The Troy Street Observer

Feb 25, 1915: Violinist, Saxophonist Ray Perry Born

Violinist and saxophonist Ray Perry, one of the great doublers of jazz, was born in Boston.

One of three jazz-playing brothers from Harrishof Street (Joe played tenor and Bey played drums), Ray Perry started as a violinist and took up the alto saxophone at age 20. He organized his first band, the Arabian Knights, in 1932. He worked with Dean Earl in the Little Harlem Orchestra in 1936-37, and there, noted Gunther Schuller in his book, The Swing Era, “In the mid-thirties (Perry) developed a technique of simultaneously singing and bowing, singing an octave below his playing. Slam Stewart, the bass player, heard Perry and adopted the same technique, except in inversion: singing an octave above his playing.”

Ray Perry with Ken Club ad
Ray Perry with Ken Club advertisement


In 1938 Perry moved on to Chick Carter’s orchestra with Gerald Wilson, and then the Boston band of Joe Nevils when it masqueraded as the Blanche Calloway Orchestra. He joined the orchestra of Lionel Hampton in September, 1940, recording with Hamp on both violin and alto.  Poor health forced him to return to Boston in late 1942, where he found work with Sherman Freeman, Sabby Lewis, and his fraternal band, the Perry Brothers Orchestra. Perry’s skill earned him a New Star award in the Esquire musician’s poll of 1946. He worked in Boston with Lewis or his brothers, and in New York with his own groups, in the late 1940s, and toured and recorded (on alto, but not violin) with Illinois Jacquet in 1950. But the health problems that had dogged him for almost a decade led to his death from kidney disease at age 35 in November 1950.

Some of Perry’s best surviving violin work was recorded with a Hampton septet in late 1940. Somerville’s own Irving Ashby, who joined Hampton at the same time as Perry, is the guitarist here on “Fiddle Dee Dee.”

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Comments

    • Thank you, Kay. One of my goals here is to call attention to Boston musicians like Perry who fell far short of receiving their full 15 minutes of fame.

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