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Happy Birthday, Jimmy Blanton!

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Bassist Jimmy Blanton was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on this date in 1918. He was the first great innovative jazz double bassist, known mainly for his recordings with Duke Ellington from 1939 to 1941. Before Blanton, the bass was used primarily to lay down the beat and provide the harmonic underpinnings for a tune. Blanton played his bass as a harmonic instrument, using both plucking and bowing techniques to create what have been described as “horn-like" solos. Ellington provided plenty of opportunities to showcase Blanton's swinging soloing capabilities—so much so that the Ellington band at the time became known as the Blanton-Webster band (Ben Webster was the other featured player). The Blanton-Webster legacy has been well preserved due to some excellent recordings on the Victor label. Ellington also recorded some piano/bass duets with Blanton—their renditions of “Body and Soul" and “Sophisticated Lady" are exquisite. Unfortunately, Blanton's career was cut short: he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1941 and died the following year at the tragically young age of 23.

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This story appears courtesy of Riffs on Jazz by John Anderson.
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