Bert Ambrose led an excellent British big band during the heyday of hot jazz and swing. Closely modeled on popular North American dance bands (Jean Goldkette, Ben Pollack, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Charlie Barnet), Ambrose's ensemble also strove to emulate the best in authentic Afro-American jazz, sounding at times like the orchestras of Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, or Claude Hopkins. Affiliated with various hotels, the Ambrose orchestra naturally specialized in suave, sophisticated arrangements, sometimes employing a sweet-to-hot violin trio. Sam Browne was usually the featured vocalist, with periodic guest appearances by Ella Logan, Eddie Grossbart, Lou Abelardo, Ella Carlisle, Connee Boswell, Jack Cooper, Denny Dennis, Vera Lynn, Anne Shelton, and a trio billed as the Rhythm Sisters. Most of the sides cut for HMV between 1928 and 1932 had singers attached. There was a brief dalliance with Brunswick and then from 1934 onward, Ambrose worked almost exclusively for Decca. This Living Era double disc is quite possibly the best overall Ambrose compilation currently available. That's because while the selections are laid out in only roughly chronological order, instrumentals have been systematically interspersed throughout the program so that the listener is never exposed to more than two consecutive vocal selections. Careful perusal of the wonderfully detailed discography reveals that 19 out of 49 tracks are instrumentals. All but one of these originally appeared on Decca, which explains why certain other Ambrose compilations, dwelling exclusively upon HMV releases, contain hardly any instrumentals whatsoever. A survey of the instrumentals included in this package is most rewarding. Most of those recorded between 1935 and 1937 feature tunes written by the band's imaginative clarinetist and baritone saxophonist, Sid Phillips. Pianist Bert Barnes composed the snappy "Embassy Stomp," which was recorded in January of 1935. Ambrose's choice of vocal material ranged from the sentimental to novelties and romantic love songs to the positively naïve, as epitomized by "The Sun Has Got His Hat On (Hip, Hip Hooray)." Perhaps the strangest footnote to all of this is the fate of "Blue Skies Are Round the Corner," a song that ended up being parodied by Charlie & His Orchestra for the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. Retitled "Grey Skies Are Round the Corner" with the lyrics altered to include the phrase "everything's gonna go wrong," that recording was aired over shortwave radio with the express intention of lowering morale among the British and Allied armed forces during the Second World War. It's worth noting that whoever wrote the arrangements for all those Nazified big-band records carefully imitated the distinctive sound of Ambrose and his orchestra as broadcast by the BBC.
When Day Is Done Review
by arwulf arwulf