Charlie Haden remembers Jimmy Blanton

“He was amazing. Duke Ellington’s band came through St. Louis and played a dance—back then it was dances and not concerts. Afterward Duke went back to the hotel to sleep, and all the musicians went to an after-hours session. This young bass player was playing, and these guys flipped out. They went back and woke up Duke Ellington, and brought him to the session. Duke hired Jimmy on the spot, and the band left St. Louis with two bass players. Jimmy Blanton made all those records in 1940 and ’41, and then he got what they called “consumption” back then, tuberculosis. He got very sick in L.A. and they had to leave him in a sanitarium. He had no family there; he was by himself in a little isolated cabin. Milt Hinton told me he went there every day to see him. Milt was playing in Cab Calloway’s band at that time, and every night they’d dedicate a song to him. Milt said he was there when Jimmy took his last breath. He was 23 years old. But if you’ve ever heard him play … man!”

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2 Responses to Charlie Haden remembers Jimmy Blanton

  1. Ralph A. Miriello says:

    Hello Charlie: I am a big fan of your music and I also write music reviews for jazz.com. Jimmy Blanton’s story has always fascinated me and I was looking to write a short biography of his life. Can you point me in any direction where I can get some real valid material?
    Anybody that I could interview about having actually seen him play, I know that might be a stretch but you never know.

    I am actually fascinated by the fact that three great innovators of the bass Jimmy, Scott and Jaco all died young after contributing so much to the instrument

  2. Ralph A. Miriello says:

    Thanks Charlie:
    Sorry for the delay in answering.I have been doing some book research on this and you are quite right about Hinton visiting him and the guys playing for him over the radio while he was in the sanitarium. He was apparently friends with Sonny Young a drummer and brother of Lester Young. According to Duke’s biography Duke left Jimmy in the care of some TB specialists, in a ward awaiting an opening in a clinic, but then as Duke said
    “…some cat went down and said to him, “Why, the idea of Duke leaving you here in the ward!.” He packed him up and took him somewhere near Pasadena,…” This eventually was his undoing. Could this “cat” have been Sonny?

    Do you know of anybody that is still with us that would have some first hand knowledge of his playing and his work? There is some controversy as to whether he or Slam Stewart was the first to use the fat of the finger technique of plucking pizzicato? Also the great Oscar Pettiford claimed to have played this way before he ever heard Blanton. Any hearsay from the elders back then?

    Thanks , Ralph

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