Junior Mance, Jazz Pianist Who Played With Giants, Dies at 92
Junior Mance, a lively, bluesy jazz pianist who has worked with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, and Dinah Washington before establishing himself as the leader of his own groups, passed away on January 17th to his death At home in Manhattan. He was 92 years old.
His wife, Gloria Clayborne Mance, said the cause was a hemorrhage in the brain caused by a fall last month. He also had Alzheimer’s.
Mr. Mance had a strong affinity for the blues – he wrote a book called How to Play Blues Piano (1967) – but he also played the standard repertoire with serenity.
“The blues seeps through his performances, even if he isn’t actually playing the blues,” wrote John S. Wilson of the New York Times in a 1982 review of a Mr. Mance performance in Manhattan.
Mr. Mance’s career began in the late 1940s when he worked with, among others, the saxophonist Gene Ammons, with whom he made his first records. Mr. Mance was drafted into the army and wanted to join the band at Fort Knox. However, he was told that he could only do this if he was playing a marching band instrument. He did not.
One night when he was on guard duty, he heard big band music from the service club. At first he thought he was listening to records, but when he walked into the club he saw a live band led by a soon to be famous saxophonist.
It was Mr. Adderley who ran the Fort Knox Band. Mr. Mance, still in his suits and combat boots, asked to be seated and impressed Mr. Adderley. The saxophonist soon arranged for Mr. Mance to join the band and become a company employee, which enabled him not to go to Korea. He would later learn that most of the soldiers at his company had died in an ambush.
“From that day on, Cannon and I were best friends for life,” Mance told JazzWax in 2011.
After his release in 1953, Mr. Mance joined the house band at the Beehive in Chicago, where he accompanied musicians such as Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins. In 1954 and 1955 he toured with Mrs. Washington. He played with Mr. Adderley’s quintet for the next two years before joining Mr. Gillespie’s group in 1958.
Reviewing a gig by Mr. Gillespie’s band in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1959, a reviewer for the Kansas City Times wrote: “In Junior Mance, Dizzy has found a remarkable pianist. Playing with the effects of thunder and lightning, Mance appears to have at least 14 fingers. “
That year, at the invitation of producer Norman Granz, Mr. Mance recorded “Junior”, his first album as leader, with Ray Brown on bass and Lex Humphries on drums.
A review in The Boston Globe named Mr. Mance “one of the most peppy and delightful pianists in jazz today” and described the album as a “ball all the way”.
Julian Clifford Mance Jr. was born in Chicago on October 10, 1928 and grew up in Evanston. His father was a clothes press and his mother, Marie (McCollum) Mance, was a housekeeper.
Young Julian started playing the piano in his family’s apartment when he was 5 years old. He learned music easily and his father taught him boogie-woogie and step. When he was 10 years old, the saxophonist who lived upstairs from the Mances asked the elderly Mr. Mance if Junior could replace the sick pianist at the rest stop where his band was playing.
“My father said I could,” Mr. Mance told JazzWax. “The performance went well. The crowd consisted mostly of truckers taking a break from the road. Nobody paid much attention. “
During his youth he played in clubs before attending Roosevelt College in Chicago (now Roosevelt University). His mother wanted him to be a doctor, but he signed up for music classes. He stayed in school for a year and a half – at one point he was suspended for a week for playing jazz in a practice room instead of classical music – before joining Mr. Ammon’s band.
After playing in other bands in the 1950s, he spent the rest of his career leading small groups and recording dozens of albums for Atlantic, Capitol, Jazzland and other labels. His last two albums, both released in 2008, were “Groovin ‘With Junior” and “Blue Minor”.
AllMusic’s Alex Henderson wrote of his album Mance, released in 2000, “Junior Mance’s work was impressively consistent throughout the 1990s. The seasoned pianist didn’t do anything groundbreaking, but he did excel with the tough bop / soul jazz approach that he had long since perfected. “
Mr. Mance also taught the BFA jazz program at the New School from the late 1980s until 2011 and toured with 100 Gold Fingers, a jazz ensemble composed of 10 pianists including Marian McPartland, Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan.
For more than two decades, Mr. Mance, accompanied by a bassist, was an integral part of the Knickerbocker Bar and Grill in Greenwich Village. He retired in 2016.
In addition to his wife, his stepdaughters Nadia King and Gail Wilson survive Mr Mance. a stepson, Walter Jones III; two Stiefkelinnen; and a step great-grandson. Two previous marriages ended in divorce and a third ended in the death of his wife.
Even though Alzheimer’s prevented Mr. Mance from performing, music was still playing in his head, his wife said. The night he fell, she imagined he’d finished a street engagement.
“He was in bed talking to a fan who must have said he enjoyed his last act and Junior said,” I’m so glad you did, “said Ms. Mance.” And I think he must have tried to hug the guy or shake his hand and fell out of bed. “