Ray Nance
b. Willis Nance, 10 December 1913, Chicago, Illinois, USA, d. 28 January 1976. A gifted multi-instrumentalist, Nance studied formally for several years and played in various small bands, mostly in the Chicago area. By the early '30s he was a popular local entertainer, leading his own bands and playing several instruments, including trumpet and violin, as well as singing, dancing and performing engaging comedy routines. The '30s also saw him playing in the Chicago big bands led by Earl Hines and Horace Henderson. He joined Duke Ellington in 1940 and quickly became an integral, valued and much-loved part of the organization. He left Ellington for a short spell in the mid-40s to lead his own band, but returned at the end of 1945; this time he remained virtually without a break, until 1963. From 1964 until his death he led his own small bands but returned regularly to guest with the Ellington band. Whether playing trumpet—later cornet—or violin, Nance was a highly distinctive musician and his contributions to the Ellington band's recordings are many and marvellous. His violin playing on Moon Mist and his trumpet solo on the 1941 version of ‘Take the A Train’ are particularly fine examples of his work. Outside the Ellington band he made some excellent recordings with ex-Ellingtonians Paul Gonsalves and Johnny Hodges, while a 1971 Jimmy Rushing recording includes a moving violin solo on When I Grow Too Old To Dream.

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