Joseph Raymond Conniff (November 6, 1916 – October 12, 2002) was an American bandleader and arranger. 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 joined the Artie Shaw big band and wrote many arrangements for him. After his stint with Shaw he was then hired by Mitch Miller, then head of A & R at Columbia Records, as their home arranger, working 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.
Among 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; "Moonlight Gambler" by Frankie Laine; "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 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.
Conniff commented, "One time I was recording an album with Mitch Miller - we had a big band and a small choir. I decided to have the choir sing along with the big band using wordless lyics. The women were doubled with the trumpets and the men were doubled with the trombones. In the booth Mitch was totally surprised and excited at how well it worked." Because of the success of his backings Mitch Miller and the new sound Conniff created 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) (a story follows about that album), 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. Other well-known releases by the Singers included Ray Conniff's Hawaiian album (1967), featuring the hit song "Pearly Shells"; and Bridge over troubled water (1970), which included Ray's original composition "Someone" and remakes of such hits as "All I have to do is dream", "I'll never fall in love again", and "Something".
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.
Later in the 1960s he produced an average of two instrumental and one vocal album a year.
Conniff recorded in New York from 1955 through 1961 and mainly in Los Angeles from 1962 through 2000. From 1962 through 1971, membership in the Ray Conniff Singers included the following:
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