Blanton, Jimmy (actually, James)

views updated

Blanton, Jimmy (actually, James)

Blanton, Jimmy (actually, James), innovative jazz bassist, famous for his work with Duke Ellington; b. Chattanooga, Term., Oct. 5, 1918; d. Monrovia, Calif., July 30, 1942. His hard-swinging lines introduced a chromaticism not typical of jazz bass before him, and through exposure with Ellington, who always appreciated bassists, he became the role model for the entire next generation. His mother was a pianist, who led her own band in Term, for many years. Jimmy started on violin during early childhood, did first gig at a local store, at the age of eight. He studied theory with an uncle, who specialized in teaching the mathematical aspects of music. Blanton switched to string bass while studying at Term. State Coll.; played in the State Collegians and gigged with local bands led by “Bugs” Roberts and drummer Joe Smith. During college summer vacations he played with Fate Marable on the riverboats; left college during his third year and moved to St. Louis. He joined Jeter-Pillars Orch. in late 1937 (playing a three-string bass), and continued to work in Fate Marable’s Cotton Pickers during summer months. In autumn 1939, while playing at the Coronado Hotel Ballroom, St. Louis, he was signed by Duke Ellington, bought a four-string bass on hire-purchase (guarantor Gene Porter), and began working with Duke (sharing bass duties with Billy Taylor until Taylor left in January 1940). While working with Ellington in L.A., Blanton was taken seriously ill (entered L.A. Hospital in late 1941, where tuberculosis was diagnosed). In the spring of 1942 he was moved from the hospital to the Duarte Sanitarium, near L.A., where he spent the last few months of his life.


Duke Ellington: “Plucked Again/Blues” (1930); “pitter Panther Patter/Sophisticated Lady” (1940); “Body and Soul/Mr. J. B. Blues” (1940); “Jack the Bear” (1940); “Conga Brava/Ko-Ko” (1940); “Concerto for Cootie” (1940); “Sepia Panorama/Harlem Air Shaft” (1940); “In a Mellotone” (1940). B. Bigard: “Lost in Two Flats” (1939). Cootie Williams: “Black Butterfly” (1940). J. Hodges: “Squatty Roo” (1941).


I. Kanth, A Discography of Jimmy Blanton (Stockholm, 1970).

—John Chilton Who’s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter