To me — and I am not alone — Donald Lambert is one of the most fascinating and elusive figures in jazz.
Poe would have called him someone hidden in plain sight.
A stride pianist of legendary inventiveness, he recorded little that was issued commercially in his lifetime, yet if you were living in or close to New Jersey, the Lamb (“the Jersey Rocket,” “the Lamb of God”) was playing regularly in Wallace’s Tavern for a number of years. I am very fortunate in that I have been able to add to the knowledge of Lambert — if you search his name on JAZZ LIVES you will find videos of him at the Newport Jazz Festival, an issue of a specialist newspaper devoted to his life and music, and endearing first-hand recollections of him by “his drummer,” my friend Howard Kadison. (I am not putting those posts in the foreground here, because I don’t want to take attention away from the marvels that follow.)
But, as they say, wonders never cease. In the last twenty-four hours, I have met the scholar of this music Sterling J. Mosher III, who goes by “Sugar Bear Mosher” on YouTube — subscribe to his channel for more delights. Facebook can be a lurid annoyance, but I found myself in a discussion of materials pertaining to Lambert — a discussion involving, among others, Robert Pinsker, Mark Borowsky, Sterling, and the ever-surprising Mike Lipskin, pianist and on-the-scene witness and participant. And in the world of music “criticism” and music “collectors,” how lovely to see adults working generously towards the common end. In harmony, you might say.
If you think this trail of words is leading up to something, you’re correct.
How about nearly an hour of Lambert, solo, playing what he liked to play, music whose existence had been known but that hadn’t been easily audible? Here ‘t’is, as Fats occasionally said.
I don’t yet know the exact date(s) of these recordings, nor the medium with which they were preserved (standard recording tape of the time, circa 1960-61, or wire recordings — they do not have the audio artifacts of disc recordings), nor the circumstances under which Mike created them. But those bits of essential information will surface. Right now we have the MUSIC, and it is so refreshing, vigorous, and personally idiosyncratic that it is a treasure, a little world unto itself. The piano is no one’s Bosendorfer, but its sound is not abusive. And we hear Lambert storming through uptempo fireworks displays, ruminating on rhythm ballads and popular songs, striding the classics, playing two songs at once, and more. He’s having fun — there are many well-executed musical in-jokes — and he always swings.
It is as if a door to the past, one that we hoped for but didn’t dare to imagine, swung open, inviting us in, and urging us to make ourselves welcome by the piano for just under an hour.
Here is Sterling’s introduction and a list of the songs Lambert played:
Special Thanks To my good friend, “Uncle” Mike Lipskin for making these recordings of Donald Lambert. Also special thanks to an equally good friend, Robert Pinsker for his aid in making this happen. A few of them are choppy near the beginning or end (Marked as partial in time stamps), and a couple have some damaged portions with no sound. All in all, these are a treasure and have only been heard until this moment likely by a handful of ears. Mike, we appreciate you so much for doing this back in the day and allowing us to release it publicly for ease of access. (Pardon the misspelling of Oscar MICHEAUX)
00:00 Tenderly (Partial) 01:14 I Know That You Know (Partial) 02:34 Sweet Lorraine (Partial) 04:02 Hallelujah (Damaged) 06:11 Harlem Strut (Partial, sounds like a hint at On Green Dolphin Street for the start!) 07:53 Carolina Shout (Partial) 10:26 Tea for Two 13:31 The Bells of St. Mary’s (Partial) 15:42 “Meditation” intermezzo from the opera “Thaïs” by Massanet 16:52 Elegie (Partial, amazing to hear another recording of this! Sounds as hot as the 1941 recording) 19:28 Twelfth Street Rag 21:36 Blue Lou 23:46 St. James Infirmary 25:07 Honeysuckle Rose 27:17 Keep Your Temper (Hold Your Temper) 29:32 Love Me Or Leave Me 31:58 Tea For Two (Partial, damaged) 33:04 Limehouse Blues (Really HOT!!!) 34:27 Jitterbug Waltz (EASILY competes with Fats’s recordings! Truly beautiful.) 37:26 Hallelujah (Partial) 40:21 Moonglow 42:26 Overnight (This is now the third known recording by The Lamb. Louis Mazetier and Federico Insoli are star performers of this early 1930s song, influenced by The Jersey Rocket himself. Listen to the last few chorus lines, especially at 44:58! Absolutely incredible how he plays with that rolling style) 45:47 Liza 48:48 Love Nest 51:50 Golden Wedding (A true Lambert knock out!)
And while you and I were sleeping, Sterling added this gem, a 1960 performance of CHINA BOY — Lambert among hot players, their names perhaps lost to history:
and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE by the same or similar group of energetic homegrown players:
As if that were not enough, here is another trove of Lambert — the complete 1949 Circle recordings, unissued at the time, thanks to Mark Borowsky:
This is the second time this week I have been absolutely speechless.
Sterling assures me that much more previously unheard Lambert is waiting in the wings for us . . . . astonishing. Blessings on the Lamb and his friends who keep his sound alive. Lambert’s gravestone is here to remind us that our temporal lives are finite, but what we create lives on — in his case, so splendidly.
May your happiness increase!