Ray Nance (Ray Willis Nance)

Ray Nance

Ray Nance was the leader of his own band in Chicago from 1932 to 1937. Then, he worked with Earl Hines from 1937 to 1939; and from 1939 to 1940 he worked with Horace Henderson. Ellington hired Nance to replace trumpeter Cootie Williams, who had joined Benny Goodman, in 1940. Nance’s first recorded performance with Ellington was at the Fargo, North Dakota ballroom dance. Shortly after joining the band, Nance was given the trumpet solo on the earliest recorded version of “Take the “A” Train”, which became the Ellington theme. 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. Ray 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”.

Ray Nance was absent from the Duke Ellington Orchestra for around 3-4 months in 1946, including the date of that year’s Carnegie Hall concert. In 1949, Ray showed up, along with Ellington sidemen Russell Procope, Johnny Hodges and Sonny Greer on several Ivory Joe Hunter sessions for King Records of Cincinnati. He left Ellington 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, he returned to Duke’s orchestra for a last time. He toured and recorded in England in 1974. Ray Nance made a few recordings as a bandleader, and also recorded or performed with Earl Hines, Rosemary Clooney, Jaki Byard, Chico Hamilton and others.

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Born

  • December, 10, 1913
  • USA
  • Chicago, Illinois

Died

  • January, 28, 1976
  • USA
  • New York, New York

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