Born: May 3, 1926 Primary Instrument: Bass
Jymie Merritt is an American hard bop double-bassist, and a father of a bassist, Mike Merritt, from Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
Raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he received early training as a classical bassist (double bass), but he credits the following experiences, which took place in the 1940s, as proving more significant musically: (1) his early gigs in Philadelphia, PA with pianist Hassan Ibn Ali (duo) and (2) jam sessions, often conducted at his own house, with his mother as hostess, that included such local notables at the time as Jimmy Heath, Philly Joe Jones, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Jimmy Smith, John Dennis and Benny Golson. Other early experiences included gigs with the Jimmy Campbell Quintet and the Ernie Hopkins Quartet. Jymie's first touring experience in the 1950s was with the Bull Moose Jackson Orchestra under the musical direction of Tadd Dameron. He toured also with Chris Powell and the Blue Flames (1952-55), one of the first rock groups; with blues great B.B. King; and later with Red Prysock. Jymie's early jazz instrument was the acoustic double bass. His performing instrument as a rock bassist and blues bassist was a Fender electric bass.
Jymie is perhaps best known for his years touring and recording as an acoustic bassist with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (1958-62).
A number of sources have credited Jymie Merritt with inventing the Ampeg bass, but this information is incorrect. Jymie explains his association with the Ampeg bass as follows: While he was touring with Bull Moose Jackson in the 50s, he met Everett Hull, bassist and developer of the Ampeg system for acoustic bass, and the two developed a friendship. Some years later, Hull sent Jymie a prototype of his latest product, the Ampeg five-string upright bass, which Jymie performed on from 1960 to 1985. Recordings that Jymie made with the Max Roach Quintet (1965-68) and Lee Morgan Quintet (1970-72), including Morgan's Live at the Lighthouse, employ the Ampeg bass. He also used the Ampeg with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band and Quintet and with a number of other groups, including groups led by Lee Shaw, Al Haig, and Archie Shepp.
In periods between touring, Merritt started the Forerunner movement in Philadelphia and served as its artistic guide. The Forerunners--later called Forerunner--brought together performing artists linked by ideas of community and creative exploration.
From 1998 through 2005, Merritt performed weekly on the acoustic bass in a jazz duo at The Prime Rib restaurant in Philadelphia, PA.
To quote reviewer Devin Leonard, Merritt is also an interesting modern composer with a penchant for odd meters and rhythmic patterns. Merritt's newest compositions explore these patterns in a computer-driven context in which he performs on a six-string upright bass.
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