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The Complete 1940-1949 Non-Ducal Violin Recordings (feat. Ben Webster)

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Album Review

Ray Nance is best known for his contributions as a member of Duke Ellington's orchestra, though he recorded for a number of other bandleaders and occasionally led his own small groups. This compilation was assembled to showcase his work as a violinist in other settings, many of which are previously unreleased or very rare. "Kitty on Toast" comes from a 1940 session with Horace Henderson, less than a year before he joined Ellington. The next seven tracks appear commercially for the first time, featuring Nance with Ben Webster (primarily on clarinet — a special treat, with some tenor sax) and other Ellington sidemen in some informally recorded transcriptions from the summer of 1941, including bassist Jimmy Blanton, drummer Sonny Greer, and a guitarist who is presumably Fred Guy. The three swing tunes jointly credited to the two men sound nothing like their typical work together with Ellington, just pure swinging fun. When Webster switches to tenor for a brisk treatment of "I Never Knew," Nance matches him solo for solo on trumpet. Leonard Feather penned a pair of songs for a session led by pianist Earl Hines, including the blues "Trouble, Trouble" (featuring vocalist Betty Roché) and the swinging "Design for Jivin'" (featuring effective solos by Nance and tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips). Nance and tenor saxophonist Don Byas steal the show from pianist and leader Eddie Heywood in "Penthouse Serenade." Although three tracks are billed as Ray Nance & the Ellingtonians, the name comes from drummer Ray Ellington (no relation to Duke Ellington). Nance's violin makes "Moon Mist" a real tearjerker, though he switches to muted horn for a brisk "Sometimes I'm Happy" and open horn for his gritty solo in his original "Blues for Duke." R&B singer Ivory Joe Hunter's tracks are most notable for Nance's violin obbligatos and the presence of several other Ellington sidemen in supporting roles, though "That's the Gal for Me" has a bit more pep than the other tracks from the session. Nance's participation in a Pete Rugolo-arranged session for singer Babs Gonsalves wasn't released for nearly 40 years, though the date also included up-and-coming musicians like Sonny Rollins, J.J. Johnson, Roy Haynes, and Wynton Kelly, as well as veteran Don Redman. The sound restoration of these vintage transcription discs is tremendous considering their age, with just a little more surface noise on the Nance-Webster sessions, probably because they were made for the musicians' own amusement and played quite a few times. Producer Anthony Barnett's detailed liner notes and the presence of a thorough discography for each session and rare photos add to the value of this CD. Fans of Ray Nance's violin playing should consider this collection to be essential.


Born: 10 December 1913 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Ray Nance was a multi-talented individual. He was a fine trumpeter who not only replaced Cootie Williams with Duke Ellington's Orchestra, but gave the "plunger" position in Duke's band his own personality. In addition, Nance was one of the finest jazz violinists of the 1940s, an excellent jazz singer, and even a dancer. He studied piano, took lessons on violin, and was self-taught on trumpet. After leading a small group in Chicago (1932-1937), spending periods with the orchestras of Earl Hines (1937-1938)...
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The Complete 1940-1949 Non-Ducal Violin Recordings (feat. Ben Webster), Ray Nance
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