Ray Willis Nance was born on December 10, 1913 in Chicago, Illinois and as a child he studied piano, took violin lessons and was self-taught on trumpet. He led small groups from 1932-1937, then spent periods with the orchestras of Earl Hines and Horace Henderson through to 1940, however, he 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.
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 jazz standard. Nance’s “A Train” solo is one of the most copied and admired trumpet solos in jazz history that even Williams upon his return to the some twenty years later would play Nance’s solo almost exactly as the original.
Ray 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 arguably the definitive version of “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing). It was Nance’s 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!” The multi-talented trumpeter, violinist, vocalist and dancer earned him the nickname “Floorshow”.
He left the Ellington band in 1963 after having switched to and playing cornet alongside his predecessor Cootie Williams for a year. Over the course of his career he recorded a few albums as a leader and with Earl Hines, Rosemary Clooney and others. Ray Nance passed away on January 28, 1976 in New York City.
Donald Byrd was born Donaldson Toussaint L’Ouverture Byrd II on December 9, 1932 in Detroit, Michigan. He studied music and trumpet at Cass Technical High School, performing with Lionel Hampton prior to graduating. Joining the Air Force he played with the band, followed by matriculation through Wayne State University and the Manhattan School of Music.
He came to prominence while at the Manhattan School when he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers replacing Clifford Brown. By 1955 he was recording with Jackie McLean and Mal Waldron, left the Messengers a year later and performed with John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock and Thelonious Monk.
Byrd’s first full-time band was a quintet that he co-led from 1958-61 with Pepper Adams, an ensemble with hard driving performances as captured live on “At The Half Note Café”. In June 1964, Byrd jammed with jazz legend Eric Dolphy in Paris and throughout the rest of the decade and into the 70s was a leader and notable sidemen for Blue Note’s stable of jazz greats.
In the 1970s, Donald moved away from his previous hard-bop jazz base and began to record jazz-fusion, jazz-funk, soul-jazz, and rhythm and blues. Teaming up with the Mizell Brothers, he recorded Black Byrd in 1972 that subsequently became Blue Note’s highest selling album ever. Three subsequent big selling albums called “Street Lady”, Places and Spaces, and “Steppin’ Into Tomorrow” followed this. In 1973, he created the Blackbyrds, a fusion group consisting of his best students that scored several major hits including “Happy Music”, “Walking In Rhythm” and “Rock Creek Park”. Byrd is best remembered as one of the only bebop jazz musicians who successfully pioneered the funk and soul genres while simultaneously remaining a pop artist.
Dr. Donald Byrd holds three master degrees, a law degree and a doctorate and has pursued a career as an educator teaching at Rutgers University, Hampton Institute, New York University, Howard University, Queens College, Oberlin College, Cornell University and was named artist-in-residence at Delaware State University. The trumpeter passed away at the age of 80 in Teaneck, New Jersey on February 4, 2013 leaving a legacy of recordings that spanned the jazz idiom.
More Posts: trumpet
Jimmy Smith was born James Oscar Smith on December 8, 1925 in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He began as a pianist but switched to organ after hearing Wild Bill Davis, purchasing his first Hammond, renting a warehouse and emerging a year later with a fresh new sound. He was instrumental in revolutionizing the playing of the instrument. It only took one time for Alfred Lion to hear him play before signing him to Blue Note in 1956. It was the second album, “The Champ” that established him as a new star on the jazz scene, followed by “The Sermon”, “Home Cookin’” “Midnight Special” and “Back at the Chicken Shack”.
Forty sessions later Jimmy left Blue Note for Verve Records dropping his first album Bashin’ with a big band led by Oliver Nelson. With this album selling well he went on to collaborate over the next decade with Lalo Schifrin, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, Stanley Turrentine, Grady Tate, Jackie McLean, George Benson and many other jazz greats of the day.
In the 1970s, Smith opened a supper club in Los Angeles where he played regularly; his career resurged in the 80s recording for Blue Note, Verve, Milestone and Elektra with Quincy Jones, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Dee Dee Bridgewater, B.B. King, Etta James and Joey DeFrancesco.
Smith’s virtuoso improvisation technique popularized the Hammond B3 and his style on fast tempo pieces combined bluesy “licks” with bebop-based single note runs, ballads had walking bass lines and up-tempo tunes he played the bass line on the lower manual with use of the pedals for emphasis of a string bass. He influenced the likes of Jimmy McGriff, Brother Jack McDuff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Larry Goldings and Joey DeFrancesco as well as many rock keyboardists like Brian Auger or more recently The Beastie Boys.
Jimmy Smith, Hammond B3 pioneer in the hard bop, mainstream, funk and fusion jazz genres, was honored as an NEA Jazz Master shortly before his death on February 8, 2005 in Scottsdale Arizona.
More Posts: organ
Mads Vinding, born December 7, 1948 in Copenhagen, Denmark, took up the basses as a child. By sixteen he was playing professionally becoming the house bassist at Copenhagen’s legendary Café Montmartre.
Along with the acoustic double bass, he has also refined his playing on the electric bass making him an outstanding artist and a sought-after soloist for his musical command and his maturity. Vinding has performed all over the world, produced several records and has been honored with numerous jazz awards such as the Ben Webster Prize, Palae Jazz Prize, Readers Polls and three Grammy Awards among others.
One of the “Aces of Basses” with more than 600 recordings to his credit as a sideman, Mads has performed or recorded with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Sonny Stitt, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter, Dizzy Gillespie, Dollar Brand, Clark Terry, Chet Baker, Renee Rosnes, Stan Getz, Hank Jones, Gary Burton, Quincy Jones, Monty Alexander, Don Byas, Toots Thielemans, Ben Webster and Dexter Gordon, just to name a few in a long list of jazz luminaries. He continues to perform, record, tour and produce.
More Posts: bass
Bob Cooper was born on December 6, 1925 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He began to study the clarinet in high school and the following year he began working on the tenor saxophone. By 1945 he was joining Stan Kenton’s outfit when he was just 20, and as the new tenor saxophone player played alongside vocalist June Christy on “Tampico” that was to be a Kenton million-selling record. He would marry Christy two years later in Washington, DC.
Coop, as he was affectionately known, stayed with Kenton until he broke up the band in 1951. A naturally swinging jazz musician, Cooper and some other ex- Kenton men were hired to play at the Lighthouse Cafe in Los Angeles by the bassist Howard Rumsey. The Lighthouse became one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world, and the band, Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All Stars made history.
With a steady job he could work from home and he expanded his study of the oboe and English horn. While at the Lighthouse he made many momentous recordings, unique amongst them oboe and flute with Bud Shank, and composing a 12-tone octet for woodwind. Bob would go on to lead record sessions as part of a series of long-playing albums under “Kenton Presents” for Capitol Records.
His writing and playing on the album and its successor, “Shifting Winds” in 1955, were seminal in the creation of what was to become known as West Coast jazz. Imaginative writing and a well lubricated polish characterized the session and Cooper’s singing and stomping tenor style on his arrangement of “Strike Up The Band” boosted the record sales considerably.
Cooper would go on to tour Europe, South Africa and Japan with Christy, work as a studio musician in Hollywood, further develop his writing and compose film scores, join Kenton’s huge Neophonic Orchestra and have his composition ‘Solo For Orchestra’ premiered at one of its concerts. Much in demand for his beloved big-band work, he played regularly in other Los Angeles orchestras led by Shorty Rogers, Terry Gibbs, Bill Holman, Bill Berry, Bob Florence and Frankie Capp / Nat Pierce.
Bob Cooper, the West Coast jazz musician known primarily for playing tenor saxophone was also one of the first to play solos on oboe, passed away on August 5, 1993 in Los Angeles, California. Though maturing into one of the finest but least praised tenor saxophonists, he easily ranked with Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn in his talents. His last studio recording, released the year of his death, was on Karrin Allyson’s album Sweet Home Cookin on which he played tenor saxophone.