Nance, Ray (Willis)

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Nance, Ray (Willis)

Nance, Ray (Willis), noted jazz cornetist, trumpeter, violinist, singer; b. Chicago, Dec. 10, 1913; d. N.Y., Jan. 28, 1976. He began on piano at six, began studying violin three years later and attended Chicago Music Coll. with Max Fishel for seven years. He was a drum major at Wendell Phillips H.S., and began doubling on trumpet, instructed by Major N. Clark- Smith. At Lane Coll., Jackson, Term., he played and broadcast with the school band, the Rhythm Rascals. He sang and played in Chicago night clubs from 1932, and did short stints in Buffalo, East St. Louis, and other cities. Nance joined Earl Hines from February 1937 until December 1938, then worked with Horace Henderson (doubling on violin and trumpet) from January 1939 until March 1940. He played at Joe Hughe’s De Luxe Club before joining Duke Ellington in November 1940. He left Ellington in 1944 to lead own small group, and also worked briefly as a single in late 1945. He returned to Ellington and was a regular member of the band until September 1963, taking a temporary absence from music in late 1961. (In 1948 Ray Nance, Duke Ellington, and singer Kay Davis toured British variety theatres.) He switched to cornet in 1961. He led his own small band in 1964, also worked for Paul Lavalle at N.Y/s World’s Fair (1964 and 1965). He made solo tour of Europe in summer of 1966, worked with Henri Chaix’s Band in Switzerland (1967). From late 1966–69 he worked regularly with clarinetist Sol Yaged, occasionally also with Duke Ellington (1965–71), and George Wein (1970–71). He formed his own quartet (autumn 1971). He worked with Brooks Kerr in 1973, toured England with Chris Barber in 1974, then worked N.Y. clubs. He began to suffer from a kidney ailment, which soon curtailed his performing until he passed away in early 1976.


Body and Soul (1969). D. Ellington: “Moon Mist,” “Come Sunday,” “Take the A-Train.”

—John Chilton,Who’s Who of Jazz /Lewis Porter