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Ambrose (bandleader)

Benjamin Baruch Ambrose (15 September 189611 June 1971) was an English bandleader and violinist. His professional name was officially Bert Ambrose, but he was universally known simply as Ambrose.

Early life and career

Ambrose was born in the East End of London; his father was a Jewish wool merchant. He began playing the violin at a young age, and soon after he was taken to the United States by his aunt he began playing professionally — first for Emil Coleman at New York's Reisenweber's restaurant, then in the Palais Royal's big band. After making a success of a stint as bandleader, at the age of twenty he was asked to put together and lead his own fifteen-piece band. After a dispute with his employer, he moved his band to another venue, where they enjoyed considerable popularity.

In 1922 he returned to London, where he was engaged by the Embassy Club to form a seven-piece band. Ambrose stayed at the Embassy for two years, before walking out on his employer in order to take up a much more lucrative job in New York. After a year there, besieged by continual pleas to return from his ex-employer in London, in 1925 he was finally persuaded to go back by a cable from the Prince of Wales: "The Embassy needs you. Come back — Edward".

This time Ambrose stayed at the Embassy Club until 1927. The club had a policy of not allowing radio broadcasts from its premises, however, and this was a major drawback for an ambitious bandleader; this was largely because the fame gained by radio work helped a band to gain recording contracts (Ambrose's band had been recorded by Columbia Records in 1923, but nothing had come of this). He therefore accepted an offer by the May Fair Hotel, with a contract that included broadcasting.

Ambrose stayed at the May Fair for six years, during which time the band made recordings for Brunswick Records, HMV, and Decca Records. This period also saw the musical development of the band, partly as a result of Ambrose's hiring of first-class musicians, including Sylvester Ahola, Ted Heath, Joe Crossman, Joe Jeannette, Bert Read, Joe Brannelly, Dick Escott, and trumpeter Max Goldberg.

The 1930s and 1940s

In 1933 Ambrose was asked to accept a cut in pay at the May Fair; refusing, he went back to the Embassy Club, and after three years there (and a national tour), he rejected American offers and returned to the May Fair Hotel in 1936. He then went into partnership with Jack Harris (an American bandleader), and in 1937 they bought a club together (Ciro's Club); they alternated performances there until a disagreement led to the rupture of their partnership. Ambrose worked at the Café de Paris until the outbreak of World War II, when he again went on tour. His major discovery in the years leading up to the war was the singer Vera (later Dame Vera) Lynn (b. 1917), who sang with his band from 1937 to 1940 and, during the war, became known as the "Forces' Sweetheart". Lynn married Harry Lewis, a clarinettist in the band, in 1939. Other singers with the Ambrose band included Sam Browne, Elsie Carlisle, Denny Dennis (who recorded a number of duets with Vera Lynn), and Evelyn Dall.

After a short period back at the May Fair Hotel, he retired from performing in 1940 (though he and his orchestra continued to make records for Decca until 1947). Several members of his band became part of the Royal Air Force band, The Squadronaires, during the war. Ambrose's retirement was not permanent, however, and he formed and toured with the Ambrose Octet, and dabbled in management.

The 1950s and 1960s

In the mid-1950s, despite appearances back in London's West End and a number of recordings for MGM, Ambrose was — in common with other bandleaders — struggling; rock and roll had arrived. He was forced to start performing in small clubs with casual musicians, and his financial position deteriorated catastrophically. His situation was saved, however, by his discovery of the singer Kathy Kirby (b. 1940), whom he heard singing at the age of sixteen at the Ilford Palais) and whose career he promoted.

It was during the recording of one of Kirby's television programmes (at the Yorkshire Television studios) that Ambrose collapsed, dying later the same night. His music was kept alive after death by, among others, the Radio 2 broadcasters Alan Dell (1924–1995) and Malcolm Laycock, the latter continuing to play his records into the 21st century. His records, especially from his many 78RPM discs, still regularly feature on Australian radio 8CCC-FM's long running nostalgia program "Get Out Those Old Records" hosted by Rufl.

Sources and external links

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