Jimmy Blanton Day

October 5, 1918 – July 30, 1942


A birthday tribute to the innovative bassist

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Bassist Jimmy Blanton was born October 5, 1918 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Originally a violinist, Blanton switched to bass while at Tennessee State University.

He performed with the Tennessee State Collegians (1936-37) and played on riverboats during his vacations with Fate Marable.

In 1938 he dropped out of college to work with the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra in St. Louis.

Blanton hit the big time when he joined Duke Ellington’s band in 1939 when he was just 20, at first being one of two bassists with Billy Taylor before Taylor, recognizing the superiority of the youth, voluntarily quit the band.

Jimmy Blanton revolutionized the bass which, prior to his arrival, was almost entirely a time keeping instrument.

Blanton could play virtuosic solos with the speed of a guitarist and the complexity of a major saxophonist, and Ellington immediately recognized his talent, recording several piano-bass duets that showcased Blanton.

During 1939-41, Blanton’s playing with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, even when he was not soloing, was an inspiration to other bassists who recognized his inventive ideas (as both an accompanist and a soloist) and his assertive playing.

Sadly, Jimmy Blanton contracted tuberculosis in the fall of 1941 and passed away on July 30, 1942 when he was just 23, having changed the role and potential of his instrument for future generations to build upon.

Jimmy Blanton was never captured on film but this duet with Duke Ellington on “Pitter Panther Patter” shows off his brilliance.

-Scott Yanow


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