Even in the few years he was able to make a name for himself, Jimmy Blanton helped change the face of jazz bass. Blanton, who was cited as an influence by the likes of Ray Brown and Charles Mingus, drove the bass into the spotlight as a viable solo instrument by playing horn-like melodies, but he also changed the sound of the jazz band by way of his pizzicato technique.
“Most importantly, he was the first to develop the long tone in pizzicato,” jazz historian Gunther Schuller wrote. “Blanton maximize[d] the natural resonance of the string by using as much of the fleshy length of the finger as possible—plucking the string with the finger parallel to the string, rather than plucking across at right angles; and plucked the string at the point where it sets in vibration the maximum resonance. Instead of the usual quick-decay of ordinary pizzicato playing, Blanton could produce whole notes or half notes or other longer durations at will.”
Blanton was the bassist for Duke Ellington for two short years before he left the band and eventually succumbed to tuberculosis. Here’s a rare clip taken from Ellington’s Centennial Collection in which Blanton takes a solo on the song “Sepia Panorama.” It wasn’t uncommon for him to take a solo, but this clip is a rare instance of the bassist playing slap-style in addition to his signature pizzicato.