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Ray Nance

Ray Nance in Duke Ellington's orchestra (1943)
Background information
Birth name Ray Willis Nance
Born December 10, 1913(1913-12-10)
Origin Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died January 28, 1976 (aged 62)
Genres Jazz
Occupations Trumpeter, Vocalist, Violinist
Instruments Trumpet, Vocals, Violin
Associated acts Duke Ellington

Ray Willis Nance (December 10, 1913 Chicago - January 28, 1976 in New York City ) was a jazz trumpeter, violinist and singer.

Nance is best known for his long association with Duke Ellington through most of the 1940s and 1950s, after he was hired to replace Cootie Williams in 1940. 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. He is also one of the well-known vocalists from the Ellington orchestra, having sung not the first version (that credit goes to Ivie Anderson), but arguably the definitive version of "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." It was his contribution to take the previously instrumental horn riff into the lead vocal, which constitute the now infamous, "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".

He left the Ellington band in 1963 after having played alongside his predecessor Cootie Williams for a year. By that time, Nance had switched from trumpet to cornet.

Nance made a few recordings as a bandleader, and also recorded or performed with Earl Hines, Rosemary Clooney and others.


  • Lambert, Eddie (1998), Duke Ellington: A Listener's Guide, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, ISBN 978-0810831612  .

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