Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Mance, Junior (Julian Clifford, Jr.)

Pianist's Junior Mance's soulful sound has guided him through his seven decades at the keyboard, from his teens with with Gene Ammons and Lester Young, through groups under Cannonball Adderley, Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and as an accompanist to vocalists Dinah Washington and Joe Williams. Sine the 1960s he has also led his own trios and duos.

Julian Clifford Mance, Jr. was born on October 10, 1928, in Chicago, and grew up in the suburb of Evanston, where his parents, Julian Clifford Mance, Sr. and Marie McCollum Nance, lived after their arrival from Augusta, Georgia, where they were both born. Junior grew up in a household filled with the sounds of the music his parents loved. His mother favored the great blues singers of the day. His father was an avid fan of both boogie-woogie and stride pianists: Junior counts Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis and Pete Johnson as among his earliest influences. He also liekd big bands, and took his son to the Grand Terrace Ballroom and Regal Theatre to hear the bands led by Duke Ellington, Earl Hines and Count Basie, the elder Mance’s favorite.

When Junior was just five years old, the family moved into a house where the previous tenant had left an old upright piano. His father quickly taught himself how to play more than passable stride piano, and after listening to him, Junior began playing around on the keyboard, too. Julian Sr. encouraged his son’s musical aspirations and eventually found him a professional teacher, Dorum Richardson, who taught the boy piano fundamentals and the popular music of the day.

Later a neighbor, tenor saxophonist T.S. Sims, asked Junior to sub for his ailing pianist at a local roadhouse, and taught him to play both the blues and “I’ve Got Rhythm” changes. With these skills under his belt, Junior began to work regularly with Sims.

After high school Mance enrolled at Roosevelt College in Chicago to study music. He also worked with the interracial Jimmy Dale Orchestra, which was led pseudonymously by Harold Fox, a Jewish tailor who outfitted other bands in exchange for copies of their arrangements. His band, which also included Gene Ammons at the time, therefore an impressive book, which included songs from the Basie, Hampton and Kenton organizations.

Mance was suspended from college in 1947, after being caught playing jazz in a practice room. Soon after, he quit school and joined Ammons for a two week engagement in New York on 52nd Street, playing opposite a trio with Oscar Pettiford, George Shearing and Shelly Manne.

Returning to Chicago from New York, Mance took up residency with Ammons at the Congo Lounge. Located next door to the Regal Theatre, the club hosted many visiting players from the top jazz bands of the day, including Lester Young, who hired Mance to play in his sextet.

The pianist remained with Young for two years, playing a regular gig at the Savoy Ballroom and traveling around the Northeast and Midwest, until the saxophonist disbanded the group to tour with Jazz At The Philharmonic. Moving back to Chicago from New York, where he lived during his tenure with Pres, he rejoined Ammons at the Congo Lounge, staying with Jug for a few months until being drafted into the U.S. Army.

Stationed at Fort Knox in Kentucky, Mance was assigned to the infantry, unable to get into the band because he didn’t play a marching instrument. One night while marching guard duty he heard a jazz band playing in the service club and asked to sit in. The group was led by Cannonball Adderley, who liked Mance’s playing and managed to pull some strings to get the pianist out of basic training and into the army band, which also featured his brother Nat Adderley and trombonist Curtis Fuller. The following week, the unit in which Mance had been doing his basic training was shipped out to Korea, where almost everyone was killed in a single battle: to this day, he credits Adderley with saving his life. Mance spent the rest of his military service playing in both large and small groups led by Cannonball, often traveling to Louisville to perform in local clubs.

In 1953, following his discharge from the Army, Junior became house pianist for a year in the rhythm section with bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Buddy Smith at the Bee Hive Club in Chicago. There accompanied visiting jazz greats such as Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Sonny Stitt, and many others, including Dinah Washington, who hired Mance to play on the album After Hours With Miss D. The pianist spent the next two years with accompanying the singer, appearing on the albums Dinah Jams and Jam Session with Clifford Brown, Max Roach, Clark Terry, Maynard Ferguson, Herb Geller and Harold Land.

Following his years with Washington, Mance was reunited with the Adderley brothers, returning to New York where he has lived ever since. As a member of the popular Cannonball Adderley Quintet he recorded a series of well received albums for Mercury Records and toured extensively before the group broke up due to diminishing working opportunities.

Mance also recorded with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. He then joined Dizzy Gillespie’s quintet and stayed with the trumpeter for a couple of years, touring the world and recording regularly for Verve. During this period he made his first trio album as a leader, Junior, for the label in 1959. He began working around New York with his group, recording Live At The Village Vanguard in 1961. During this period he was also a member of the exciting Johnny Griffin-Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis Quintet.

In 1963 Mance became accompanist for the great jazz-blues vocalist Joe Williams, recording live at the Newport Jazz Festival that year and remaining with the singer through 1964. In the following years the pianist led his trio and freelanced as a sideman extensively, recording with Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon, David “Fathead” Newman and Ben Webster, among others.

Throughout the seventies and eighties Mance worked in a duo with bassist Martin Rivera, performing at the Village Gate, Zinno’s, Bradley’s and other New York clubs, as well as jazz cruises and festivals. In 1988 he became a member of the faculty of the Jazz and Contemporary Music program at the New School University in New York.

In the nineties, Mance was a member of Lionel Hampton’s Golden Men of Jazz, succeeding Hank Jones in the allstar group that at times featured Clark Terry, Harry “Sweets” Edison, James Moody, Benny Golson and others. He also began making biannual tours to Japan as part of the elite group called One Hundred Gold Fingers, an assemblage of ten outstanding jazz pianists. On various concerts the group has included people such as Toshiko Akioshi, Monty Alexander, Kenny Barron, Joanne Brackeen, Ray Bryant, Cyrus Chestnut, Tommy Flanagan, Benny Green, Barry Harris, Gene Harris, Hank Jones, Duke Jordan, Roger Kellaway, John Lewis, Harold Mabern, Dave McKenna, Marion McPartland, Mulgrew Miller, and Renee Rosnes.

In 2009, at the age of 81, Mance continues to lead his own duo, trio and quintet, and freelances with various leaders and teaches at New School.

Contributor: Russ Musto