Ray Nance

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Ray Nance
Ray Nance (Gottlieb 06521).jpg
Background information
Birth nameRay Willis Nance
Born(1913-12-10)December 10, 1913
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedJanuary 28, 1976(1976-01-28) (aged 62)
Instrument(s)Trumpet, vocals, violin
Formerly ofDuke Ellington

Ray Willis Nance (December 10, 1913 – January 28, 1976)[1] was an American jazz trumpeter, violinist and singer. He is best remembered for his long association with Duke Ellington and his orchestra.

Early years[edit]

Nance was the leader of his own band in Chicago from 1932 to 1937.[1] An ad in a June 1933 prom book at the Edgewater Beach Hotel for the Staples Cafe, 6344 N. Broadway, Chicago shows "Ray Nance and His Ebany Aces." Then, he worked with Earl Hines from 1937 to 1939; and from 1939 to 1940 he worked with Horace Henderson.[1]

Ellington tenure[edit]

Ellington hired Nance to replace trumpeter Cootie Williams, who had joined Benny Goodman, in 1940.[1] Nance's first recorded performance with Ellington was at the Fargo, North Dakota ballroom dance.[2] 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.[1] 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 in Duke Ellington's orchestra, 1943

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".

Nance was absent from the Duke Ellington Orchestra for three or four months in 1946, including the date of that year's Carnegie Hall concert. In 1949, Nance participated, along with Ellington sidemen Russell Procope, Johnny Hodges and Sonny Greer on several Ivory Joe Hunter sessions, for King Records of Cincinnati.

Post-Ellington years[edit]

He left Ellington in 1963 during their Middle East tour after having played alongside his returned predecessor Cootie Williams for a year. He continued to make several guest appearances in the orchestra over the years and later 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.[2]


As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

With Ahmed Abdul-Malik

With Jaki Byard

With Duke Ellington

With Horace Henderson

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

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 c. 1937–1939 RCA selections)
  • Earl Hines and the Duke's Men (Delmark, 1944–1947 performances)
  • 1942–1945 (Classics, 1942–1945)

With Johnny Hodges

With Budd Johnson

With Joya Sherrill


  1. ^ a b c d e Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 300. ISBN 0-85112-580-8.
  2. ^ a b c "Ray Nance | Biography, Albums, & Streaming Radio". AllMusic. Retrieved May 5, 2016.


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

External links[edit]