Ray Willis Nance (December 10, 1913, in Chicago - January 28, 1976, in New York City) was a jazz trumpeter, violinist and singer. He is best remembered for his long association with Duke Ellington and his orchestra.
Ellington hired Nance to replace trumpeter Cootie Williams, who had joined Benny Goodman, in 1940. Nance's first recorded performance with Ellington was at the Fargo, North Dakota ballroom dance. Shortly after joining the band, Nance was given the trumpet solo on the earliest recorded version of "Take the "A" Train", which became the Ellington theme. 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 (especially noteworthy is his violin contribution to the original 1942 version of "The 'C' Jam Blues"). He is also one of the better known male vocalists associated with Ellington's orchestra. On later recordings of "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)", Nance took the previously instrumental horn riff into the lead vocal, which constitute the line "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".
Nance was absent from the Duke Ellington Orchestra for around 3-4 months in 1946, including the date of that year's Carnegie Hall concert. In 1949, Ray showed up, along with Ellington sidemen Russell Procope, Johnny Hodges and Sonny Greer on several Ivory Joe Hunter sessions for King Records of Cincinnati.
He left Ellington in 1963 during their Middle East tour after having played alongside his predecessor Cootie Williams for a year after a bad confrontation between him and Williams. By that time, Nance had switched from trumpet to cornet. Nance was attempting to recuperate health-wise for a concert occurring the next day in Beirut and Williams asked why he was in bed all day and Nance justified his actions. However, with Williams being a temperamental man due to his recurring illnesses, one word let to another and by then Williams had commanded Ray to be a man and slapped him. Nance was beyond shocked and couldn't play the next day because his idol disrespected him to such a degree and he felt as though he should have defended himself and not allowed Williams to slap him. To make things worse, he sat on stage with his legs crossed (the most insulting action to mid-Easterners) and instead of the cheers and heavy approval from the audience he would get, he instead faced booing and hissing from the audience, and Nance could only handle so much until he asked Duke to send him home. Alas, he returned to New York and checked himself with a psychiatrist as well as having a joint session with his wife with a doctor. He had made several guest appearances in the orchestra over the years and later he toured and recorded in England in 1974.
With Ahmed Abdul-Malik
With Jaki Byard
With Duke Ellington
With Horace Henderson
With Earl Hines
With Johnny Hodges