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Ray Nance (1913 - 1976)


Willis Raymond Nance
Trumpeter, Cornetist, Violinist
(1913-1976)

Ray Nance was an integral part of the Duke Ellington orchestra from 1940 to 1963 although he took a break in the early ‘40s to lead his own groups. A multi-talented artist who played trumpet, cornet and violin, he was given the nickname of “Floorshow” because of his ability to also sing and dance. His trumpet solo on the first recording of “Take the A Train” in 1941 is memorable. In fact, when he left Ellington, his replacement, Cootie Williams, continued to play it note for note. Nance himself developed his own distinctive style on plunger when he earlier replaced Williams who had learned to use the plunger in the style of Buber Miley.

Nance was a virtuoso jazz violinist and Ellington took care to feature him on many of the band’s numbers. Particularly outstanding are his contributions to “Moon Mist,” “Come Sunday,” and “Black, Brown and Beige”.

As a young man in Chicago Nance studied piano and violin but taught himself to play trumpet. He combined all of his talents into a solo act before joining Ellington, who also occasionally featured him as vocalist. He performed on over 200 recordings, mostly with the Ellington band. However, he lends fire and grace to the recording efforts of fellow band members Paul Gonsalvez and Johnny Hodges and singers Ella Fitzgerald and Rosemary Clooney.

-- Sandra Burlingame

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