Violinist and saxophonist Ray Perry, one of the great unsung doublers of jazz, was born in Boston on February 25, 1915.

Ray was the oldest of three jazz-playing brothers from Harrishof Street in Roxbury. His brother Bazeley (Bey) played drums, while Joe played tenor sax. Ray Perry started as a violinist and took up the alto saxophone at age 20. He organized his first band, the Arabian Knights, in 1932 at age 16. He worked with Dean Earl in his Little Harlem Orchestra in 1935-36. There, noted Gunther Schuller in his book, The Swing Era, “Perry developed a technique of simultaneously singing and bowing, singing an octave below his playing. Slam Stewart, the bass player, heard Perry and adopted the same technique, except in inversion: singing an octave above his playing.”

Ray Perry with Ken Club ad

Ray Perry and a Ken Club advertisement, both about 1944

In 1938 Perry moved on to Chick Carter’s orchestra with Gerald Wilson, and then the Boston band of Joe Nevils when it masqueraded as the Blanche Calloway Orchestra. He joined the orchestra of Lionel Hampton in September, 1940, recording with Hamp on both violin and alto. George Simon, writing about the Hampton band in Metronome in May 1942, stated: “The surprise of the (reeds) section, however, is Ray Perry, who doesn’t play jazz on any reed instrument. Instead, he hauls out an electric fiddle, and gives forth with some of the most knocked-out hot stuff you’ve ever heard. That goes not only for his solos, but also for his riff-chord backgrounds on the band’s septet.”

Poor health forced him to return to Boston in late 1942, where he worked with Sherman Freeman in 1942-43, and Sabby Lewis in 1944-45 (Paul Gonsalves took his place). In 1945, Ray Perry organized his fraternal band, the Perry Brothers Orchestra. Along with his brothers, he had Dean Earl on piano and Lloyd Trotman on bass. He went back to Sabby Lewis in 1946.

Perry’s skill earned him a New Star award in the Esquire musician’s poll of 1946. He was in New York late that year, leading own trio in 1946-47 with Leonard Gaskin on bass and Sadik Hakim on piano.

Perry was back in Boston in 1948-49, working with Lewis or his brothers. His last go with a name band came in 1950, playing alto, with Illinois Jacquet in 1950. But the health problems that dogged him for almost a decade led to his death from kidney disease at age 35 in November 1950.

Some of Perry’s best surviving violin work was recorded with a Hampton septet in December 1940. Guitarist Irving Ashby, also from the Boston area, joined Hampton at the same time as Perry. He starts it off on “Fiddle Dee Dee.”