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Pianist Junior Mance

Atlantic Records
Junior Mance

Junior Mance had the history of jazz piano at his fingertips. With blues at the core, his soulful style could hark back to ragtime but still sound modern. After a 75-year career, Mance passed away in January. KNKX jazz host Abe Beeson has this remembrance.

Raised in Chicago in the 1930s, Junior Mance learned boogie woogie and stride piano styles from his dad on the family’s upright piano. By age 10 – with Dad’s permission – Mance took his first professional gig. The nickname “Junior” would stick.

Because his college music program didn’t have a jazz department, he dropped out and started working with Chicago’s top musicians, like saxophonist Gene Ammons, which gave Mance his first recording opportunities in 1947.

Mance was drafted into the Army in 1951; saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley got him a position in the 36th Army Band before he could be shipped out to Korea. Mance and his composition “Junior’s Tune” would appear on Adderley’s 1956 album, In the Land of Hi-Fi.

Mance made his debut recording as a leader in 1959, but his career as a supporting musician was really taking off. He played and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Griffin, Dinah Washington and often with his old friends Gene Ammons and the Adderley brothers.

In 1969, Mance even supported Aretha Franklin. It sold well at the time, but the lack of hit singles has made Soul ’69 one of Franklin’s greatest overlooked gems.

Mance wrote a book in the late 1960s called "How to Play Blues Piano," but his talents went much further. He taught at The New School in New York for more than three decades and had a regular gig at the Knickerbocker Bar & Grill in Greenwich Village until 2016.

Junior Mance died in January at his home in Manhattan. He was 92.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a 3rd generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.
Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.