In his short tenure with Duke Ellington, Jimmy Blanton became the first great double bass virtuoso in jazz. Blanton had both the technique and the fine tone to take this style of playing to higher levels. Blanton took the bass, which had previously been used only to keep time and lay down a basic harmonic foundation, to a new dimension where it became an instrument capable of horn-like solos. Blanton truly turned the musical world onto the possibilities of using the bass as a melodic instrument, both bowed and plucked. His uniqueness lay not only in what he played, but how he played. His influence on generations of bassists has been monumental.
James Jimmy Blanton was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in October of 1918. His mother, a pianist who led her own band, started Jimmy on the violin during childhood. While studying at Tennessee State College, he switched to the string bass and started playing with the State Collegians and local bands led by Bugs Roberts and drummer Joe Smith. During his summer vacations Blanton played on the riverboat circuit with pianist Fates Marable's band, the Cotton Pickers.
After his third year of college, Blanton packed up and moved to St. Louis. In 1937 he joined the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra, playing a three-string bass. He continued to play with Fates Marable in the summer months, and at this time began to hone the skills that would be bring him fame later on.