Tracking down The Lamb (2)

After having played at Kelly's Stable on 52nd Street, Lambert ventured into New York again in 1946 to play at Jock's Music Room on 7th Avenue at 138th Street, Maxine Sullivan being the headliner.
New York Sun - June 20, 1946
"Maxine Sullivan, a songstress with a way all her own, goes to Jock's Place in Harlem, joining a show that features Jimmie Daniels, who was a favourite in Paris before the war; the Al Casey Trio and Donald Lambert, who is billed as the hot genius of the ivories".
New York Evening Post - June 28, 1946

New York Evening Post - July 21, 1946



Tracking down The Lamb (1)

Born on February 12, 1904, in Princeton, New Jersey, Donald Lambert started his professional career at age ten in his home state, where he worked as a duo with Paul Seminole, half-Indian pianist who also played banjo and xylophone. 

In the early 30s, The Lamb moved to New York City and played in Harlem clubs but, after his wife died, he returned to New Jersey, where he decided to settle down, inexplicably, to play on out of tune pianos in small clubs and taverns until the end of his life (the Star Bar on Halsey Street in Newark, the Town House Restaurant in Montclair and Wallace’s Bar on Washington Street in West Orange, New Jersey).

From time to time he showed up in New York unexpectedly to challenge other ticklers in cutting contests. These piano battles are part of the stride piano legend and the source of a large stream of anecdotes, and will be the subject of a future series on this blog.

For the time being, let’s get back to the facts, the few notices, reviews and advertisements mentioning him on the papers during the timeframe starting in the early 20s – when he was barely twenty years old – and ending  in the 50s – before his appearance at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival alongside Eubie Blake and Willie The Lion Smith –. 

Tracking down Donald Lambert comes out like an impossible task, due to his self-imposed obscurity. This  is part of the scarce results of a quite exhaustive research through the digital archives of both local and national newspapers.

New York Age - November 4, 1922

"Trenton, N.J. - (...) On October 25 there was a surprise party given by Miss Helen Dillon in honor of Miss Mary Dillon's 18th birthday at 71 West End avenue (...). Music was furnished by Donald Lambert".

New York Age - July 21, 1923

"Princeton, N.J. - Master Donald Lambert is filling a position as pianist in Asbury Park".

New York Age - May 31, 1930

"Newark, N.J. - One of the New Jersey's finest social and artistic feats was presented last Wednesday night by the Beaux Arts Club in their second anual presentation at the Y.M. and Y.W. Hebrew Hall, High and West Kenney streets. The auditorium was crowded with a capacity gathering from all parts of the State (...). During the intermission and for the dance music was played by Donald Lambert's Orchestra".


The California Ramblers - some 1921 concerts

On November 17, 1921, a nine-piece group was assembled in the Vocalion recording studio to wax two titles, The Sheik of Araby and Georgia Rose, which were issued as "Played by The California Ramblers".

The band was managed by Ed Kirkeby, former record promoter for Columbia and extremely well-connected in the New York music scene. He arranged several hundred recording sessions for them (as the California Ramblers or as the Golden Gate Orchestra) and their smaller units The Little Ramblers, The Goofus Five, The Five Birmingham Babies, The Vagabonds and the Varsity Eight.

During the first months of their existence, the Ramblers were led by banjoist Ray Kitchingham and their personnel changed constantly. By April 1922, it already included some outstanding musicians, above all, multiinstrumentalist Adrian Rollini, who was the core and nucleus of the band for several years.

The Ramblers were mostly a studio outfit and for almost ten years they recorded for practically every company, but Ed Kirkeby also booked them for long residencies, first at the Post Lodge in Westchester and later at the Pelham Inn, The Bronx, renamed the Ramblers' Inn because of the band's reputation.

By the time of their first recording, Ed Kirkeby got them a job as accompanists for Eva Shirley, a popular vaudeville artist in the 1910s and 1920s. 

Recently, Bix Beiderbecke specialist Albert Haim discovered an ad in the Jan 8, 1922 edition of the New York Times for their performance in the New Amsterdam Theatre and published it on  Facebook.

As a result of my research in the digital archives of old newspapers, several unearthed advertisements and reviews show that there were several gigs before that date:

December 2, 1921 – Variety (New Acts column)

“Eva Shirley, assisted by Al Roth and the California Ramblers, consisting of 10 pieces”

December 9, 1921 – Brooklyn Standard Union

December 16, 1921 – Variety

“(…) Now she presents the California Ramblers, and even in this jazz-jaded day the organization of nine is a sweet scent of superior syncopation. A banjo player, one of the few who uses a pick and gets true banjo music, was a revelation, though never permitted to do any individual work such as Paul Whiteman wisely slips to every member of his astutely managed outfit who can do anything more than vamp till ready. This banjoist is a find, and the whole band is solidly there. No effort is made by it to freak or get attention with anything but music, the more wonder (…)”

December 17, 1921 – Billboard

“It was Al Roth and The California Ramblers who were the outstanding hit of the Eva Shirley act, and rightfully so. Young Roth is an exceptional talented eccentric stepper, and the California Ramblers as fine a musical combination as one would want to listen to”

December 17, 1921 – New York Dramatic Mirror

“Eva Shirley and the California Ramblers with Al Roth followed intermission. The Ramblers are a nine-piece jazz orchestra that scored a hit”

December 2X, 1921 – Dobbs Ferry Register

“(…) The California Ramblers too have been unusually popular (…)”

December 24, 27 & 30, 1921 – Yorkers Statesman & News

December 29, 1921 – Yorkers Statesman News

“(…) The California Ramblers, too, have appeared everywhere in vaudeville (…)”

December 31, 1921 – New York Sun

“RIVERSIDE. Ella Retford, Eva Shirley and the California Ramblers and Leo Beers will be the collar on the draft here”