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Jimmy Blanton: How Low Can You Go: Anthology of the String Bass (1925-1941)

Prior to Jimmy Blanton joining Duke Ellington’s orchestra in 1939 and permanently changing its history, the string bass was considered a particularly lowly instrument in jazz. Utilized to state the beat in swing-era big bands, it was otherwise considered rather dispensable, a mere frivolity. Stride pianists generally covered its function with their left hand, the tuba was often used in its place until the early 1930s, and the bass was even considered impossible to record prior to 1925. The essential and attractive three-CD set How Low Can You Go: Anthology of the String Bass (1925-1941), compiled, produced and put out by Steven Lance Ledbetter and Dick Spottswood on their Dust-to-Digital label, gives the early jazz bassists a complete reappraisal. The first 53 selections chronologically trace the instrument’s evolution from the earliest jazz bass recording (Harry Barth with Ted Lewis on “Milenberg Joys”) to Blanton. Along the way one hears from such assertive and personable players as Steve Brown, Thelma Terry, Wellman Braud, Pops Foster, Walter Page, Milt Hinton (though Israel Crosby’s “Blues of Israel” is missing) plus many forgotten names from jazz, blues, country and Western Swing groups. The third disc has an additional 26 performances featuring Bill Johnson. Although he did not have a chance to record on bass until 1928, Johnson had toured as early as 1908 and is the father of it all.

Originally Published