Dave Nelson's main significance to jazz was that he often worked with King Oliver (his uncle) during Oliver's last years in New York. In fact, Nelson often took the trumpet solos on Oliver's later records, leading to confusion decades later as historians tried to determine who the soloist really was. Nelson had lessons on violin and piano before settling on trumpet. He moved to Chicago in the mid-1920s and was considered Oliver's protégé. In addition to occasionally leading his own band, Nelson worked with the Marie Lucas Orchestra, Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Jelly Roll Morton, Richard M. Jones (who taught him how to arrange), Edgar Hayes, Jimmie Noone and Leroy Pickett. After playing with Luis Russell, in the fall of 1929 Nelson became part of Oliver's band, staying into 1931. After that experience ended, Nelson mostly led his own low-profile groups in the 1930s (sometimes playing piano and usually providing the arrangements) and he recorded with Willie "The Lion" Smith in 1937. Nelson was active until shortly before he died from a heart attack, working mostly as a pianist in his later years and as a music editor and arranger for a publishing firm. In addition to his recordings with Oliver, Nelson led two sessions in 1931 at the head of "The King's Men" that resulted in seven selections, all of which included his vocals.