Ray Conniff


Joseph Raymond Conniff (November 06, 1916 – October 12, 2002) was an American musician. He was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts, and learned to play the trombone from his father. He studied music arranging from a course book.

After serving in the U.S. Army in World War II (where he worked under Walter Schumann), he was hired by Mitch Miller, then head of A&R at Columbia Records as their home arranger, and he worked with several artists, including Rosemary Clooney, Marty Robbins, Frankie Laine, Johnny Mathis, Guy Mitchell and Johnnie Ray. He wrote a top 10 arrangement for Don Cherry's "Band of Gold" in 1955, a single that sold more than a million copies.

Amongst the hit singles he backed with his orchestra (and eventually with a male chorus) were "Yes Tonight Josephine" and "Just Walkin' in the Rain" by Johnnie Ray; "Chances Are" and "It's Not for Me to Say" by Johnny Mathis; "A White Sport Coat" and "The Hanging Tree" by Marty Robbins, "Up Above My Head," a duet by Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray; and "Pet Me, Poppa" by Rosemary Clooney. He also backed up the albums Tony by Tony Bennett, Blue Swing by Eileen Rodgers, Swingin' for Two by Don Cherry, and half the tracks of The Big Beat by Johnnie Ray.

In these early years he also produced some similar sounding records for Columbia's Epic label under the name of Jay Raye (which stands for "Joseph Raymond"). Amongst them a backing album and singles with Somethin' Smith and the Redheads, an American male vocal group.

Because of the success of his backings Mitch Miller allowed him to make his own record, and this became the successful 'S Wonderful, a collection of standards that were recorded with an orchestra and a wordless singing chorus (four men, four women). He released many more albums in the same vein, including Dance The Bop (1957), 'S Marvelous (1957, gold album), 'S Awful Nice (1958), Concert in Rhythm (1958, gold album), Hollywood in Rhythm (1958), Broadway in Rhythm (1959), and Concert in Rhythm, Volume II (1959, gold album). The 1957 album Dance the Bop was an experiment by one of the brass at Columbia to cash in on a conceived dance step creation, but Ray didn't like it from the outset, and when it sold poorly, Ray had it pulled off the market.

In 1959 he started the Ray Conniff Singers (12 women and 13 men) and released the album It's the Talk of the Town. This group brought him the biggest hit he ever had in his career: "Somewhere My Love" (1966). The title track of the album was written to the music of "Lara's Theme" from the film Doctor Zhivago, and was a top 10 single in the US. The album also reached the US top 20 and went platinum, and Conniff won a Grammy. The single and album reached high positions in the international charts (a.o. Australia, Germany, Great Britain, Japan) as well. Also extraordinarily successful was the first of four Christmas albums by the Singers, Christmas with Conniff (1959). Nearly fifty years after its release, in 2004, Conniff was posthumously awarded with a platinum album/CD.

Musically different highlights in Conniff's career are two albums he produced in cooperation with Billy Butterfield, an old buddy from earlier swing days. Conniff Meets Butterfield (1959) featured Butterfield's solo trumpet and a small rhythm group. Just Kiddin' Around (after a Conniff original composition from the 1940s), released 1963, featured additional trombone solos by Ray himself. Both albums are pure light jazz and did not feature any vocals.

Between 1957 and 1968, Conniff had 28 albums in the American Top 40, the most famous one being Somewhere My Love (1966). He topped the album list in Britain in 1969 with His Orchestra, His Chorus, His Singers, His Sound, an album which was originally published to promote his European tour (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) in 1969. He also was the first American popular artist to record in Russia: in 1974 he recorded Ray Conniff in Moscow with the help of a local choir. His later albums like Exclusivamente Latino, Amor Amor and Latinisimo made him very popular in Latin-American countries, even more so after performing in the Viña del Mar International Song Festival. In Brazil and Chile he was treated like a young pop superstar in the 1980s and 1990s when he was in his 70s and 80s. He even played live with his orchestra and eight-person chorus in large football stadiums as well as in Viña del Mar.

Ray Conniff was a quiet, modest sympathetic artist. He always worked in the background so that in the fifties there were rumours that this man didn't even exist and that his name was as fake as his orchestral sound was sensational. Nevertheless he sold about 70 million albums world-wide and continued recording and performing until his death in 2002.

He died in Escondido, California, and is interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

In 2004, a memorial two-CD compilation set, The Essential Ray Conniff, was released, featuring many rare and previously unreleased tracks. The Singles Collection, Vol. 1 was released on the Collectables label in 2005 and The Singles Collection, Vol. 2 was released in 2007. These collections also feature rare singles and previously unissued tracks.
 

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Ray Conniff links


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The Ray Conniff Page
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Ray Conniff @ Wikipedia
Ray Conniff @ Allmusic.com
Ray Conniff @ Last.fm

Bookmark

Ray Conniff - The Happy Beat

Ray Conniff - Presents Irving Berlin

Ray Conniff - 'S Marvelous

Ray Conniff - Hi-fi Companion

Ray Conniff - Ray Conniff's World of Hits

Ray Conniff - Dance the Bop!

Ray Conniff - Friendly Persuasion