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Ray Nance


Cat Anderson, Shorty Baker, Ray Nance and Clark Terry

From Duke Ellington’s November, 1958 telecast in Italy. Cat Anderson’s.. El Gato.

Ray_Nance_1943Ray Nance in Duke Ellington’s orchestra (1943)

Ray Willis Nance (December 10, 1913, Chicago – January 28, 1976, New York City) was a jazz trumpeterviolinist and singer. He is best remembered for his long association with band leader Duke Ellington.

Early years

Nance led his own band in Chicago from 1932 to 1937. Then, he worked with Earl “Fatha” Hines from 1937 to 1939; and from 1939 to 1940 he worked with Horace Henderson.

Ellington Tenure

534208436_5bf37e1bb7Ellington hired Nance to replace trumpeter Cootie Williams in 1940. Nance’s first recorded performance with Ellington was the Fargo, North Dakota ballroom dance. Shortly after joining the band, Nance was given the trumpet solo on the first recorded version of “Take the “A” Train,” which became the Ellington theme, a major hit and a jazz standard. Nance’s “A Train” solo is one of the most copied and admired trumpet solos in jazz history. Indeed, when Cootie Williams returned to the band more than twenty years later, he would play Nance’s solo on “A Train” almost exactly as the original.

Nance was often featured on violin and was the only violin soloist ever featured in Ellington’s orchestra (especially noteworthy is his violin contribution to the original 1942 version of “The ‘C’ Jam Blues”). He is also one of the better known male vocalists associated with Ellington’s orchestra. On later recordings of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” Nance took the previously instrumental horn riff into the lead vocal, which constitute the line “Doo wha, doo wha, doo wha, doo wha, yeah!” He was often featured as vocalist on “Jump for Joy,” “Just A-Sittin’ and A-Rockin’” and “Just Squeeze Me (But Please Don’t Tease Me).” His multiple talents (trumpet, violin, vocals and also dancing) earned him the nickname “Floorshow.”

Post-Ellington Years

MI0001325423He left the Ellington band in 1963 after having played alongside his predecessor Cootie Williams for a year. By that time, Nance had switched from trumpet to cornet. Before the Berlin Concert in 1965 or in the Copenhagen Concert that took place on the same year, Ray Nance returned to Duke’s orchestra for a final hurrah. After all that, he left the orchestra for good, and toured and recorded in England in 1974.

Nance made a few recordings as a bandleader, and also recorded or performed with Earl HinesRosemary ClooneyJaki ByardChico Hamilton and others.

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