jabw_vintage report No. 6

Let me tell you about......

Bert Ambrose, 1897-1971, dance band leader at the Embassy Club and May Fair Hotel in the 1930s

this page first published by John Wright, 2 Oct 1998
last update 31 Dec 2010vintage@r2ok.co.uk

Bert Ambrose was born in London, England, in 1897 and as a young man emigrated to USA where he studied the violin. After a first job as a member of a cinema orchestra, Bert became musical director of the Club de Vingt at the Palais Royal in New York (1917-20). He was heard there by the owner of London's Embassy Club and persuaded to return to England. He left the Embassy club in 1922 and returned to New York, and for a time was musical director at the Clover Gardens, but was persuaded again to return to the Embassy Club in London.
Ambrose and his Embassy Club Orchestra made at least twelve recordings in April 1923 issued on the Columbia label. No radio broadcasts were made from the Embassy.
Look out for:
Col 3286When Will I Know?

In 1927 Ambrose accepted the post of musical director at the May Fair Hotel, apparently at 10,000 a year. He took with him his saxophonist Joe Crossman and recruited several musicians during a trip to USA, including trumpeter Henry Levine. Within weeks of opening at the May Fair the Ambrose orchestra was already recording with Brunswick, playing arrangements by Fred Elizalde and Lew Stone. At this time the band also included Jack Miranda (cl,as) Sydney Lipton (vn) and Harry Raderman (tb).
Look out for:
Bruns 105Birth Of The Blues
My Heart Stood Still
(Lew Stone arrangements)

In February 1928 the band began recording with HMV and began broadcasting from the May Fair in March. During 1928 several excellent players joined the band: including Americans Joe Brannelly (g) Sylvester Ahola (t) Perley Breed (cl, saxes) and British Ted Heath (tb) Dennis Ratcliffe (t) Arthur Lally and Joe Jeannette(cl, saxes) Joe Crossman remained, Eric Siday and Reg Pursglove (vn) and Bert Read (p).
Look out for:
HMV B5464Singapore Sorrows
Without You Sweetheart
(arr. Lew Stone)
HMV B5605Me And The Man In The Moon
If I Had You
(arr. Lew Stone)

Ambrose was not considered the top band by HMV who were also releasing very popular recordings by Jack Hylton, Paul Whiteman and others. So in 1929 Ambrose went to Decca studios. It wasn't until star American clarinetist Danny Polo replaced Arthur Lally that Decca released any recordings. The Ambrose recordings on the red M-series Decca are hard to find today and are very sought after for the Lew Stone arrangements and solo work from Ahola and Polo.
Look out for:
Decca M-71Makin' Whoopee
Love Me Or Leave Me(arr. Lew Stone)
Decca M-93Ain't Misbehavin'(arr. Lew Stone)
Am I Blue?
Decca M-402Body And Soul
Punch And Judy Show

Most of the vocals during this period were by Lou Abelardo but in 1930 Sam Browne began to appear on Ambrose records just before the band went back to HMV.
Arguably the best hotel band in Britain at the time, the Ambrose Orchestra at the May Fair could count royalty among their audience and aquired the top Saturday night spot for radio broadcasts.
Over two hundred HMV recordings were made during 1930-1932, and several recordings on Decca and Zonophone by the Blue Lyres are now regarded as being by members of the Ambrose Orchestra. During this time it was Sam Browne who delivered most of the vocals.
Look out for:
HMV B5813Moanin' For You
When A Woman Loves A Man
HMV B5847'Leven Thirty Saturday Night(arr. Lew Stone)
I'm Telling The World About You(arr. Lew Stone)
Victor 22893I Found You
Blue Lyres:
Decca F2511Oh It Looks Like Rain
I Like A Little Girl Like That
Zono 6186Sing A New Song
Nothing But A Lie

Two other important changes occurred, the reed players were now joined by Billy Amstell, and trumpeter Max Goldberg replaced Sylvester Ahola who returned to USA. New vocalists included Elsie Carlisle and Anona Winn.
Look out for:
HMV B6068Me
For You
HMV B6079You Call It Madness But I Call It Love
Yes, Yes, My Baby Said Yes
Victor 22990'Eleven More Months And Ten More Days'
Parts 1 and 2
Victor 24258Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing
I Don't Want To Go Bed

You can hear several other Ambrose recordings from the period on my podcasts, check the playlists at http://www.r2ok.co.uk/playlists.htm


Late in 1932 Ambrose appeared on the Regal-Zonophone label then in 1933 the band returned to the Brunswick label and also to the Embassy Club, Sid Phillips joined the band as reed player and arranger, and then in 1934 Ambrose recordings appeared again on the now parent blue label Decca, and this continued until 1947. Listen to this excerpt from Brighter Than The Sun and then an excerpt of Sam Browne's vocal.
Look out for:
R-Z MR-831Brighter Than The Sun
What More Can I Ask?
Bruns 01662My Hat's on The Side Of My Head
On A Steamer Coming Over
US Bruns 6773On A Steamer Coming Over
We'll All Go Riding On A Rainbow
Decca F5375Embassy Stomp
Hors D'Oeuvres
Decca F5656Red Sails In The Sunset
Leave me With A Love Song
Decca F6141Organ Grinder's Swing
Wood And Ivory
US Decca 1563I Saw A Ship A-sailing
Ten Pretty Girls

Blue Decca label
The popularity of the Ambrose Orchestra reached a peak in the mid-thirties, and at the time vocalists included Elsie Carlisle, Evelyn Dall, Jack Cooper, Sam Browne, Denny Dennis and Vera Lynn. The Ambrose 'sound' was special - the band benefitted from the superb technical skills of the players and the fine arrangements of Sid Phillips and Bert Barnes, and these combined to produce a unique sound full of warmth and intricate section playing with first rate solo work. See photos of the orchestra.

You can hear several other Ambrose recordings from the period on my podcasts, check the playlists at http://www.r2ok.co.uk/playlists.htm

The Ambrose Orchestra made its last recordings in 1947, and continued to broadcast for a few more years. Bert died in 1971.

You can join the very active discussion group and talk about Bert Ambrose and other dance bands and jazz bands of the 1920s-1950s:

The Facebook group: Golden Age of British Dance Bands

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