While it was his cousin, Jimmy Blanton, who revolutionized the place of the bass in jazz, Wendell Marshall played on enough great recordings to secure his own place in the music’s history. Marshall died of colon cancer on Feb. 6 in St. Louis, Mo. He was 81.
Born Oct. 24, 1920, in St. Louis, Marshall began his career there in the late 1930s. In 1942 he played with Lionel Hampton, but a stint in the Army (1943-’46) delayed his career a bit. After the Army, Marshall cut some sides with Stuff Smith back home, but in 1948 he went to New York to take over the bass space in Duke Ellington’s band, where he remained until 1955. Blanton, who freed the bass while in Ellington’s group from being simply a time-keeping mechanism, died at age 23 in 1941 from tuberculosis, and while cousin Marshall didn’t set the low-end world on fire with Ellington, he was as steady as they came.
Marshall’s rock-solid style made him an ideal choice as the house bass player for Prestige Records, where he worked on more than 150 dates between 1956 and 1963. His lone date as a leader, Wendell Marshall With the Billy Byers Orchestra (RCA) came out in 1955. Marshall also worked in Donald Byrd and Gigi Gryce’s Jazz Lab quintet and in various nonjazz settings, such as Broadway orchestras. But Marshall retired in 1968 from the hustle and bustle that full-time jazz musicians face, opting to return home to St. Louis and run an insurance business.
He is survived by three daughters and two grandsons.Originally Published