Lenny Hambro - Career - The Early Years - 1942 - 1954


During the Second World War, many professional musicians enlisted and served in military bands. As a result, there were occasional openings in established commercial bands. Thus, at just 18 years of age, Hambro auditioned for an empty seat in Gene Krupa's band. His audition included playing "American Bolero", a piece written in 5/4 time, a complex meter that was quite progressive in Western music at the time. Although initially skeptical, Krupa and trumpeter Roy Eldridge were impressed and called Hambro at home the next day to tell him that he had secured the job and to schedule him for a tuxedo fitting. On October 28, 1942, two weeks after his 19th birthday, Hambro was on stage with the Gene Krupa Band at the Times Square Paramount Theater. However, he left the band in December of that year for the Army and joined Ivan Mogul, Shorty Rogers and approximately 40 other musicians from the Bronx who had agreed to man the 379th Army Service Forces (ASF) Band in Newport News, Virginia, where he stayed for three years. From 1946 to 1947, Hambro was a featured soloist with Billy Butterfield and his orchestra. In 1947, he played with Bobby Byrne before rejoining Gene Krupa as lead alto sax and featured jazz soloist through 1950. (Hambro, along with tenor saxophonist Buddy Wise and trombonist Frank Rosolino, is featured in a 15-minute film short, Deep Purple, directed by Will Cowan in 1949, which focused on Gene Krupa and His Orchestra.) In addition to playing with Krupa, Hambro simultaneously played in other bands, including the Latin jazz ensembles of Vincent Lopez and Pupi Campo. In 1948, Hambro toured with Machito and his Afro-Cuban Orchestra where he was featured as a soloist on alto sax. From 1951 to 1952, Hambro played with and managed the Ray McKinley Band. From 1951 to 1954, he also played and recorded with Chico O'Farrill's orchestra, with a year off (1952) to tour with The Gene Krupa Orchestra. From 1948 until 1954, he recorded with all of these artists as well as with Charlie Ventura's orchestra and Joe Loco's band. During this period (1951–1956), Hambro also accompanied vocalists at the Paramount Theater, did studio work, worked as a music copyist, and taught private lessons. He continued to hone his own skills by studying clarinet with Leon Russianoff and flute with Henry Zlotnick, both of the Manhattan School of Music.

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