Ray Nance

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Ray Nance
Ray Nance 1943.jpg
Ray Nance in Duke Ellington's orchestra (1943)
Background information
Birth name Ray Willis Nance
Born (1913-12-10)December 10, 1913
Origin Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died January 28, 1976(1976-01-28) (aged 62)
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Trumpeter, vocalist, violinist
Instruments Trumpet, vocals, violin
Associated acts Duke Ellington

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

Early years[edit]

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[edit]

Ellington hired Nance to replace trumpeter Cootie Williams in 1940. Nance's first recorded performance with Ellington was the Fargo, North Dakota ballroom dance.[1] 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".

A few weeks before the beginning of 1946, Ray Nance was absent from the Duke Ellington Orchestra for around 3-4 months, hence his absency from the 1946 Carnegie Hall Concert.

Post-Ellington years[edit]

He left the Ellington band on September 1963 after having played alongside his predecessor Cootie Williams for a year. By that time, Nance had switched from trumpet to cornet. The reasoning for leaving was because while the Ellington Band was touring at either Beirut or Damascus (whichever came first), Ray was not feeling too well (Duke said it was because he was rehabilitating due to drug usage) and was laying in bed to prepare for a gig that was coming up. Apparently Cootie Williams was his roommate (he wasn't good company though due to the several health problems he had) and when he came into the room early evening, he was wondering "what the fuck was the matter with Ray being in bed all day". One word led to another and 10 minutes later, Cootie told Ray to start behaving like a man and slapped Ray's face. Ray was then completely stunned by that action and he stood there immobilized.

It seemed as though Cootie forgot about the whole incident the next day, but Ray was still as fazed as he was that day. He thought about it constantly, minute after minute, hour after hour, actually brooding. And then he found himself unable to play because: a) One of his idols disrespected him to such a marked degree b) he began to think that he should have defended himself and not allowed Cootie to slap him as if he were little more than "a pussy"

And on that very night, he found that he just did not want to play at all. To make matters worse, during the gig that night, he was just sitting there crossing his legs and in Middle Eastern culture, it is considered disrespectful to cross your legs. Ray was unaware of that until someone mentioned the fact. So was Duke. The audience read it as defiance; a refusal to play for them; a paying audience. The audience started to hiss and boo at the band and it was actually getting out of hand. Ray never understood. He, who was so used to applauds and bravos, suddenly had to deal with intense dislike and disapproval. He then asked Duke to send him home. That's when a psychiatrist was brought in to check on Ray. The audience wasn't any better the next day, being more vocal in its displeasure. But after 2 years, Ray came back to the Duke Ellington for around a year in 1965. After that, he left and toured and recorded in England in 1974.[2]

Nance made a few recordings as a bandleader, and also recorded or performed with Earl Hines, Rosemary Clooney, Jaki Byard, Chico Hamilton and others.[3]


As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Jaki Byard

With Paul Gonsalves

  • Just A-Sittin' and A-Rockin' (1970)

With Chico Hamilton

With Earl Hines

  • Rosetta (Jazz Archives, 1937-1939 selections)
  • 1937-1939 (Classics, 1937-1939 performances)
  • Harlem Lament (Sony, 1937-1938 selections featuring Nance)
  • Piano Man! (ASV, includes ca. 1937-1939 RCA selections)
  • Earl Hines and the Duke's Men (Delmark, 1944-1947 performances)
  • 1942-1945 (Classics, 1942-1945)

With Horace Henderson

  • Horace Henderson 1940, Fletcher Henderson 1941 (Classics, 1992)

With Duke Ellington



  • Lambert, Eddie (1998), Duke Ellington: A Listener's Guide, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, ISBN 978-0-8108-3161-2 .


External links[edit]

  1. ^ [ellingtonweb.ca/Hostedpages/Voce/Voce.html#Let's face]