Ray Conniff marked an entire generation with his music, playing of all things, the trombone, an instrument seldom associated with solo careers. That he succeeded so well is a testimony to his deft understanding of what people wanted to listen to when he emerged on the musical scene in the year 1956.
Born in Attleboro, Massachusetts, in November 1916. Ray received his early musical training from his father, a trombone player
In Boston, after finishing school, he began working with various local "society" bands, learning his trade as an arranger with these and other more swinging outfits. Following stints with Dan Murphy, in 1934, and Hank Biagini, in 1936. Ray joined Bunny Berigan in 1937, and subsequently Bob Crosby, with whom he stayed through 1940.
In the days of the big bands, there was no dearth of trombone players, but because he could also write snappy arrangements. Ray Conniff managed to make a name for himself and stand out from the crowd. In 1941, he formed his first own group, but when success eluded him he quickly returned to the fold with better known band leaders, notably Vaughn Monroe, and Artie Shaw, whom he followed in the Navy. While with Artie Shaw he arranged "Prelude in C-Sharp" and his first popular recording "'s Wonderful."
Later, after World War II, Ray became an active member of the famous Harry James band, notably contributing many riff arrangements for James' easy-going type of music. In 1948, the big band era was slowly coming to an end, Ray Conniff found himself increasingly relying on his talents as an arranger rather than a player. Six years later, in 1954, he went to work as a staff trombonist for NBC, and the following year signed with Columbia Records as an arranger-conductor for some of the label's pop vocalists, like Guy Mitchell, Frankie Laine, Johnny Ray, Rosemary Clooney and Marty Robbins, among many others.
When Mitch Miller asked Ray to score the song "Band Of Gold" for a new album by Don Cherry, Conniff wrote an introduction to the tune using a vocal chorus. The result was, the song became a million-seller.
Now, the time was right for Ray Conniff. It was in June 1956, Ray entered the studio to record his very first album as a leader and applying to himself the formula that had worked so well for Don Cherry, recorded "'s Wonderful." His tingling arrangements and exuberant rhythms turned the tune into a huge hit, and introduced what became known as the "Ray Conniff sound," in which the singers often are heard either playing along with the other instruents or contrasting them with lines of their own in what amounts to musical dialogue.
The album released in 1956, and "'s Wonderful" stayed on the charts for nine months, and paved the way for a string of other albums.
In 1959, Ray decided to move out of the studio and into the live concerts arena, bring long with him the sophisticated sound mixing that had ensured his success. At the Hollywood Bowl Ray Conniff and his orchestra performed in from of 19,000 people.
Ray went on recording albums throughout the 1960s and '70s, appearning in concert all over the world, and making new convents to his infectious brand of music.
One reason for his perennial appeal may be seen in the fact that he wisely chose to upgrade his repertoire, switching from the great Tin Pan Alley standards to contemporary hits by today's best pop writers.
Today 38 years and 88 albums after he made his debut as a leader, Ray Conniff continues to inspire the world with his unique brand of music.
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