Obituary: Jimmy Raney

Jazz has always found room for musicians of great talent who the general public manage to ignore. If there was any justice the guitarist Jimmy Raney would be more eminent than Dave Brubeck, Bunk Johnson or a hundred other jazz icons better known than he was.

Raney became resigned to his fate early in his career. He was leading a trio in a New York club where a fire department sign on the wall said: "Occupancy of these premises by over 116 people is unlawful." Raney had written on the wall underneath, "and unlikely".

It was Raney's fault. "I can't stand to exploit myself in any way," he said. "It's unpleasant to me." His dislike of travelling didn't help, and he hated booking agents, preferring not to have anything to do with them. He was a taciturn man who only spoke when he had something worth saying. He was universally revered by the musicians he played with.

"He's one of the three most creative musicians in jazz today, along with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk," the vibist-composer Teddy Charles said. "Jimmy was one of the first to grasp the Charlie Parker lyricism and turn it into long flowing lines of his own. He's a spontaneously melodic player who always anticipated new things in jazz. The way he played foreshadowed things that John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Gil Evans came to later."

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of a journalist father and a guitar- playing mother, Raney took the instrument up when he was 10. Guitarists in the United States seem to come from the south and west or a family where the instrument is traditional. After his mother had got him started he studied with the classical teacher A. J. Giancola for a couple of years. There were two ways for a guitarist to go in Kentucky if he wanted to be professional - into hillbilly music or into jazz. "When I heard Charlie Christian's `Solo Flight' with Benny Goodman I nearly fainted," Raney said

He studied with another teacher who craved jazz, Hayden Causey. During the war young musicians below the draft age were much in demand, and when Causey left the Jerry Wald Orchestra in New York in 1944, he recommended Raney as his replacement. Raney worked in the city for two months, during which time he spent his spare time in 52nd Street and in Harlem listening to Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and the bebop guitarist Chuck Wayne. Al Haig was the pianist in the band and the affinity he struck up with Raney led to a long and important musical association. Haig was already the most fluent white musician in bebop, and the following year recorded with Parker and Gillespie.

Raney returned home for further study and then moved in 1945 to Chicago, where he made a living working in various local bands. In January 1948 the drummer Tiny Kahn recommended him to Woody Herman. Raney was hired. But he hated the continuous touring which it involved. Also, Herman used him to play rhythm all night and hardly gave him any solos. Raney left the band in New York some months later and worked in the city with Haig, Buddy de Franco, Artie Shaw and Terry Gibbs.

Stan Getz left Herman to form his own group in 1949 and asked Raney to make up his quintet. He used Raney's guitar as a front-line solo instrument and, with Al Haig on piano, this became one of the potent jazz groups of the time.

There is no doubt that Raney had an influence on Getz's saxophone playing. Raney's work was not strongly emotional, but his cloudy style was deeply melodic and he expressed beautiful ideas rather than passion. He played electric guitar but with the amplifier volume down. "I like pure sound, not anything twangy." This approach fitted the "cool" jazz of the time perfectly and Raney stayed with Getz until 1953. He left after Getz had turned up for a couple of jobs under the influence of narcotics.

The two men worked together again for a time in 1962. In 1986, for their final association, they made a tour of American colleges together.

After he left Getz, Raney settled happily into the Blue Angel club in New York, staying from 1953 until 1959. He took a year off in 1953-54 to tour in the United States and Europe with the Red Norvo Trio, but otherwise remained at the club. In 1959 he appeared in an on-stage jazz quintet in the Broadway musical The Nervous Set and again appeared on stage when The Thurber Carnival opened on Broadway and ran until November 1960.

At this time Raney took up the cello and studied hard for several years. He had also taken up painting for several years but stopped because it took up "too much creative energy. I tried a couple of Broadway shows after The Thurber Carnival," he said, "but I didn't enjoy the experience. The Thurber thing was special. The rest of it wasn't too musical."

Raney spent a further year in another Broadway show, High Spirits. He also taught and worked in the studios recording commercial jingles and generally moving further away from jazz. "To make jazz your life's work is difficult. You can keep it as a sideline and not expect to make money at it, but you lose touch that way," Raney said. In the years that followed alcoholism almost ended his career and he returned to Louisville but he overcame it and eventually returned to playing at his former artistic best.

Raney returned to New York in 1972 and in 1974 gave a recital at Carnegie Hall with Al Haig. The two men toured in Europe and Japan with Raney's son Doug, born in 1957, who was by now a fine guitarist. The three recorded together.

During the Eighties the two Raneys continued to record and tour together, but eventually Jimmy Raney was afflicted with profound deafness and a serious deterioration of his health ended his career some years ago.

Steve Voce

James Elbert Raney, guitarist, born Louisville, Kentucky 20 August 1927; died Louisville, Kentucky 10 May 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss