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Ray Durant

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Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

This artist was born Horatio Durant but never used his real first name professionally. He was of Panamanian descent and a great deal of his career was spent as both pianist and staff arranger for the Deep River Boys, a vocal group that kept going for a good half a century. Durant's musical roots were in the same types of swing jazz basics that produced the great bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker; they both had early affiliations with pianist Claude Hopkins. Durant, spending his musical youth as both trombonist and pianist, arrived in the U.S.A. from Panama at the age of 19. His first professional gig was in New York City in a band led by Bob Sylvester. During an extended stint at a club called the Annex, someone must have glued Durant's rear to the piano bench and he never played trombone at another gig.

Subsequently he began working in Napolean's Savoy Ramblers, then with Hopkins at the illustrious Cotton Club. The latter bandleader himself was a pianist, but Durant was his choice of someone dependable to control the keyboard while Hopkins was out front conducting. Durant himself led a band for a few years before diving into the Deep River Boys in 1939, one year before this group began its recording career with a series of Bluebird/RCA Victor slabs. Durant is not the pianist on one of the most famous of these recordings, however -- "Light of the Silvery Moon," released in 1947, features Fats Waller, who grabs first billing on the original label. Lengthier substitutions in the group's lineup also took place as a result of the Second World War. Cam Williams took the place of Durant when Uncle Sam managed to dislodge him from the piano bench, Harry Douglas was replaced by Leroy Wayman, and so forth.

Both Durant and Douglas back-floated into the Deep River Boys once the war was over, beginning the group's period of greatest success. In the '50s the changing record market was not overly kind to this type of vocal group, meaning the work flowed more in the direction of live performance. At this the pianist excelled, taking part in the group's significant tour named after the play A Streetcar Named Desire as well as a series of extremely popular overseas tours. Durant seems to have dropped out of sight in the '70s and was not involved in a version of the Deep River Boys that the tireless Douglas revived in the following decade.