arrived with his huge aggregation (the string section alone comprised twenty players) to a more high profile reception than had Sam Donohue although his primary purpose in being sent to Britain was the same – to entertain American service personnel. Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller were reasonably well known by the British public due to feature films. . but even in this respect it didn’t go without notice that Anne Shelton was responsible for much of the pleasure. since the late 1930s the BBC had allocated a tiny proportion of air time to programmes like ‘AMERICAN SWING BANDS ON RECORD’. including of course a large American contingent. Also known as the US Rangers. The excellence or otherwise of British bands was about to be tested by more than the opinions of Melody Maker readers as spring turned to summer and the D-day successes signalled the beginning of the end for the war in Europe. Swing enthusiasts had been obliged to follow the best British equivalents or make-do with a limited number of record releases by UK-based companies. in early June – but the US Navy Band received much less attention because it was led by an unknown musician called Sam Donohue. Of course what really mattered was the commercial fact that record buyers seemed pleased enough with Ambrose’s current output. It was a case of bursts of brilliance amid run-of-the mill output and Melody Maker voters weren’t deceived. In fact it was another American service band that arrived first. Artie Shaw. this band had been formed by Artie Shaw three years earlier. but not even this luminary could keep the officials of the ‘anti slush brigade’ at bay. Even so. Another possibility was to tune-in to radio programmes beamed to Europe from America. The producer-cum-liaison officer assigned to Glenn Miller by the BBC for broadcasting purposes was the affable and highly respected Cecil Madden. The top band – the Squadronaires – obviously had a stable line-up. but these were short wave transmissions. but again these were recordings. One important point about the bands that did better is the fact that they were permanent entities. cinema newsreels and popular magazine and newspaper articles. the receivers for which were banned for the duration of the war. Half the time Ambrose didn’t even have a full-time orchestra and when he did only a small nucleus of players had full-time status. Ambrose was no doubt pleased that Anne Shelton topped the ‘favourite female vocalist’ list. However.

which she did. The orchestra was in fact a permanent outfit that Ambrose formed once it became clear that there would be enough regular work to justify its existence. when he became arranger for the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. About the time that Glenn Miller arrived in Britain. Acquaintanceship isn’t the same thing as friendship and the truth is that they didn’t get on. Ambrose was the only British bandleader that Glenn Miller knew personally. The two men also met at a party while Ambrose was in New York in 1938. Unwilling to pander to the BBC for more than a couple of months Glenn eventually switched his broadcasting efforts to the American Armed Forces Radio station that was set-up in liberated Europe.particularly it’s insistence that he feature British guest artists like George Formby and Tessie O’Shea during his broadcasts. One scheduled assignment for Ambrose and (presumably) his band was an appearance in a film starring Vera Lynn and Donald Stewart called ‘ONE EXCITING NIGHT’ which was released in December. After her performance Glenn came over and said: ‘Honey that was swell…you fit my sound’! After the broadcast Glenn invited Anne to take part in a live concert at the Bedford Corn Exchange. Glenn became familiar with some of Ambrose’s orchestrations due to an arrangement-swapping agreement. There was however one carry-over from his brief encounter with the BBC – the singing voice of Anne Shelton. it was in a phone conversation with Ambrose that Glenn Miller confided his problems with the BBC .KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 263 Inexplicably the BBC declared that: ‘Glenn Miller’s music is unsuitable for the British public’. . Subsequently. Years later Anne recalled: ‘At that time I took my orders from Mister Ambrose…he never asked me whether I wanted to do anything…I was always told what to do…and I always obeyed. although before he became successful Glenn was in some awe of the distinct ‘sound identity’ of the Ambrose band – the lack of which had supposedly dogged his own path to fame and fortune. Her other radio show ‘INTRODUCING ANNE’ – which had run intermittently for over two years – had finished earlier in the year. Now of course the boot was on the other foot…or so it would seem from much of Ambrose’s recorded output in 1944. Then Johnny Franz came round with the lead sheet but I didn’t need it because I knew the tune and words by heart’. On this occasion I was quite happy with my orders because for me the chance to sing with Glenn Miller was just like getting an award. Anyway. They had first met many years before when Glenn was in the Ben Pollack band and Ambrose happened to spend some time with the band while he was visiting New York. Glenn Miller brought along Cecil Madden and Ambrose was accompanied by Evelyn Dall. Anne’s long-running radio show ‘CALLING MALTA’ came to an end. This was called ‘ANNE TO YOU’ and apart from an orchestra and vocal group no other artists were featured. It was at the rehearsal for the show that Glenn Miller fell in love with Anne’s singing voice (of which he had been aware since 1941 but only on records). she appeared on seven separate occasions with the AAF band and it could have been more but for Ambrose’s objections. In mid-August a brand new half-hour programme started that went out on Sunday evenings on the General Forces Programme. Apart from the usual exchange of pleasantries there was one concrete outcome from this informal meeting – Ambrose’s agreement that Anne Shelton could take part in a forthcoming broadcast by the AAF band in place of the musical comedy star that was being urged on Glenn by BBC officials. Later. Although Ambrose was in no position to help Glenn Miller overcome his difficulties some kind of gesture was called for and a get-together over lunch was duly arranged.

An Hour Never Passes.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 264 After the new big band was formed the tags ‘Ambrose Players’ and ‘Ambrose Octet’ were abandoned. [Vocal by Bob Arden…All My Life. [Vocal by George Melachrino…By The River Of Roses. Leslie Carew. Paper Doll. he was involved with formulating the content of the programmes. Chick Smith. For The Want Of You. Some Day Soon. Jock Bain Carl Barriteau (clarinet) Harry Hayes (alto) Dougie Robinson (alto) Aubrey Franks (tenor) Harry Lewis (tenor) Johnny Gray (baritone) Johnny Franz (piano/+arranger) Archie Slavin (guitar) Tom Bromley (bass) George Firestone (drums) Reginald Leopold (violin)…+ occasional large string section Anne Shelton Bob Arden Rita Marlowe The Debonaires *Occasional replacement. During the first half of 1944 Ambrose recorded around fifteen titles for Decca. When taking part in Anne’s radio show the orchestra played under the direction of Nat Allen who was part of Ambrose’s band supply empire at this time. Take It Away. including: [Vocal by Anne Shelton…Tenement Symphony {1&2}. Journey’s End. I’ll Walk Alone. However. Mairzy Doats And Dozy Doats. Amor Amor. Here’s the line-up for the band . Dave Wilkins. US releases shown upright. Blue Bahamas. Harry Roche. Leslie Hutchinson Jack Bentley.the last truly outstanding outfit to be fronted by Ambrose until the late 1940s: THE AMBROSE ORCHESTRA Director: Trumpets: Trombones: Reeds: Bert Ambrose/Nat Allan* Kenny Baker. Ambrose simply couldn’t bring himself to front what was essentially a backing unit. Rhythm: Strings: Vocals: .

and ‘VARIETY BANDBOX’ a popular long-running Saturday evening show on one of which she sang a duet with Bing Crosby.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 265 Throughout the summer and early autumn Ambrose took what was now a reasonably stable band out on the road. Ambrose was obliged to stick to mainly vocal content during his summer tour. It was the age at which one was no longer regarded as a ‘juvenile’ and suddenly gained certain legal rights that could only be claimed by adults. including a number at the Queensbury All-Services Club. this was a significant landmark in any person’s life. Poinciana…Nadia Doré/Debonaires. Then. In November 1944 Anne reached the age of twenty-one. Anne Shelton’s weekly radio show was supplemented by guest appearances on other radio programmes including ‘WORKERS’ PLAYTIME’. Saturday Night Is The Loneliest Night Of The Week…Anne Shelton. Ambrose organised a big party for Anne at Hatchett’s a smart club in Regent Street. Even top British bands like the Squadronaires and Geraldo’s outfit didn’t satisfy their well honed tastes in the swing department. was released in the autumn. in which she again co-starred with Arthur Askey. Inevitably. London however was buzzing at this time…and not just because of the Doodlebugs (the name given to the V1 rockets that continued to bombard London and the South East of England). Barrelhouse Boogie…Instrumental. There Goes That Song Again…Anne Shelton/Debonaires. Apart from military bases and hospitals there were lunchtime concerts at armaments factories. He presented her with a gold bracelet on the inside of which was inscribed: TO THE GIRL WITH THE GOLDEN VOICE. After the initial shock of these indiscriminate raids had worn-off. Bing arrived in Britain in early September en route to entertain troops in France. much more than now. . Anne Shelton was the star attraction and Evelyn Dall made occasional guest appearances. Roll Me Over Lay Me Down And Do It Again…Evelyn Dall. entertainment in London began to flourish again with a large contingent of well-paid American service personnel demanding satisfaction while on leave. At Anne’s request Glenn Miller was invited and did indeed attend. although proximity to London was necessary because of Anne Shelton’s weekly broadcasts. One reason for bringing Glenn Miller and Sam Donohue over to Britain was the constant griping by American GIs about the ‘corny’ dance bands that they were obliged to put-up with while stationed in Britain. It was at a services club that popular American singer Dinah Shore appeared as guest artist with the Ambrose band. Milkman Keep Those Bottles Quiet…Evelyn Dall. Here’s a play-list for a big troop concert at Maidstone in the summer of 1944: I Hear Music…Nadia Doré/Debonaires. I’ll Be Seeing You…Anne Shelton. Ambrose also did a number of one night stands at West End services clubs. Unfortunately it was a ‘turkey’ (almost as bad as ‘HE FOUND A STAR’) and it would be ten years before Anne could be persuaded to re-enter a film studio. And in Anne’s case this was very significant indeed as we shall soon see. Anne’s third film ‘BEES IN PARADISE’.

From August of that year all new Decca/UK releases were High Fidelity recordings. but she did want to go with Glenn to France and told Ambrose so. The technical name for this was ‘full frequency range recording’ (ffrr) and it was a spin-off from Decca’s involvement with military electronics and radar. but still had novelty value in 1944. The band also participated in two live BBC/NBC broadcasts that were heard simultaneously in Britain and America. In fact Ambrose was by now both extremely jealous and thoroughly alarmed – convinced that Glenn was intent on filching his prize asset. In the end a reluctant Anne was persuaded to stay behind.) Anne treated this as a joke and Ambrose never got to hear about it at the time. The end of this particular story merges with the beginning of the legend of Glenn Miller because had Anne accompanied him to France she would have shared his fate…or so she subsequently believed.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 266 It was at this party that Glenn approached Ambrose seeking permission to take Anne over to France with the US Allied Expeditionary Force Band towards the end of the year. vocal talent included Rita Marlowe. Both these instruments had been used before in bands. Although most of the research undertaken by Decca was paid for by the government. One change was in the rhythm section where Pat Dodd replaced Johnny Franz on piano. The day before. . However. Like other companies. It wasn’t until Boxing Day that Glenn’s disappearance was officially announced. Benny Lee and Denny Dennis. as it so happens. her sneaky mentor had ensured that this would be impossible by filling her post-Christmas schedule with radio commitments. As well as a regular weekly Sunday evening half-hour show on the Forces Programme. This varied broadcasting activity continued until Christmas Eve (a Sunday) when both Ambrose’s show and ‘ANNE TO YOU’ got their regular air time. Ambrose’s recording activities were almost as sparse during the second half of 1944 as in the previous six months. George Shearing was regularly featured as guest pianist. Ambrose was also given some lunchtime slots on the Home Service. some of the money that Decca/UK received from the mandatory disposal of its majority shareholding in Decca/US in 1941 went to finance commercial research and development. Apart from Anne Shelton. However there was one big difference. a recording of a USAEF band concert to which Glenn Miller was heading when he disappeared was broadcast by the BBC. Ambrose returned to broadcasting in November with a band having almost the same line-up as shown above. Glenn was! So important was Anne to his future plans that he even suggested that she consider becoming an American citizen and join the AAF! (This being the only way that Ambrose’s cast-iron contractual grip on Anne could legally be broken. Ambrose was non-committal and only promised to check Anne’s schedule and let Glenn know later. but of course this is a viewpoint made with hindsight and anyway it’s unlikely that Decca would have sanctioned such a project. And. And given the importance of exports to the British economy it’s not surprising that the government approved of such things. Decca was preparing for a post-war trading policy well before the war ended. Two occasional additions were Billy Munn on Novachord (an electronic keyboard that never became truly popular) and Ivor Mairants on electric guitar. this being his last involvement with Ambrose’s band. Now ffrr was a patented process and so provided Decca with a big advantage over its rivals on both sides of the Atlantic. For Ambrose to have had this new technology to hand and not use the all-star orchestra at his disposal to record some of the big band instrumentals he was featuring seems somewhat odd.

Every Time We Say Goodbye. Given that other bands at the time were doing likewise and the fact that over the decades so have many more. And what they heard knocked them for six! Later. Sentimental Journey. Holiday For Strings. If the summer of 1944 marked the beginning of the end of World War Two then the winter of 1945 marked the beginning of the end of Ambrose’s career as a top bandleader. Whether this was a defining moment for Ambrose is not really known but some who were with him at the time subsequently believed that it was. You Always Hurt The One You Love.the big band at his disposal was essentially an all-star outfit with an instrumental configuration that matched that of Glenn Miller’s AAF band. Love Here Is My Heart.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 267 Here then are Ambrose’s first ffrr recordings dating from sessions between August and the end of 1944: [Vocal by Anne Shelton…Till Stars Forget To Shine. Dance With A Dolly. Now it so happened that the Queensbury All-Services Club incorporated a ballroom with a bandstand at each end and on occasions two bands were hired to play alternate sets. San Fernando Valley. Lili Marlene. Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year. we can’t blame Ambrose for latching-on to this hugely popular style. Cotton Tail. Moonlight In Vermont. It Could Happen To You. How Little We Know. But there was also another American service band stationed in Britain. . The Trolley Song. Swingin’ On A Star. [Vocal by Rita Marlowe…I’ll Be Seeing You. My Heart Tells Me. However. Coincidentally or otherwise. but possibly featured. Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby. At first it didn’t seem that this had to be the case. US releases shown upright. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. as previously mentioned – Sam Donohue’s US Navy Band. And here are the major hits of 1944 not recorded. at the urging of Kenny Baker and others. and HOW DOES HE DO IT? The answer to this question was a simple one . Rum And Coca-Cola. What A Difference A Day Made. The GI Jive. I Love You. I’m Making Believe. and so it’s little wonder that Ambrose’s ‘sound’ was sometimes identical to Glenn Miller’s (just listen to Ambrose’s recording of San Fernando Valley). he too stayed behind while Sam Donohue took the final set. Now this wasn’t in any way a ‘battle of the bands’ and didn’t attract particular attention at the time. [Vocal by Alan Kane…The Same Little Words. Although Ambrose’s string section wasn’t as big as the one that augmented the AAF big band its function was the same. Some Other Time. by Ambrose:Candy. Shoo-Shoo Baby. after Ambrose had completed the first set and the US Navy Band took its place on the alternative bandstand most of Ambrose’s boys stayed behind. Ambrose played the Queensbury Club occasionally and was booked for a session early in 1945. [Vocal by Bob Arden…Going My Way. Ambrose returned for his band’s second set and afterwards. I Fall In Love Too Easily. You’re Nobody ‘Till Somebody Loves You. shortly after this engagement and a Decca recording session he temporarily disbanded. Forget-Me-Not. On this particular night Sam Donohue’s outfit was the alternative attraction. Toward the end of 1944 writers in the Melody Maker waxed lyrical about Ambrose’s BBC broadcasts under such headings as: THE GREAT AMBROSE – GREAT AS EVER.

five of these players also worked on a part-time basis for Ted Heath who was struggling to find the resources to form a permanent band. Now there were two aspects to Anne’s career – both controlled by Ambrose.000 [about £40. This went under the name Ted Heath & His Music. a comparison of these two recordings might suggest that the two bandleaders were heading in decidedly different directions. and was destined to become the greatest British big band of the 20th Century. from this time on Ambrose’s best years as a bandleader were behind him. Jack Bentley. And then of course there were her fees from taking part in radio shows and films and the royalties for the records she made under her own name. youthful enthusiasm had been overtaken by world-weary cynicism the roots of which were embedded in his psyche rather than his professional ability. For a number of his erstwhile sidemen the experience of listening to and playing alongside their transatlantic cousins amounted to an acute revelation. Once again she had been voted ‘favourite female vocalist’ by Melody Maker readers (with the superb Beryl Davis a very close second). band that another ex-Ambrose sideman had started a couple of years earlier. Now. and secondly a solo performer receiving a personal income which varied according to the work undertaken. as we shall soon see. If Ambrose’s primary asset was no longer his band as such (the annual Melody Maker poll for 1945 listed it in 9th place) then attention has to be focussed on Anne Shelton. One of the first titles to be released by Ted Heath & His Music was Opus One an instrumental version of a 1944 hit for Tommy Dorsey’s band.000 now] that she earned by appearing at the London Palladium for one week in the summer of 1944. Harry Roche and Johnny Gray – were already members of a part-time. all was not lost as the winter snow swirled around Albemarle House in January 1945. Bearing in mind that about half of Ted’s band at this time had also been part of the Ambrose band that recorded the vocal-dominated Tenement Symphony a year earlier. Dave Wilkins. A good example of the latter was the £1. whose asset status was not open to question. And it was also in the spring of 1945 that Ted got a recording contract with Decca/UK. Interestingly. partrehearsal. Five of these . Firstly she was a band singer for which she received a guaranteed regular players Kenny Baker. Ambrose received a percentage of her personal earnings to cover the cost of all the professional services that he provided for her. Ambrose was obliged to form another band in the spring of 1945 to back Anne Shelton’s resumed radio series and also record for Decca (a now much reduced activity). Was it also the band that Ambrose might have had if circumstances had been different? This is the same kind of question that was asked previously – could Ambrose have joined the ranks of the great American swing bands if circumstances had been different? Logic dictates that no meaningful answer can be given in either case and we just have to accept that despite a serious ‘comeback’ attempt in the late 1940s. . Inspiration plus determination (and a bit of luck) got Ambrose what he wanted – a band that eventually became the equal of Isham Jones’ superb outfit.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 268 Just over twenty years earlier Ambrose certainly had experienced a defining moment in his career when he first heard the Isham Jones band live. Even so. It seems likely that most of the star players in the 1944 band took part in the March recording session and some may have been working in Ambrose-sponsored bands since the demise of the permanent outfit.

Five years on and things were different. Pat Hutton Anne Shelton*. These things had to be done and for Anne there were many advantages with the Ambrosian arrangement. When the Second World War finally ended in the summer of 1945 Ambrose decided to form a new band and seek a suitable residency. Ambrose failed to recognise this and went on treating her as if she were still an obedient novice well after she had matured into an experienced young lady with a mind of her own…and an Irish one to boot! Of course Ambrose really did believe that he had her best interests at heart. the management of Ciro’s made an offer for Ambrose’s services and he accepted.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 269 All this was routine stuff and doesn’t in any way suggest that Ambrose was ‘soaking’ Anne’s talents. Anne wisely put her own interests first but never lost her respect and admiration for Ambrose as this quote shows: ‘I owed him everything in the early days…he was like a second father to me and I couldn’t have had a better mentor. However. Rita Marlowe*. there comes a time when artists in Anne’s position need to move-on and not only for financial reasons. After I left the band we kept in touch and stayed friends and all my memories of the years with Bert and the boys are good ones’. In the end Anne did agree to stay on under an informal agreement. but even so his hope that she would signup for a further long-term contract when her original one expired in May 1945 was stretching optimism to the limit. The May Fair and Dorchester were possibilities because AOL now had the band supply contract for these venues. However. and also because he had promised to help launch her career in the United States immediately the war in Europe ended. primarily to help Ambrose renew his contract with Decca/UK on favourable terms. Jack Powers* Woolf Phillips *Occasional additions. Reeds: Rhythm: Strings: Vocals: Arranger: . Characteristically. Here’s the band that Ambrose formed for Ciro’s: AMBROSE & HIS ORCHESTRA Director: Brass: Bert Ambrose (+violin) Max Goldberg (trumpet) Arthur Mouncey (trumpet) Leslie Carew (trombone) Jack Bentley (trombone) Nat Temple (alto/clarinet) Harry Smith (alto) Billy Amstell (tenor/clarinet) Johnny Gray (tenor/baritone) Malcolm Lockyer (piano/+arranger) Archie Slavin (guitar) Tom Bromley (bass) George Firestone (drums) Syd Simone (violin/+deputy)…et al* Steve Conway. This was now an exclusive club rather than a restaurant and still occupied the original premises in Orange Street. When Anne joined Ambrose in 1940 she was just out of school and still had everything to learn about her new profession.

Manana. In November Ambrose received an offer from Music Corporation of America (MCA) for a six-week engagement in the United States some time in 1946. Serenade From Frasquita. Anywhere. I’ll Close My Eyes. restricted her contributions to recording sessions as did Jack Powers. Some player didn’t stay very long. and two months later commenced a series of weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) late-night broadcasts from the club. US releases shown upright. As the AFM/MU ban on band exchanges was still in place Ambrose couldn’t have contemplated taking a British band over to America and the only other names (optimistically?) mentioned in his announcement were Anne Shelton and Evelyn Dall. Ambrose opened at Ciro’s in early September. [Vocal by Rita Marlowe…Let’s Take The Long Way Home. More And More. Can’t You Read Between The Lines. Don’t Fence Me In. Life Is Nothing Without Music. overlapping as they had in the past two with her career as a solo artist. Anne Shelton may have taken part in some broadcasts but didn’t ordinarily sing at Ciro’s. including Nat Temple who apparently returned to Geraldo’s band (from whence he came) for a while before forming his own highly-regarded orchestra. Jungle Jive*. so the usual cautions apply to the above list. However. Powers was an American who had sung with Louis Prima’s jazz band in the early 1940s and then became a popular radio singer. It seems that Ambrose intended to form an ad hoc band comprising American musicians for this particular venture. [Vocal by Jack Powers…Too Bad. working alongside Steve Conway. Robin Hood. Her long years as a band vocalist were now over. By 1945 he had his own recording contract with Columbia/UK and had become an established solo singer. having had his long-standing AFM membership terminated when the US entered the war. Steve Conway first came to public attention when he sang on the popular radio show ‘VARIETY BANDBOX’ in 1944. Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive. Ambrose recorded just over twenty titles in 1945 including the following: [Vocal by Anne Shelton…Can’t Help Singing. The Wedding Waltz. On The Acheson Topeka And The Santa Fé. *Unreleased. Jack Bentley and Johnny Gray joined Ted Heath when he formed his first full-time band towards the end of 1945. Nocturne Of The Oasis. I’d Rather Be Me. [Instrumentals…Rose Of Washington Square. Ambrose announced that he wanted to accept the offer but no dates had yet been arranged. Jack Powers’ only involvement with Ambrose’s band seems to have been to take part in a couple of Decca recording sessions in the autumn. Dardanella. What he was doing in Britain in 1945 isn’t known for sure but he may have been on his way to entertain American troops in Europe. Symphony. China Moon. this engagement proved to be as elusive as the others announced in the 1930s. Clearly he was not a common-or-garden band vocalist and his ‘guest singer’ status with Ambrose reflected this. . Also. Archie Slavin and George Firestone had been replaced by the spring of the following year. Rita Marlowe. Pat Hutton (about whom nothing is known) was brought in as the regular girl vocalist at Ciro’s.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 270 By the time this band was formed the war was over but the band scene remained volatile. who was now a vocalist with Stanley Black’s BBC Dance Orchestra. This time because Ambrose couldn’t get AFM agreement to his ‘guest conductor’ role. [Vocal by Benny Lee…I’m A Ridin’ White Horses.

My Heart Sings. Love Letters. While Ambrose was so occupied the results of the annual Melody Maker poll were announced. At the end of December an additional series of weekly half-hour broadcasts called ‘AMBROSE AND ANNE’ started on the BBC Light Programme. Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall. Alas. There I’ve Said It Again. Dream. Alan had started to lead an independent vocal group (the Song Peddlers) and after leaving Ambrose he became involved with the emerging bebop scene in Britain. . The ‘AMBROSE AND ANNE’ series continued until the spring. After leaving Ambrose he sang on the radio quite a lot and also became a popular recording artist until his untimely death in the early 1950s. In Acapulco. and charity events at the Dorchester Hotel and Royal Albert Hall. only Nocturne Of The Oasis was released at this time all other titles being shelved. the orchestra got an occasional chance to play at outside events. It’s A Grand Night For Singing. BEST SWING BAND – 17th place.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 271 The above titles include Anne Shelton’s final and appropriate contribution to Ambrose’s recorded output – Life Is Nothing Without Music. For Ambrose it was a case of: FAVOURITE BANDLEADER – 5th place. Sentimental Journey. Steve Conway’s regular replacement at Ciro’s was Alan Dean. Skyliner. for example a ball at Buckingham Palace. It Might As Well Be Spring. Even before he left Ambrose. As the title makes clear. Jungle Jive was never released. Gotta Be This Or That. Anne Shelton now had equal status to the maestro himself. Apart from regular work at Ciro’s. We’ll Gather Lilacs. Ironically. I’ll Buy That Dream. Of the instrumentals. In the early 1950s he went to America and enjoyed modest success as a solo singer for some years. Broadcasting from Ciro’s continued as before and everything seemed set for a rosy post-war future on radio. but after this Ambrose was absent from BBC airwaves for three years. Give Me The Simple Life. New York New York. My Dreams Are Getting Better All The Time. Laura. It turned out that some objections had been raised over Steve Conway’s inclusions in broadcasts from Ciro’s and that unless Ambrose agreed to drop him the broadcasts must cease. BEST SWEET BAND – 7th place. Finally for 1945 we will take a look at some of the hits of that year that were not recorded but possibly featured by Ambrose: Autumn Serenade. it was not to be! In early February an unsuspecting Ambrose was asked to attend an urgent meeting at Broadcasting House. Cruising Down The River. He had first come to prominence a year or so earlier with Oscar Rabin’s band and was clearly destined for a solo career by the time he joined Ambrose. Steve Conway soon departed because the main attraction wasn’t so much singing at Ciro’s but rather exposure on the radio. As well as being a stylish singer he also played piano and was adept at arranging for vocal groups. The High Society connection continued when Ambrose was engaged to play the summer season at the International Sporting Club in Monte Carlo. (Rose Of Washington Square and Dardanella were released in America on Decca/UK’s ‘London’ label in 1947 and on the ‘Blue & Gold’ label in 1951. For the eight weeks of this engagement Nat Allen took a substitute band into Ciro’s. Ambrose would not agree and the broadcasts were summarily axed. a significant addition.

Despite all this Ambrose seemed to be cautiously optimistic and announced his intention return to America some time in 1947 to form an all-star American band for a limited number of engagements. ‘CAROUSEL’ and ‘ANNIE GET YOUR GUN’. Ambrose’s views found their way back to Britain by courtesy of the Melody Maker and caused quite a storm.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 272 Ambrose and the band returned to Ciro’s in mid-September. At the age of twenty-nine she had decided to quit show business in Britain and return to America. although for her it was to be a one-way journey. . Also on board was Evelyn Dall. Ambrose also saw some of the shows then running on Broadway. Only this time it was even more traumatic because of the sheer quantity of good quality playing then going on in New York. she had a hit in 1945 when Decca/UK released her recording of a song called I Wanna Get Married. They settled in New England. Along with Jack Hylton. Whatever personal relationship Evelyn and Ambrose had entered into was over well before the war ended. Geraldo and a host of celebrities he embarked for New York on the Queen Elizabeth which was making her post-war maiden voyage as a transatlantic passenger liner. However. Woody Herman. a substantial donation to the union’s benevolent fund easing the way back in. This blew itself out after a few weeks. and after his death in the early 1970s Evelyn retired to Florida. Since the summer of 1945 she had been co-starring with Arthur Askey in a highly successful stage musical called ‘FOLLOW THE GIRLS’. Her new husband was a wealthy business man and didn’t want her to continue in show business. What he saw and what he heard had the same effect as when he experienced Sam Donohue’s band a year earlier. raised two children. By coincidence. including ‘OKLAHOMA’. But times weren’t normal in America in 1946. and this probably didn’t go unnoticed in high places back home. Ambrose might well have kept his enthusiasm for American musicians and disdain for British ones to himself but chose not to do so when interviewed by Leonard Feather for Billboard magazine. The coincidence arose because after returning to the United States she actually did get married. But not for bands in general because by the time Evelyn left it had become almost mandatory for bandleaders to hire an ‘incendiary blonde’ to work alongside ‘boy next door’ and ‘English rose’ in the vocal department. Apart from renewing old friendships and experiencing bands large and small. Normally this would have been a mere formality. Four weeks later Simone was obliged to stand-in for Ambrose who was off to spend a month in America. The gap that had separated big bands in the two countries since the rise of the Swing Era had become a chasm just as that era was coming to an end. and if the parting of the ways wasn’t particularly dramatic or acrimonious. but Ambrose had unwisely been rather rude about the BBC during the course of the same interview. While in New York Ambrose did the usual round of nightspots. Ambrose would first have to be reinstated by the AFM’s Local 802. A meeting with his representative at MCA revealed that a number of venues in New York had again expressed interest in obtaining his services for limited engagements. Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman were all forced to temporarily disband. Returning service personnel were swelling the ranks of an already overcrowded music industry. Moreover economic circumstances were pushing even top bands out of business – in 1946 Harry James. But it wasn’t all pleasure – Ambrose had some serious business to take care of. it certainly marked the end of something special for Ambrose. including the clubs on 52nd Street.

And this time round the misery was generalised throughout a still class-conscious Britain. The Old Apple Tree. Of course some good songs did emerge around this time including Autumn Leaves. Air Raid Shelter. will take a look at the titles Ambrose recorded for Decca/UK between January 1946 and February 1947: [Vocal by Rita Marlowe…Homesick That’s All. Panama. In The Land Of Beginning Again. where he was in Ken Johnson’s (Afro-Caribbean) band. Ambrose did the decent thing and offered to forego the six-months remaining on his contract. El Samba. [Vocal by Alan Dean…Chickery Chick. The winter of 1947 was the coldest on record and came at a time of extreme austerity. US releases shown upright. Three Beautiful Words Of Love. By March takings had fallen to a critical level and the club was going under. it seems mighty strange that just when song stylists were replacing big bands as the main progenitors of popular music the public taste started to degenerate. After a final recording session at the Decca studio the band was laid-off. fuel shortages and power cuts. By this time Ambrose had withdrawn from any meaningful attempt to record a range of current hits. [Vocal by Bette Roberts…Counting Stars In The Moonlight. [Vocal by Jane Lee…Laughing On The Outside. Love. He had worked almost exclusively for Ambrose since his recovery from serious injuries sustained in the bombing of the Café de Paris in 1941. [Instrumentals…Piano Concerto. Strange Music. Oh What It Meant To Me. It was just after this session that Ambrose’s bass player Tom Bromley was killed in a car crash while accompanying his singer wife to an engagement.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 273 Ambrose arrived back in London at the end of November just as the thick autumnal fog was being dispersed by bitter winds that presaged worse – much worse – to come. and Time After Time but who now remembers the two big hits of the year Open The Door Richard and Cement Mixer Put-ti Put-ti? From the perspective of several decades later. Aren’t You Glad You’re You. . Ole Buttermilk Skye. The entertainment industry struggled to keep going in the appalling conditions but people just stayed away. but it’s important to note that his new releases were only a drop in the ocean because he still had over 160 records listed in the Decca/UK catalogue and continued to enjoy huge international record sales. What this output represented in numerical and monetary terms isn’t known but one thing is for sure – it mattered far more to Ambrose than the results of Melody Maker polls! Because Ambrose no longer recorded or broadcast a range of popular songs we can dispense with the usual end-of-year list of top hits. The snow came early and didn’t finally go until April. We however. Tenderly. In 1944 he was voted ‘best bass player’ in the annual Melody Maker poll and was still in his early thirties when he died. Just as well really because not only had the Swing Era come to an abrupt end but so too had the Golden Age of Song – at least so far as Tin Pan Alley was concerned. At Ciro’s the lavish décor and sumptuous furnishings counted for little when the indoor temperature hovered around 10˚C.

It was partly the fee for this work that enabled Ted Heath to go full-time towards the end of 1945. Of course.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 274 In the summer of 1947 Ambrose came close to joining his late lamented bass player when he collapsed while playing golf at Sandy Lodge. Despite the gloomy economic situation in Britain. . In connection with the film he assembled a studio orchestra that included a big band element and it was during his search for an established outfit to fulfil this function that he came across the still embryonic Ted Heath band. To some extent it was a consolidation of the pre-war practice of including certain Decca/UK titles in the Decca/US catalogue and vice versa. but it was not to be. As part of his Decca/UK advisory role Camarata was asked to assess the quality of all bands that recorded for the company. After a spell in a nursing home he spent a couple of months recuperating in Torquay. Camarata instantly recognised that Ted Heath’s band had the potential he was looking for and hired it accordingly. Even so. Ambrose’s post-1941 releases in America had been limited to a few records under the aegis of Decca/UK and by 1946 all Ambrose titles in the Decca/US catalogue had been deleted. Little wonder then that after Camarata took charge of ‘London’ Records Ted Heath’s band predominated. Camarata didn’t actually dismiss Ambrose out-of-hand. including those that backed vocalists recording under their own name. as the Melody Maker pointed out around this time. as well as manufacturing and distribution operations. To head the new ‘London’ Records operation Sir Edward Lewis appointed an American – Salvador ‘Toots’ Camarata. In the summer of 1945 he was appointed musical director for the British film ‘LONDON TOWN’ as well as an advisor to Decca/UK. This practice also had a variant whereby Decca/UK and Decca/US also released certain of their own records in the other country – the Decca/UK version eventually became known as the ‘Anglo-American Series’. Sir Edward’s intention was to sign-up recording artists in both countries and this meant that recording facilities would have to be established in America. For this reason alone he might have expected great things from the ‘London’ label. The new ‘London’ label was intended to mix American and British recording artists and appeal to record buyers on both sides of the Atlantic (as well as elsewhere in the world). All very confusing but that’s the way it was. By this time Ted had just started to record for Decca but was struggling to keep the band together. 1947 was the year that Decca/UK boss Sir Edward Lewis chose to launch a new venture – ‘London’ Records. Decca/UK now no longer owned Decca/US but a degree of co-operation remained in place. and the introduction of the ‘London’ label made matters more complex because the original arrangement wasn’t immediately withdrawn. and did ensure that some of his best pre-war instrumental output was given an early reissue on a ‘London’ four-record album. He was a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music and came to prominence in the mid-1930s as a trumpet player and arranger in Jimmy Dorsey’s band. so for some weeks Ambrose was hospitalised. Camarata’s critique was not of course made public but it was no coincidence that from this time on Ted Heath got the lion’s share of big band instrumental recording at Decca/UK. Ambrose remained the best known British-based bandleader in the United States. Subsequently he worked for Charlie Barnet and then during the war became an executive with Decca/US. It was a case of acute appendicitis and after an operation complications set in.

Oh What A Beautiful Morning. and anyone who assumed that he had now left show business for good (and many did) was in for a surprise. When You’re Hair Has Turned To Silver. However.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 275 However. In fact Ambrose was convinced that he could make a successful comeback as a bandleader but that the best place to do so was America…mainly for economic reasons. Interviewed on arrival by Leonard Feather he outlined his current American likes and dislikes – these included singers Dinah Shore and Tony Martin. Ambrose was optimistic enough to provisionally accept the MCA offer. [Instrumentals…Swing Low Sweet Clarinet-featuring Reginald Kell (clarinet). including those recorded just before Ambrose disbanded in April. which now also doubled as an office because since his illness he had put his band supply and artist management activities into abeyance. because by this time he didn’t have a permanent band. For these assignments Ambrose must have used an orchestra comprising session musicians. In the summer of 1947 Camarata asked Ambrose to work with clarinettists Reginald Kell and Carl Barriteau. People Will Say We’re In Love. and to provide high class backing for solo artists. Ambrose met with Petrillo in Chicago but by the time he left America no final decision had been obtained. Mantovani. and the later ‘specials’: [Vocal by Alan Dean…A Gal In Calico. including Stanley Black. [Vocal by Bette Roberts…Oh But I Do. so far as new releases were concerned the only future he could see for Ambrose was to switch to the kind of rhythmic light music typified by André Kostelanetz. They did well out of the genre. Titles shown upright released on both ‘Blue & Gold’ and ‘London’ labels. But Ambrose was still wedded to the big band sound and wasn’t inclined to embrace what in jazz circles was called ‘breakfast music’. And so in the early spring of 1948 Ambrose once again headed for New York. are the final 1947 titles. and (significantly) Les Brown’s big swing band. Dance Of The Potted Puppet -featuring Carl Barriteau (clarinet). [With Vera Lynn…How Lucky You Are. Despite their titles these were light orchestral compositions by Leroy Anderson and the kind of music that Camarata wanted Ambrose to supply for ‘London’ Records. but for Ambrose it held no particular attraction. His company – Ambrose Orchestras Ltd – continued to exist however. Here. and singer Vera Lynn. he awaited events and somehow the news leaked-out because at the end of May the Melody Maker carried the front page headline: AMBROSE – BIG AMERICAN OFFER. Ambrose spent the winter of 1947/8 ‘resting’ in his Grosvenor Square apartment. Ambrose’s only recording activity during 1948 was to make one record comprising two instrumentals (probably arranged by Camarata) – Jazz Pizzicato and Jazz Legato. . Before leaving America he received an offer from MCA for a residency at the St Regis Hotel in Manhattan that included a sponsored weekly half-hour radio show on a New York local radio station. Other bandleaders were not so coy. Frank Chacksfield and the greatest of them all – Bob Farnon. Back in London. then. and that depended on his being reinstated by the AFM’s Local 802 and the tacit approval of AFM big-boss James Petrillo. This depended on Ambrose obtaining a work permit.

In fact his fee for the initial six months contract was £16. and had first opened its doors in 1947…but not to anybody! It was a strictly ‘invitation only’ club that appealed to an international super-rich clientele. a wealthy wine merchant. Even a notional familiarity with the post-war British big band scene would confirm that this was an allstar outfit with leading jazzmen drawn from the ranks of top British bands.000 now] out of which the new band had to be paid for. Aristocrats rubbed shoulders with tycoons. given the lineup of the new band Ambrose should have been onto a winner. Eric Breeze Harry Hayes (alto/clarinet) John Dankworth (alto/+arranger) Ronnie Scott (tenor) Ken Graham (tenor) Al Baum (baritone/clarinet/flute) Norman Stenfalt (piano/+arranger) Pete Chilver (guitar) Joe Muddel (bass) Norman Burns (drums) Ray Burns The Debonaires Johnny Douglas (chief). Apart from a dance orchestra the club also employed a rumba band and had a nightly floorshow that featured a top cabaret artist. And to get the best band he had ever had Ambrose was obliged to fork out around £600 a week. . Harry Roche. Not a bad choice as it so happens. Moreover. wasn’t that good. Alan Bristow Rhythm: Vocals: Arrangers: About his new job Ambrose had this to say in the Melody Maker: ‘I can tell you this is the biggest contract I have ever had…I am now going to form what you can tell your readers will be the best band I have ever had’. The Nightingale – unsurprisingly situated in Berkeley Square – was owned and managed by Eustace Hoey. sports personalities and show business celebrities. he was putting into practice musical policies carefully worked-out during his stay in America (and originally intended for use there). Freddy Clayton. A little arithmetic shows that so far as personal profit was concerned the Nightingale job.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 276 By the end of June it became clear to Ambrose that the AFM had no intention of letting him form an American band in the foreseeable future and so he withdrew from the MCA offers.000 [about £320. but essentially risky due to the need to generate a great deal of revenue to offset the enormous personnel costs. on its own. Some reasonably interesting British offers were in the pipeline including an (apparently) attractive proposition – a high-profile residency at an exclusive and lavishly endowed club in Mayfair. Tommy McQuater. Here’s the outfit that Ambrose formed for this engagement: AMBROSE & HIS ORCHESTRA Director: Trumpets: Trombones: Reeds: Bert Ambrose Kenny Baker. However. The prototype was Les Brown’s big band which featured a fair proportion of instrumental ‘mainstream’ jazz as well as superior dance orchestra fare.

singer Ray Burns. Certainly. In comparison to Ambrose’s heyday the output was meagre. he began commissioning special arrangements of jazzinspired instrumental numbers to reflect this. Even so. especially over the festive season. Everything swung along fine for the next few weeks. If recording possibilities proved to be disappointing then perhaps Ambrose might have more luck with broadcasting? This would be a particularly tough nut to crack so far as the BBC was concerned given his previous unflattering remarks about the Corporation. Some Day My Heart Will Awake. However. It Happened In Adano. Ambrose’s five 1949 records failed to reflect the true potential of the outfit as a major British big band. a sprinkling of jazz-based instrumentals (including some original compositions by John Dankworth) did get to be broadcast. David Miller. and Ambrose lost no time in re-establishing his recording activities at Decca/UK. Ray Burns contributed to most of Ambrose’s 1949 releases. These radio shows might have been an important factor in restoring Ambrose’s reputation as a purveyor of high quality big band music – but in the event they didn’t last long enough to do so. . Clopin Clopart (+Nadia Doré). This went out at around 10pm and was produced by an old associate. [Instrumentals…My Prayer. Anecdotal evidence suggests that these were indeed similar to Les Brown’s output. Here’s the complete list: [Vocal by Ray Burns… It’s Magic (+Debonaires).KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 277 Certainly the band at the Nightingale wasn’t intended to be the usual bland club outfit and Ambrose received assurances from Hoey that he could be more adventurous and make greater use of his star soloists than at most of his previous nightspots. and the main attraction was probably Ray Burns’ vocals. In fact the BBC did offer a chance for Ambrose to return to the airwaves and starting in February he began a series of fortnightly hour-long recorded shows on the Light Programme called ‘ONE NIGHT STAND’. Press reports were highly favourable. more radio work became available with some early evening and daytime transmissions. Ambrose opened at the Nightingale on 15th December 1948 the club being filled to capacity and with the usual bevy of gossip columnists in attendance. particularly in relation to Ambrose’s newest discovery . Musidora. Harry Roy was particularly fulsome in his praise of Ambrose’s new band. Until. In mid-January Ambrose recorded two numbers (It’s Magic and Until) clearly intended for pop song consumers rather than jazz aficionados. Consequently. but as we shall see there was insufficient time for them to become established before circumstances put an end to Ambrose’s aspirations. Almost Like Being In Love. Subsequently. Ambrose’s main detractor at the BBC – Tawny Neilson – had recently left and fellow bandleaders Lew Stone and Harry Roy offered to make representations on his behalf. The Heather On The Hill. Fly Home Little Heart. although the orchestral backing provided for Ray Burns’ vocals gives a hint of what might be on offer by star instrumentalists. stylishly and in every other way’. Along with the above two titles (arranged by Johnny Douglas and Alan Bristow respectively). commenting: ‘I have recently returned from a trip to America and I consider Ammie’s band to be better than anything I heard across the Atlantic…it is a terrific proposition musically.

By the spring of 1949 he had joined the line of home-grown heartthrobs challenging Frank Sinatra for the affections of British teenage girls. including a drop in attendance by club ‘members’.who struck gold through public exposure. Apart from late-night studio broadcasts. events at the Dorchester and a gala dance at the Empress Hall. sometimes twice weekly. Ambrose announced that he intended to keep the band together and expected to secure another permanent engagement ‘within a matter of weeks’. Despite its reputation for opulence and exclusivity the club operated under the guise of a ‘bottle party’ in order to circumvent the quirky British licensing laws. Joe Cordell John Dankworth (+arranger). However. However there were other factors involved. As altoist Harry Hayes later commented: ‘Wonderful band but nobody came in! It was a disaster – the old Ambrose magic had gone’. In fact the club only got going around 11pm and didn’t close until 4am. Both Ambrose and most of his personnel found the hours irksome and this was later used as an excuse for quitting the engagement before the contract was due to expire in May 1949.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 278 After only two months at the Nightingale it all started to unravel. Apparent loopholes in the law enabled alcohol to be served outside normal hours. Tony Osborn Harry Roach. probably due to a crack-down on West End bottle parties by the licensing authorities). it was Ambrose’s regular singer Ray Burns – prominently featured in the broadcasts . One highly publicised gig in the early summer of 1949 was a gala charity ball in Paris to which Ambrose and the band flew by chartered plane. Harry Conn Ronnie Scott. Ambrose was also given some weekday lunchtime slots entitled ‘BREAK FOR MUSIC’ and a short but interesting Sunday morning series called ‘AMBROSE ENTERTAINS’. and this was the main attraction for its super-rich clientele. Broadcasting also continued throughout the summer. Bob Burns Bert Torrance (+clarinet/flute) Norman Stenfalt (+arranger) Joe Muddell Pete Chilver Norman Burns Ray Burns Nadia Doré / Debonaires . There were also similar. For the latter. And by the first week of April so had Ambrose and the band! (The Nightingale closed down only a few weeks after Ambrose left. Moe Miller. By this time there had been some personnel changes in the band so here’s the line-up in the summer of 1949: AMBROSE & HIS ORCHESTRA Director: Trumpets: Trombones: Altos: Tenors: Baritone: Piano: Bass: Guitar: Drums: Vocals: Bert Ambrose Kenny Baker. They were prepared to pay excessive cover charges and entrance and membership fees in order to drink and party into the wee small hours. Ambrose brought over from America an African-American vocal group called the Deep River Boys who became popular in Britain as a result. Meanwhile hasty plans were made for a number of one-off bookings and a provincial tour. but more modest.

One can only wonder whether in the fullness of time Ambrose regretted not making more meaningful use of the jazz talent at his disposal. Formed in 1948. during a provincial summer tour he let the modernists loose during the second half of the programme. Clubs and restaurants started to go under and dancehalls were obliged to scale-down the size of their orchestras. of course. . under exclusive contract to Ambrose and attracting a lot of favourable attention at the time. stage show production or the role of the impresario and it was quite logical to capitalise on Ray Burns’ success. Ambrose’s failure to make a meaningful comeback with a big band was a bitter disappointment – a professional misfortune from which he never fully recovered. and then a look of puzzlement at the tumultuous applause. In November he announced that Ray Burns. Only for Ambrose it wasn’t particularly delightful! Even so. Ambrose’s aspirations ended along with the summer tour in September 1949. there was always something in Ambrose that wanted to be at least loosely associated with anything musically avant-garde. this was the first ‘headquarters’ of the bebop phenomenon in Britain. Nadia Doré and a small band led by jazz pianist Ray Hartley would be embarking on a tour of variety theatres. The main attraction on this eight week stint was Ray Burns. In the same poll the Ambrose band came third in the ‘sweet category’. was no stranger to artist management.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 279 It’s important to appreciate that this band contained some of the finest British jazzmen of the time. Ronnie Scott and Norman Burns embarked on new ventures involved with the establishment of bebop in Britain. The Cold War was starting to warm up and a massive rearmaments programme had to be paid for. despite an (at best) ambivalent attitude to bebop. and John Dankworth was voted Musician of the Year. Ambrose. And so.reflecting no doubt the kind of material that had to be recorded and broadcast in order to stay popular. but only twelfth in the ‘swing category’ . The time was rapidly approaching when rising living standards would enable a good jazz musician to actually earn a living playing jazz full-time. The star musicians he had hired merely transferred their talents into one or other of the top bands only too eager to reclaim their erstwhile assets. Now Ambrose was well aware that bebop was taking hold in America and had been one of the first British bandleaders to experience its delights in New York in 1946. He could no longer afford to hire star players and characteristically refused to compromise. By the end of the year Nadia Doré had transferred her talents to Geraldo’s band leaving Ray Burns as Ambrose’s sole surviving asset from the 1949 debacle. Ronnie Scott later recalled that at first during these sessions Ambrose would go and sit at the back of the hall with a look of anguish on his face. or like John Dankworth. The names underlined came first in their instrumental categories in the annual Melody Maker Poll in 1949. although for the time being he was unwilling – or unable – to do this on a full-time basis. Around this time some of the modernists in the band like John Dankworth and Ronnie Scott were involved with Club Eleven. From this time on he increasingly turned his attention to the promotion and management of talent. Meanwhile there was plenty of big band and session work available for those with exceptional instrumental abilities. Ambrose’s downfall was somewhat masked by a general downturn in West End trade caused by a sudden hike in all kinds of taxation.

A number of top-flight agents were hired at various times but it didn’t make much difference. Other activities on which Ambrose had relied to supplement his income were now in the doldrums . It wasn’t only Ambrose’s professional life that took a knock. which were still substantial with around one hundred of his records still listed in the Decca/UK catalogue. but ‘nothing at all’ wasn’t yet an option. When asked about such things by a gossip columnist he claimed: ‘It’s all part of the show business…I don’t really care for the “high life”…give me a comfortable chair. empty beer bottles rolling around the floor and barely concealed drug taking. just about kept him in the public eye. However. These were still selling well. although his business address remained nominally in Mayfair (actually an accommodation address/telephone switching service that was used in order to keep up appearances). but mainly it was a case of short-term engagements at seedy suburban dance halls. He simply couldn’t afford to retire without waving goodbye to the only kind of life he had experienced for the past thirty years – a life in which luxury apartments. and some minor radio assignments. a cup of tea and a good book to read and I’m perfectly happy’…Hmmm! For a while Ambrose did continued to enjoy his Mayfair lifestyle even though creditors were constantly snapping at his heels and overdrafts and loans getting harder to obtain. As Ambrose put it later: ‘Once I played for kings and princes…then it became a case of one-night stands for Teddy-boys…and as for the guys in the band…all I could afford to hire was a pack of savages’.a new generation of High Society hostesses preferred the boyish good looks of a new generation of society bandleaders. In order to stave off personal bankruptcy he was obliged to scale-down his lavish lifestyle. These. and at least one television appearance. The depths were reached when he accepted an offer from a ballroom chain to tour provincial dance halls and in order to make a reasonable profit was obliged to hire nondescript Archer Street musicians for the band. and Ambrose wasn’t the only bandleader to suffer. . His main source of income was now from record royalties. For a while he experienced the economies of a one-bedroom flat in Bayswater. To avoid further massive debts he now had to curb his ferocious appetite for gambling and (at least for a few crucial years) managed to do so.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 280 VII 1950-1971 The slump in the entertainment industry that began in 1950 carried-over into 1951. exclusive country clubs and lavish entertaining were taken for granted. unlike in America dance orchestras remained a significant part of the British popular music scene. with a few dating from the 1930s and several wartime titles remaining popular (although why anyone should want to hear The Washing On The Siegfried Line in 1951 remains a mystery!). chauffeured limousines. Ambrose it seems had just set his post-war expectations too high. That left artist management and whatever he could squeeze out of the continuing demand for public dancing. With him it was a case of ‘all or nothing at all’. Occasionally Ambrose put-together a big band comprising top session musicians for a one-off concert. For the duration of the tour he had to endure coach trips with expletives flying through the air. He also returned to broadcasting in 1952 with regular inclusions on a programme called ‘DANCE MUSIC’ and occasional ones in 1953/4.

on the label credits would sell more records. arranger. Ken Moule (piano). The EP was to have been followed by others when large-scale deletions of Ambrose’s remaining 78rpm records commenced in 1954. This sold reasonably well and was followed by a trial extended-play (EP) record comprising four deleted titles. For the MGM/Ambrose recordings Laurie Johnson chose the music. When Day Is Done.a graduate of the Royal College of Music and former arranger for Ted Heath and other British big band luminaries. The idea was to match the success that Decca/UK was having with Ted Heath who was by now well known outside Britain. four reeds and four rhythm players) with Syd Simone (occasionally Ambrose) leading on violin. This particular recording project ended in the spring of 1957 when the last two (of a grand total of around fifty) titles were released as 78rpm singles. . Marching Through Georgia. However. wrote the arrangements and formed and conducted the recording orchestra. Further recording sessions the following year resulted in twenty-one additional titles that were subsequently released on two LPs – STARLIT HOUR…THE MUSIC OF PETER DeROSE and LATIN AMERICA AFTER DARK. a more interesting – if somewhat detached – assignment was in the offing. Des Lumsden (alto). Could It Be. It certainly didn’t play in the big band style of Les Brown and additionally had to provide backing for veteran cabaret artists like Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward. and Ambrose only made a token appearance at one recording session. Bluebell Polka. As Time Goes By. The top session musicians taking part included Leon Calvert (trumpet). The man actually responsible for the music was a brilliant young composer. Deep Purple.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 281 In 1953 Decca/UK released a long playing (LP) record called HORS D’OEUVRES. In 1954 Ambrose was approached by a booking agent seeking a medium-sized band for the Café de Paris. Phil Goody (flute). Whatever contractual relationship Ambrose had with Decca/UK was over by the end of 1953 although a dozen or so of his 78rpm records and the LP remained available until the late 1950s. it seems that the fans for his old recordings weren’t eager to change to microgroove records and the project was shelved. Here are some examples:. Around twenty titles were recorded at EMI’s Hayes studio throughout 1955 and fifteen of these released as 78rpm singles (four titles were also issued on an EP). At the Café de Paris every night was a ‘thirties night’! The band that Ambrose formed for this engagement was a twelve-piece outfit (four brass. Whistlin’ Willie. rather than a less well known one. and four rhythm players – and a sizable string section that was used on certain recordings. Johnny Keating (trombone). and musical director called Laurie Johnson . It didn’t amount to much more than that. Because Ambrose still enjoyed an international reputation MGM considered that having his name. Get Happy. Art Watts (bass) and David Katz (violin). This comprised a seventeen-piece big band element – eight brass.Slide Rule. however. five reeds. then enjoying something of a renaissance due to an unashamedly nostalgic approach to the entertainment it provided. This residency seems to have petered out after a year or so. In the autumn of 1954 Ambrose was invited to lend his name to a recording project under the aegis of MGM Records/UK (a subsidiary of EMI).

Rhythm: Vocals: Arranger: Ambrose’s mid-fifties successes didn’t herald a genuine return to the big time. Pete Pitterson. This coincided with an offer to tour ballrooms in London and the provinces and these two engagements enabled Ambrose to form a band comprising first-rate musicians. He was almost sixty years old and had fronted a band for around forty years. . and so Ambrose decided to quit as a bandleader. including a couple from the recording band. Tubby Hayes (alto) Geoff Cole (alto) Jimmy Walker (tenor) Des Lumsden (tenor) Brian Wilson (baritone) Ken Moule (piano) Don Fraser (guitar) Art Watts (bass) Alan Ganley (drums/arranger) Annette Scott. they made a big difference to the way in which he finally departed the danceband scene…and for that he was extremely grateful. Due to its ad hoc nature this mid-fifties Ambrose band had a high turnover. Anyway. It was now time to ‘hang up his fiddle’ and move on. Both MGM and Laurie Johnson came a little too late to make a real difference to Ambrose’s big band prospects and he had no illusions about this. so the following line-up is essentially conjectural but does give some idea of the high-quality talent that Ambrose did actually hire around this time: AMBROSE & HIS ORCHESTRA Trumpets: Trombones: Reeds: Charlie Rowlands. Another stroke of luck came Ambrose’s way in 1955 when he was invited to present a series of half hour shows on Radio Luxembourg. However. Ambrose’s only remaining big band ambition was to quit with dignity. Derek Davies The Ambrose Singers (vocal trio) Peter Knight. Johnny Keating. One title in particular – Slide Rule – became something of a jukebox favourite and along with a number of others might have achieved chart success a few years earlier. By the end of 1956 the radio series had finished. In his heart he knew that this was not now going to happen and that even a slight dip in his fortunes as a bandleader would mean a return to the humiliating experiences of the early 1950s. Jimmy Watson. the MGM recording sessions almost over and the tour of ballrooms coming to an end. Charlie Messenger.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 282 The MGM/Ambrose records created quite a stir in big band circles when they were first released in 1955 because of their verve and quality. his other show business interests were now a more lucrative way of earning a living.

in percentage terms their success was his success. The art in what he did was to second-guess what was ‘coming-up’ in popularity and had nothing whatsoever to do with artistic merit as such or his own preferences. unlike their American counterparts. Her name was Kathy Kirby and she was destined to play a major role in the final part of the Ambrose story. for Ambrose what mattered were the gross incomes of the artists on his books . Eventually managers and agents also wanted ‘in’. By this time the skiffle craze was just emerging from traditional jazz clubs where it had started and thousands of kids were trying to get in on the act. Apart from talentspotting he had to place those he signed-up with those seeking talent and it was his myriad contacts. It wasn’t as glamorous as leading a band but it now paid better. Unable to compete with big outfits like MCA/UK and the Foster Agency he concentrated on finding and promoting new talent. Now. Joe was interested but thought he had a better idea – skiffle groups. although those with theatrical facilities still in place occasionally revived the practice on special occasions (particularly when ticket sales started to fall in the mid-1950s). So far as pop music was concerned Ambrose came to the view that rock’ n’ roll had a significant future but didn’t trust his own judgement in the matter of selecting potential rock’ n’ roll artists. he approached an agent/promoter called Joe Collins (the father of Joan and Jackie) and suggested that they work together on the promotion side of rock’ n’ roll. With the worst of the gambling habit (temporarily) curbed and no longer encumbered by a band that could at best break-even financially. The emphasis was now placed on popular young recording artists who could put over the latest sounds. . little was done in the way of refurbishment and by the mid-1950s most had become tatty if not actually flee-pits. that ensured success. Some of the talent contests that Ambrose dutifully attended were held in cinemas. By 1956 independent television was up-and-running. and he hired her for the remaining few weeks of the tour. While playing at the Ilford Palais an attractive sixteen year old girl approached him and asked if she could sing a number with the band. Consequently. had remained popular after the war although few doubted that once the television revolution really took-off their days would be numbered. others in dance halls. Cinemas had largely given-up staging variety acts as regular offerings with films.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 283 For Ambrose it was the end of an era. but only just. but not the end of his working life. but Ambrose decided to take a chance. which by 1957 included rock’ n’ roll. In fact she was quite good. Consequently. Variety theatres. His company – Ambrose Orchestras Ltd – remained in existence as an umbrella organisation for a number of activities mainly involving talent promotion and management. One significant ‘find’ came during his final tour as a bandleader in 1956. and the respect that these contacts had for his professional judgement. but Ambrose/Collins got there quicker than most. Former ‘headline’ acts like Sam Browne and Max Bacon were by now relegated to the lower end of the variety pecking order. Ambrose began to prosper as an artists’ manager. Standard procedure required a polite rebuff. This meant a lot of time had to be spent travelling around attending talent shows but because of his celebrity status he often wangled a ‘judges’ role at such events. Even so it presented a direct challenge to both cinemas and variety theatres (and of course a horrified BBC!).

For starters he got her a job with Nat Allen’s band’ and then with the resident big band at the Lyceum. But by 1958 Ambrose’s circumstances were in better shape than they had been for many years. the rise in popularity of singers like Ruby Murray. This had the desired effect and in the same year she made her television debut on a pop music show called ‘COOL FOR CATS’. followed later by another chart success. as he made quite clear in a letter to a national newspaper that had reported Joe Loss’ prediction that: ‘Good dance music will soon return to dominate the pop music charts’. the Blue Angel and Club Le Condor. In the early 1940s small-time and big-time managers alike must have envied Ambrose’s luck in discovering Anne Shelton and reaping the rewards. . Ambrose had no such illusions. By 1961 he had become convinced that Kathy Kirby had the potential to join their ranks. Kathy spent her childhood in the leafy London suburb of Ilford where Ambrose discovered her. After Ambrose disbanded he personally coached Kathy until he felt it was time to sign her up and launch her career. and he considered it time to make a comeback – not with a new band but among old show business acquaintances and friends.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 284 Ambrose’s involvement with the Skiffle Craze reached the summit of success when a feisty girl singer on his books called Nancy Whisky teamed-up with the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group and won a recording contract. A guest spot on the popular television show ‘SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE LONDON PALLADIUM’ resulted in further television appearances and a recording contract with Pye Records. Some of its most popular British exponents. Under the more realistic influence of her mother she switched her ambitions to show business. By the time Ambrose gave his comeback party in 1958 Kathy had appeared as a solo singer at the Flamingo Room in Madrid and was well on the way to becoming a top cabaret artist. Shirley Bassey. In mid-1957 one of their titles – Freight Train – made it to the Top Ten. To extend her appeal Ambrose arranged a number of variety tours in 1959/60 in which she supported headline acts like Cliff Richard and Duane Eddy. like Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard were drifting into the entertainment mainstream and some very un-rock like artists were breaking into the pop music charts – like bandleaders Acker Bilk (Stranger On the Shore) and Percy Faith (A Summer Place). considering what lay smouldering just below the surface (quite literally in the case of four young men already plying their wares at a basement club in Liverpool called the Cavern). By this time the most significant artist under Ambrose’s wing was Kathy Kirby – and she was emerging as something rather special. Petula Clark and Alma Cogan did not escape Ambrose’s attention. Even so. Perhaps wisely. The Skiffle Craze didn’t last long and one can only wonder whether Ambrose would have had the same kind of success with embryonic rock’ n’ roll. At school she received voice training and was encouraged to consider a career in opera. And so a lavish party for one-hundred people was arranged at the Dorchester with the usual gossip columnists in attendance. Time for superannuated maestros to blow the dust off their batons and answer the call to duty…or rather not. And now here was the very same maestro attempting to repeat the process in very different circumstances. a popular West End ballroom. It is of course every small-time manager’s dream to discover tomorrow’s superstar and hold-on to him or her long enough to make a decent profit. By this time ‘primitive’ rock’ n’ roll was on the wane. he decided to leave well alone and concentrate on the side he knew best. Back in London she performed at the Astor Club.

On television in the early 1960s there were still occasional programmes devoted to big band music and the BBC retained the services of a superb outfit called the Northern Dance Orchestra (directed by Alyn Ainsworth). Ambrose’s album came at a time when the kind of popular dancing that he had provided so much music for throughout his band leading career was just starting to be replaced by the new cult of disco-dancing. Copenhagen and Deep Henderson were resurrected. slow foxtrots and quicksteps. composed a special instrumental number and directed the band. Shortly after the broadcast EMI again invited Ambrose to lend his name to an LP that would appeal to ballroom dancers rather than big band fans.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 285 Meanwhile there was something of a revival of interest in Ambrose’s former glory days following the release of a Decca LP called LONDON JAZZ SCENE – THE THIRTIES’. Like variety theatres. Actually. with the odd rumba and tango permitted because foxtrotlike steps could be used for these dances also. The acerbic-as-ever Jack Payne presented a television series that involved a reasonably stylish big band. By this time such programmes appealed mainly to those too old to appreciate the new rhythmic and vocal styles that teenagers clearly preferred. and jitterbugging had been discouraged especially in British ballrooms. and the affable-as-ever Billy Cotton hosted a popular and long-running television variety show based around his show band. Further interest in Ambrose was boosted in 1960 when the BBC broadcast a documentary programme called ‘THE BERT AMBROSE STORY’. On this album he shared the honours with Lew Stone. and the following year a ‘pilot’ programme called ‘THE AMBROSE BAND SHOW’ was recorded. the adult population preferred to stay at home and watch exotic dance steps performed by experienced ballroom dancers on television shows like ‘COME DANCING’. the last mentioned recording had been used since the late 1950s to introduce a popular television show called ‘ALL OUR YESTERDAYS’. This was produced by John Hooper. foxtrots. but their main effect was on the kind of music that we now know as ‘easy listening’. . Little has been said about popular dancing styles since the early part of this account because in essence little really changed. Cotton Pickers Congregation. Called DANCE AGAIN WITH AMBROSE this album was subsequently released on the ‘Parlophone’ label. and old instrumental recordings like Hors D’Oeuvres. The market for public dancing was becoming dominated by the requirements of a strong youth culture that preferred the ambience of the discotheque and a free-style rock-inspired dancing that precluded the middle-aged. and Sid Phillips wrote the arrangements. but the series it was intended to herald never materialised. Cheek-to-cheek dancing was the norm and the only steps that the average dancer could manage were those based on the waltz and foxtrot. One of the singers taking part in the broadcast was Ken Kirkham who went on to be a successful stage and television artist. public dancehalls of the conventional kind were on the way out by the mid-1960s. Since the 1920s only bands playing for dedicated ballroom dancers would dare to stray from a diet of waltzes. On the whole. Of course there had been eruptions like the lindy hop and its offspring the jitterbug but the longevity of these dances was confined to a relatively small section of ballroom dancers. New dances such the cha-cha-cha. and would continue to prefer when they left their teen years behind. mambo and bossa-nova became popular in the late 1950s. The recording was broadcast on Boxing Day 1961.

which meant that Ambrose was also doing very nicely thank you! Once again the opulence of Mayfair beckoned seductively and Ambrose moved into an apartment just off Park Lane. And at the end of the year she was voted Top British Female Singer in a New Musical Express readers’ poll. From this time on she was obliged to concentrate on live cabaret performances at increasingly less prestigious venues and for a lot less money. Lulu.only marginally beaten by the winning entry. Her Eurovision song was a number called I Belong and that year the finals of the contest were held in Milan. and Marianne Faithful – all of whom were dominating the charts along with bands like the Beatles. Despite these successes there was a degree of tension behind the scenes.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 286 Ambrose undoubtedly shared the musical tastes of the older generation but was nevertheless obliged to watch certain television programmes that attracted a mainly youthful audience. Ambrose felt that there could be no long-term future for Kathy if she moved too far away from what we would now call ‘easy listening’ music. With Lulu and Marianne Faithful on their books. In 1964 a BBC television series called ‘KATHY KIRBY SINGS’ started and she had two entries in the UK Top Twenty chart. Shows like ‘JUKEBOX JURY’ and ‘TOP OF THE POPS’ were of particular importance to him because by 1963 his protégé Kathy Kirby was very much part of the pop music mainstream. . However. Cilla Black. After 1965 Kathy’s recording career moved in a different direction. Kathy continued to sing the kind of songs that did indeed appeal to those disinclined to embrace the wilder themes of the Swinging Sixties – and she remained popular with middle-of-the-road audiences. Her first chart entry came in the summer of 1963 after she had switched to the Decca label. Later the same year she appeared in the Royal Variety Show at the London Palladium. Kathy wanted to follow Petula Clark’s example and run with the emerging rock-pop fast-trackers like Dusty Springfield. Kathy reached a respectable #11 in the UK Top Twenty chart with a song called Dance On. Later in the year she reached #4 with a cover version of Secret Love. Unfortunately Ambrose came close to deserving the comparison and Kathy certainly lacked Ruth Etting’s strength of character. the Dave Clark Five and the Rolling Stones. a song popularised ten years earlier by Doris Day but given a ‘sixties pop treatment by Kathy. And as her income increased so did his percentage take and he too was back in the big time – at least financially. Kathy’s pop career peaked in 1965 when she was selected to represent Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest. By the time Kathy Kirby started to make it big in 1963 Ambrose had jettisoned all his other artists in order to concentrate on promoting her career. She came second . and had appeared regularly in a popular television variety show called ‘STARS & GARTERS’. Now billed as the Golden Girl of British Pop. He was particularly anxious to avoid any close working association between Kathy and popular male rock bands and such phobias came to the attention of those only too eager to draw comparisons between him and the deranged thug-manager character in the Doris Day film ‘LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME’ (based on the life of American singing star Ruth Etting). With the Beatles at #1. Kathy was earning big money. This had been an instrumental hit earlier in the year for a rock-influenced guitar band called the Shadows (genuinely admired by Ambrose). Decca/UK came to the same conclusion as Ambrose regarding the kind of record buyer she should cater for. the highly lucrative chart-dominated pop scene had become a thing of the past by the late 1960s.

Her ambition to break into films had come to nothing (probably because of Ambrose’s opposition) and her main source of income was now from personal appearances on the ‘cabaret circuit’ – particularly at Northern working men’s clubs where she remained popular. An LP of Ambrose’s early 1930s HMV titles was also released in America around the same time. while on tour with Kathy in the North East he accompanied her to a television studio in Leeds where she was to appear as guest singer in Les Dawson’s Yorkshire TV show ‘SEZ LEZ’. arrangers and ancillary staff that made ‘Ambrose and his Orchestra’ an international brand name for musical entertainment of the highest order. This album clocked-up healthy sales at home and in America. then returned to London and resumed his managerial duties. Tommy McQuater. Ambrose. only one member of Ambrose’s great ‘thirties band remains to tell the tale – Dame Vera Lynn. This was called AMBROSE – TRIBUTE TO COLE PORTER and was released some months after the famous songwriter died in 1964. even though this interest was sufficiently strong to support the formation of a British band led by Syd Lawrence that played in the Miller style. George Chisholm and Billy Amstell. the last in a very long line of highly talented singers. Once again for Ambrose it was bye-bye to Mayfair and this time the destination was a nondescript tower block overlooking Moorgate Station.KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 287 Despite Kathy Kirby’s high earnings during the mid-sixties (around £5. Perhaps it was reduced circumstances that made Ambrose somewhat sceptical about the revival LPs that Decca released in the late 1960s. However. for several reasons he felt unable to relinquish his manager/agent role and carried on regardless. Thirty-five years later a number of Ambrose’s remaining admirers gathered outside the May Fair Hotel where a plaque was unveiled commemorating his time working and living there. However. Logic suggested that it was time to pass responsibility for Kathy Kirby’s faltering career over to someone else. in 2012. although an earlier one had his full co-operation. an unwelcome prospect for someone of Ambrose’s age. At the end of the 1960s Ambrose was approaching his mid-seventies and was no longer mentally alert. Ambrose remained dismissive of the revival of interest in big bands and especially the music of Glenn Miller in the late 1960s. It was during the rehearsal for this show on June 11th that he collapsed and later the same day died in hospital. Such work meant gruelling touring schedules and being away from home for much of the time.000 between 1964 and 1967!) there was little to show for it by the end of the decade. Ambrose’s death received little attention from the media and his funeral was a low-key affair attended by Kathy and a few ex-colleagues like Sid Phillips.000. In the spring of 1971 he suffered a stroke and spent some time in a nursing home and then spent some time in the West Indies recuperating. Now. apparently recovered. ***************************** . Even so. musicians.

KICKING THE MOON AROUND © kamusico 288 BAND LINE-UP INDEX THE AMBROSE ORCHESTRA 1923 1926 1927 1928 1929 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940 1942 1944 1945 1949 1955 18 28 4