Jazz Birthday: Jimmy Blanton (1918)

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Heard the other night in the Denver area on a local jazz radio station: “We’re here to play some great jazz, and on this evening with the presidential debate, we are one of the few places providing a distraction from that and won’t care to say a word about it.” (Thanks to Adam Smith.)

Actually, jazz is not a distraction from the State. The State is a distraction – worse, an impediment – from jazz and all else that is good.

Jimmy Blanton, bassist, was a creative force in Duke Ellington’s orchestra between 1939 and 1941. Blanton took the bass out of its 4 beat to a bar rhythm that predominated. He let loose the bass as a solo instrument and freed it at a time when it needed to be freed so as to be able to accompany and fit in with the modern jazz styles. Here’s “Pitter Panther Patter”. Ellington’s recordings from this period are exceptionally fine, in no small part owing to Blanton’s contribution to the rhythm section’s beat. The timing of the beat in jazz, a matter of fractions of a second, is extremely important. A beat occupies a time interval and the musician can articulate a note with discretion within that interval. Then the sound resonates. A beat too much delayed and the music gets heavy and drags. Too soon and it gets rushed rather than relaxed and elastic. The choice of tempo (beats per minute) is also important to achieving a foot-tapping sound.

5:33 am on October 5, 2012