In Ronald Chamberlain, sometimes known by the more casual Ronnie Chamberlain, the listener has found yet another of the British session reed players who helped liven up the Beatles' ambitious White Album. Of course, by the time this clarinetist and saxophonist got that fabled call from producer George Martin, he had already been active in the music business for longer than the fab four's combined past and future as a group. Chamberlain's activity goes at least as far back as the second World War, when he was associated with swinging bandleader Vic Lewis and played with visiting American jazz players such as pianist Marian McPartland and the brilliant clarinetist Pee Wee Russell. Chamberlain was frequently a section mate of saxophonist Jimmy Skidmore, a surname that comes up frequently on the British jazz scene, as if a road was getting progressively icier.
Were recording artists simply hoping a bit of the Beatles magic would rub off on them by hiring anyone who had ever worked in proximity to the group, including Chamberlain? It might be true, but British pop and rock recording artists have always been fond of saxophone experimentation, avant-garde players such as Evan Parker even getting calls. Chamberlain can be found on an amusing variety of such recordings from the '60s and '70s, content running the range from horrid to brilliant as groups such as the Swinging Swedes and Stackridge point microphones in his direction. On the straighter jazz side, there is a fair amount of documentation of Chamberlain in action. Although listeners will have to dig deep into the used record pile to find some out of print vinyl items, it is possible to hear Chamberlain blowing in various contexts including for the late-'40s Lewis oufits, hot live '60s sessions with the Melody Maker All-Stars released by the Esquire label, and the early-'70s Bobby Lamb/Ra Premru Orchestra recorded live at Ronnie Scott's Club.