Jazz pianist Junior Mance, who recorded more than 50 albums as a leader and many more as a sideman, has died at the age of 92.
A prolific performer, Mance was also an educator who taught at The New School in New York for 23 years, counting Brad Mehldau and Larry Goldings among his students.
Mance was a hard-bop pianist with a soulful style inspired by gospel and spiritual hymns. He played with a uniquely gentle, sensitive style and was known for his quick fingers and inspired chord choices.
Mance’s wife announced his death on Facebook on Jan. 17.
“I will forever miss his smiles, his love, his laughter, our shared happiness and, ultimately, my best friend,” Gloria Clayborne Mance wrote. “I know the world has lost a jazz legend. He was undoubtedly a very loving, happy and unforgettable person.”
Born in Evanston, Ill., on Oct. 10, 1928, Mance got his start playing with Gene Ammons in Chicago when he was 19. From there, Mance went on to record with Lester Young and Sonny Stitt.
In 1951, Mance was drafted by the U.S. Army, where he met Cannonball Adderley and joined him in the 36th Army Band in Fort Knox, Ky. He was discharged after two years and returned to Chicago, where he joined the house band at the Bee Hive jazz club and backed up well-known names including Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis.
After a year, Mance moved to New York and scored gigs with Dinah Washington, Cannonball Adderley, Johnny Griffin, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong.
Mance landed his first recording contract as a leader in 1959. Forming a trio with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Lex Humphries, he released his debut album Junior with Verve Records. Mance then went on to record albums for Capitol, Atlantic, Sackville, Enja and a number of other labels over the course of more than 50 years. He retired in 2011.