When Harry James Met Nancy Ames

Scouring the web in search of something unrelated, I came across a clip from a 1967 Ed Sullivan show that brought to mind—as if a reminder were needed—Harry James’s Harry Jamesstunning musicianship. The trumpeter teamed up with Nancy Ames in a performance of one of Ethel Merman’s signature songs from Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. A couple of his licks in the piece emphasize James’s ability as a blues player, an attribute often ignored by critics who downgraded him for his sugary playing in hits like “Sleepy Lagoon.” On the Sullivan broadcast, he showed his jazz side.

Ames seemed omnipresent on television for a few years. She came to fame on a programNancy Ames called Hootnenanny, something of a sensation in the early 1960s. She also sang the introductory news summary on the US version of the satirical This Was The Week That Was. Ames was typecast as a folk singer, but her stylistic range was wide. Part of her appeal came from relaxation and naturalness reminiscent of Peggy Lee. When bossa nova was still making modest waves in popular music, Nancy Ames showed that she had a nice touch with Brazilian songs. Her duet on “So Nice” (“Summer Samba”) with Andy Williams in a 1967 episode of his television show is an example. YouTube doesn’t allow us to embed the clip. To see it, click here.

As for Harry James’s blues authenticity, he established it convincingly on record in 1938 when he was a 22-year-old making his name as a sideman with Benny Goodman. He validated his credentials on two sides of a 78 with the boogie woogie piano giants Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons, drummer Eddie Dougherty and bassist Johnny Williams. Here are both takes, “Boo Woo” and “Woo Woo.” Video of the original 78s is presented on YouTube by Emile Dumur, who takes pains to show you the labels with personnel listings before he plays the records.

Less than a year later, in January, 1939, James left Goodman to form his own band. A string of hits lay ahead of him.

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  1. Mike Harris says

    If I’m not mistaken, the trumpet-player who made the music in Young Man With a Horn, while Kirk Douglas portrayed Bix, was indeed Harry James, who along with Hoagy Carmichael made some very tasty sounds in that great 1950’s classic.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      The character wasn’t called Bix. He was Beiderbecke fictionalized; director Michael Curtiz took abundant liberties with the Bix story. Mr. Harris is correct about Harry James, as we hear in a clip that pretty much gives away the movie. Sorry about that, but the film is still well worth seeing.

  2. says


    I’ve loved Harry’s playing since my teens in the 1940s, Doug. I got to meet and interview him in the early 1980s when he brought his big band to D.C.’s Shoreham Hotel for a dance gig. I used the interview in my first book The Jazz Scene. HJ was a GREAT jazz trumpet player!