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Junior Mance began playing the piano at the age of five, but did not begin formal training until the age of eight. He started playing professionally during his early teens. He attended Roosevelt College in Chicago as a music major.
In 1947 Mance left Roosevelt College to join Gene Ammons' band and began his recording career with Gene. He joined Lester Young in 1949 for almost two years, and rejoined Ammons several months in 1950 before being drafted into the U. S. Army. He served in the 36th Army Band at Fort Knox, Kentucky along with Julian "Cannonball" Adderley.
After his discharge from the Army in 1953, he became part of the house rhythm section at the Bee Hive Jazz Club in Chicago for a year, and accompanied musicians such as Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Sonny Stitt, and many others.
In 1954 Mance joined and toured with Dinah Washington. The two LPs released from a live session recorded August 14-15, 1954, Dinah Jams and Jam Session, featured Clifford Brown, Max Roach, Clark Terry, Maynard Ferguson, Herb Geller, Harold Land, Keter Betts, George Morrow, and Richie Powell.
Mance joined Dizzy Gillespie's band in 1958, a period Junior considers one of the highlights of his career. Besides the joy and fun of playing with Dizzy, he remembers this period as a great learning experience in musicianship, showmanship, and just about everything related to the business of music. Mance backed Gillespie and Louis Armstrong during a televised performance of the song "Umbrella Man" on NBC in January, 1959.
In 1961 he decided to form his own trio, following the release of his first recording as a leader, Junior (Verve, 1959). In between gigs with his trio, with bassist Ben Tucker and Bobby Thomas on drums, he played and recorded with the Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis/Johnny Griffin Quintet. With his trio he also accompanied singer Joe Williams in 1963/64.
During a recording session with Benny Carter for the soundtrack to the film A Man Called Adam in 1965, Carter and Mance took in all three sets of an Ornette Coleman performance at the Five Spot Café. Mance cited Carter's willingness to listen to new things as an inspiration.
In 1988 Junior Mance became a member of the faculty at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. He taught classes in Blues, Ballads, and private lessons, until his retirement in 2011.
During the 1990s Mance has been part of a very elite group called "100 Gold Fingers". This is a group which tours Japan every other year, consisting of ten outstanding jazz pianists. On various tours the group has included people such as Hank Jones, John Lewis, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Barron, Ray Bryant, Roger Kellaway, Gene Harris, Marian McPartland, Barry Harris, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Lynne Arriale, Cyrus Chestnut, Benny Green, Duke Jordan, Joanne Brackeen, Monty Alexander, Dave McKenna, Renee Rosnes, Mulgrew Miller, Harold Mabern as well as Junior and a rhythm section consisting of bassist Bob Cranshaw and either Alan Dawson or Grady Tate on drums.
On November 21, 1997, at Tampa, Florida, Junior Mance was inducted into the International Jazz Hall of Fame.
Mance made his solo piano debut at Lincoln Center at the Kaplan Penthouse on October 5–7 of 2000.
Mance and his wife Gloria formed their own record label, JunGlo, in 2007. Their first release, Live At Café Loup, featured Mance in a trio with Hidé Tanaka on bass and Jackie Williams on drums, with guest vocalist José James. Mance continues to play at Café Loup every Sunday night, since his residence began in June, 2006. Mance toured the US, Italy, Japan, and Israel in 2013 accompanied by Tanaka and violinist Michi Fuji.
With Cannonball Adderley
With Nat Adderley
With Gene Ammons
With Art Blakey
With Clifford Brown
With Aretha Franklin
With Dizzy Gillespie
With Dexter Gordon
With Joe Gordon
With Bennie Green
With Johnny Griffin
With Buddy Guy
With Howard McGhee
With James Moody
With Barbara Morrison
With Sonny Stitt
With Wilbur Ware
With Dinah Washington
With Ben Webster
With Lester Young
- Myers, Marc. "JazzWax." JazzWax N.p., 5 Jan. 2011. Web. 29 Nov. 2013. <http://www.jazzwax.com/2011/01/interview-junior-mance-part-1.html>.
- Myers, Marc. "JazzWax." JazzWax N.p., 06 Jan. 2011. Web. 29 Nov. 2013. <http://www.jazzwax.com/2011/01/interview-junior-mance-part-2.html>.
- Myers, Marc. "JazzWax." JazzWax N.p., 07 Jan. 2011. Web. 29 Nov. 2013. <http://www.jazzwax.com/2011/01/interview-junior-mance-part-3.html>.
- Milkowski, Bill. "Jazz Departments: Junior Mance: Saved By A Cannonball - By Bill Milkowski - Jazz Articles." JazzTimes. Madavor Media, LLC, 16 Jan. 2012. Web. 29 Nov. 2013. <http://jazztimes.com/articles/29295-junior-mance-saved-by-a-cannonball>.
- Interview with Junior Mance and footage from Cafe Loup
- Cafe Loup - restaurant and bar where Junior Mance Performs every week in NYC
- Junior Mance Homepage
- Audio Interview with Junior Mance (December 1, 2002) at Yehoodi.com
- The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music
- Grove Music Online Entry