100 Jazz Profiles
1918 - 1942
Bassist. In his short life, Jimmy Blanton transformed the role of the double bass in jazz, proving that this big, cumbersome instrument could have the same lightness and flexibility as a trumpet or saxophone. Before he succumbed to TB, he made dozens of recordings with Duke Ellington that not only showed off the bass as a solo instrument, but altered its role in the rhythm section to playing flexible basslines that blended with Sonny Greer's drums and Ellington's impressionistic piano.
Blanton grew up in Tennessee, but moved to St. Louis, where he played in territory bands and the riverboat orchestra of veteran leader Fate Marable. From there he joined Ellington in 1939, who not only featured him with the full band on pieces like Jack The Bear, but also teamed up with Blanton on some piano-bass duets, including Pitter Panther Patter and Mr J. B. Blues, which remain among the most testing solos in the bass repertoire.
Blanton was also a member of many of Ellington's studio small group sessions. He was stricken by tuberculosis during the band's West Coast visit in 1941, and died in hospital in California.
John Edward Hasse: Beyond Category, the Life and Genius of Duke Ellington. (New York, Simon and Schuster) 1993
Duke Ellington: The Blanton-Webster Band, Bluebird 13181 (also RCA 5659-2) (3 CD set)
Suggested track: Jack The Bear
Examples of Blanton's amazing solos transcribed into musical notation
on radio 3
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