Jimmy Blanton was born on October 5, 1918 in Chattanooga, Tennessee and originally learned to play the violin but took up the bass while at Tennessee State University. During his matriculation in the mid-thirties he performed with the Tennessee State Collegians, and during the vacations with Fate Marable. Blanton left school to play full time in St. Louis with the Jeters-Pillars Orchestra. Making his first recordings with the orchestra, he then went on to join Duke Ellington’s band in 1939.
Though he stayed with Ellington for only two years, Blanton made an incalculable contribution in changing the way the double bass was used in jazz. Moving from quarter notes in ensemble or solos to soloing more in a ‘horn like’ fashion, Blanton began sliding into eighth and sixteenth-note runs, introducing melodic and harmonic ideas that were totally new to jazz bass playing.
His virtuosity put him in a different class from his predecessors, making him the first true master of the jazz bass and demonstrating the instrument’s unsuspected potential as a solo instrument. Such was his importance to Ellington’s band at the time, together with the tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, that it became known as the Blanton-Webster band.
In 1941, Blanton was diagnosed with tuberculosis, cutting short his tenure with Ellington. However, he recorded a series of bass and piano duets with Ellington. Double bassist Jimmy Blanton, credited as the originator of pizzicato and bowed bass solos, died the following year on July 30, 1942 after retiring to a sanatorium in California at the age of 23.
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Wally Rose was born on October 2, 1913 in Oakland, California. A mainstay of the jazz scene in San Francisco during the 1940s and 1950s, he was the pianist in Lu Watter’s group, and the Yerba Buena Jazz Band, for its entire existence from 1939 to 1950. During this period he recorded for the Jazz Man imprint in 1941-42, did several albums for Good Time Jazz and also recorded for Columbia Records.
Following this tenure, through the 1950s Rose played with Bob Scobey and Turk Murphy then did mainly solo work for the rest of his career. He did an album in 1982, which was his first release as a leader in 24 years.
Wally Rose, jazz and ragtime pianist passed away on January 12, 1997 in Walnut Creek, California.
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Slam Stewart was born Leroy Eliot Stewart on September 21, 1914 in Englewood, New Jersey. He originally played violin before switching to bass at the age of 20. While attending the Boston Conservancy he heard Ray Perry singing along with his violin giving him the inspiration to follow suit with his bass.
In 1937 Stewart teamed with Slim Gaillard forming the novelty jazz act Slim and Slam. The duo’s biggest hit was in 1938 with Flat Foot Floogie (With A Floy Floy).
Stewart found regular session work throughout the 1940s with Lester Young, Fats Waller, Coleman Hawkins, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Johnny Guarnieri, Red Norvo, Don Byas, Benny Goodman Sextet and Beryl Booker among others.
One of the most famous sessions he played on took place in 1945, when Stewart played with Dizzy Gillespie’s group during Charlie Parker’s tenure. Out of those sessions came some of the classic bebop tunes such as “Groovin’ High” and “Dizzy Atmosphere”.
Throughout the rest of his career, Stewart worked regularly and employed his unique and enjoyable bass-playing style trademark of bowing the bass (arco) while simultaneously humming or singing an octave higher until his death on December 10, 1987 in Binghamton, New York.
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Chu Berry was born Leon Brown Berry on September 13, 1908 in Wheeling, West Virginia. Following in his piano playing stepsister’s footprints, Chu became interested in music at an early age, playing alto saxophone at first with local bands. It wasn’t until he heard Coleman Hawkins was he inspired to take up the tenor.
Most of Berry’s abbreviated career was spent in the sax sections of major swing bands of Sammy Stewart, Benny Carter, Teddy Hill, Fletcher Henderson and Cab Calloway. He recorded with Count Basie, Bessie Smith, Mildred Bailey, The Chocolate Dandies, Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday and Lionel Hampton among others.
Although Berry based his style on Hawkins’ playing, the older man regarded Berry as his equal, saying, “‘Chu’ was about the best.” His mastery of advanced harmony and his smoothly-flowing solos on up-tempo tunes influenced such young innovators as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker and Chu was one of the jazz musicians who took part in the jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse in New York that led to the development of bebop.
Collaborating with lyricist Andy Razaf, he composed “Christopher Columbus”, a tune that was the last important hit recording of the Fletcher Henderson orchestra. From 1937 to 1941 he would be associated with Cab Calloway until his death from complications stemming from a car accident. On October 30, 1941, tenor saxophonist Chu Berry passed away. He was just 33 years old. Author Jack Kerouac immortalized him in the beginning of his novella “The Subterraneans”.
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Meade Lux Lewis was born Meade Anderson Lewis on September 4, 1905 in Chicago, Illinois. As a child, he was greatly influenced by pianist Jimmy Yancey.
His 1927 rendition of “Honky Tonk Train Blues” for Paramount Records marked his recording debut and his best-known work. His early recordings included Adrian Rollini, Frankie Trumbauer, classical harpsichordist Sylvia Marlowe, theater organist George Wright and drummer Cozy Cole. His performance at John Hammond’s historic “From Spirituals to Swing” concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938 brought Lewis to public attention.
He went on to perform with Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, played an extended engagement at Café Society, toured as a trio, and inspired the formation of Blue Note Records in 1939. Their success led to a decade long boogie-woogie craze with big band swing treatments by Tommy Dorsey, Will Bradley and others.
He became the first jazz pianist to double on celeste, recorded with Edmond Hall and Charlie Christian, also, then continued to Chicago and California. Lewis appeared in the movies “New Orleans”, “Nightmare” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” playing piano in the scene where George Bailey gets thrown out of Nick’s Bar.
Pianist and composer Meade Lux Lewis, who played the swing, blues and boogie-woogie styles, died in a car accident in Minneapolis, Minnesota on July 7, 1964.
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