Mr. Mance, who was a professional musician at the age of 10, had one of the longest and most varied careers in jazz, beginning in the 1930s and lasting well into the 21st century. He appeared on hundreds of albums and had fruitful musical partnerships in the 1950s with singer Dinah Washington, saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.
He was active through several major periods of jazz innovation, from swing to bebop to a freer, postmodern style, but Mr. Mance’s approach was always shaped by the blues, which he absorbed from childhood.
“Living in Chicago, that was Bluesville,” he told Newsday in 1987. “There were people around like Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Memphis Slim; boogie-woogie players like Jim Yancey, Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons. When I was a kid, my mother loved the blues and bought nothing but blues records. When I started making gigs with horn players, I didn’t turn my back on the blues.”
In his late teens, he became the pianist for Chicago saxophonist Gene Ammons, the son of pianist Albert Ammons, and played with visiting musicians, including saxophonists Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt. In 1949, he joined a band led by Lester Young, one of the defining voices of the tenor saxophone.
“The first time I played with him,” Mr. Mance recalled in 2013 to the Jerusalem Post, “he called a record date, and I thought, ‘What am I going to do on this?’ . . . There was one tune that didn’t have a title. So when the sound engineer asked him what the name was, Lester just looked round the room and then at me and said, ‘Oh, that’s called “June Bug.” ’ That was after me!”
Drafted into the Army in 1951, Mr. Mance was training as an infantryman and was on guard duty one night at Fort Knox, Ky., when he heard music coming from a service club. During his break, he entered the club and saw a band led by Adderley, an alto saxophonist then stationed at the base.
Mr. Mance, still wearing his helmet, cartridge belt and combat boots, asked if he could sit in on piano. Adderley gave him a wary look, then agreed. Mr. Mance, who hadn’t touched a keyboard in weeks, played an extended solo that had the band members snapping their fingers and nodding their heads.
“And so after that was over,” he said in an interview with the Hamilton College Jazz Archive. “Cannonball comes over to the piano and says, ‘Yeah man, that’s great, what’s your name?’ I say, ‘Junior Mance.’ ”
Adderley knew his name from his earlier associations with Ammons and Stitt.
“So he laughs, he says, ‘If you’re Junior Mance, what are you doing here in those clothes?’ I said, ‘What are you doing here?’ ”
The next day, Adderley helped arrange a transfer out of the infantry for Mr. Mance, who became a clerk and spent his nights playing in Adderley’s Army band. Many members of his previous infantry unit were killed in battle during the Korean War.
“I sort of think that Cannonball might have saved my life,” he said in the Hamilton College interview. “If it weren’t for him, I might not be here.”
After his discharge in 1953, Mr. Mance returned to Chicago, then spent two years as the pianist for Washington, a dynamic blues and jazz singer. He joined Gillespie, one of the founding figures of bebop, in 1956, touring the world and making several recordings with him. He considered Gillespie a friend and mentor, helping to lead him in new musical directions.
“I used to play a lot of notes, going nowhere,” Mr. Mance told the San Jose Mercury News in 2004. “Dizzy called me one night and told me, ‘The sound of maturity in a musician is when he learns what not to play, what to leave out.’ That’s all he said, and it stuck with me.”
Julian Clifford Mance Jr. was born Oct. 10, 1928, in Chicago and grew up in Evanston, Ill. His mother was a housekeeper, and his father was a clothes presser and amateur pianist.
Mr. Mance was 5 when he began picking out tunes on the piano from ear. He was just 10 when a neighbor who played saxophone hired him for his first professional jobs. Musicians began calling him “Junior” because of his youth, not just because it was part of his formal name.
Mr. Mance’s mother wanted him to study medicine, but he focused primarily on music at Roosevelt University in Chicago. When one of his classical music professors heard him playing the blues in a practice room, Mr. Mance was suspended for a week. He eventually dropped out of college to pursue a career in jazz.
In 1959, he made the first of more than 50 albums as a leader. Among his most notable were “The Soulful Piano of Junior Mance” (1960) and “Junior’s Blues” (1962), which is considered a landmark example of blending a traditional blues feeling with modern jazz.
“He’s so rooted in the blues,” drummer Akira Tana told the Mercury News, “and he plays certain grooves with such authority you really get a sense of who Junior Mance is, yet he can turn around and play very beautiful ballads.”
Besides Washington, Mr. Mance accompanied many singers over the years, including Carmen McRae, Johnny Hartman, Joe Williams and Jimmy Witherspoon. He often performed on jazz cruises and had large followings in Japan, Israel and Europe. He taught for 23 years at the New School in New York and was the author of a book on playing blues piano.
Mr. Mance was married four times. Survivors include his wife of 22 years, the former Gloria Clayborne of New York; a stepdaughter from his second marriage, Gail Wilson; two stepchildren from his fourth marriage, Nadia King and Walter H. Jones III; four grandchildren; and a great-grandson.
In his later years, Mr. Mance established a music publishing company and a record label, JunGlo, with his wife. After a serious stroke in 2012, he embarked on an international tour the following year. He released hs final recording, “For My Fans, It’s All About You,” in 2015.
“Playing with joy is part of it,” Mr. Mance said in 2013. “You’ve got to feel something to play well. You can get a job anywhere, but loving what you’re doing and playing well, that’s real happiness.”
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