Jazz bassist helped pioneer electric bass
By David Sands
May 3, 2016
We’d like to give big birthday salute out today to acclaimed jazz bassist, bandleader and composer Jymie Merritt, who just turned 90-years-old.
A skilled double bassist and early electric bass trailblazer, the venerable music man has enjoyed a rather remarkable career that’s seen him perform and records with greats like Art Blakey, Max Roach and Chet Baker. He’s also known as the founder of the The Forerunners, a progressive Philly-based music collective that got its start in the 1960s.
In addition to his early adoption of the electric upright bass and the Fender electric bass, Merritt also has a unique style of playing, which often makes use of triplet figures and putting notes ahead of the beat.
Mike Merritt, his son who plays bass with Conan O’Brien’s house band, on his website calls the elder Merritt “the reason why I do what I am doing today.”
Born to a businessman father and a mother who directed a choir and taught piano and vocals, Jymie Merritt came into this world in Philadelphia on May 3, 1926. He first picked up the tenor bass as a teenager, but due to sinus issues eventually gave that up for the bass.
With his instrument of choice now selected, the budding bass player furthered his education at the Philadelphia Conservatory of the Arts and the Ornstein School of Music in Philly. Classically trained, he also studied with Philadelphia Orchestra bassist Carl Torello.
During the 1940s, Merritt got his start in the music business playing with jazz artists like John Coltrane and Benny Golson. He branched off into blues and R&B in the 1950s, making music with artists like Bull Moose Jackson, Chris Powell and B.B. King. By the end of the decade, however, he returned to jazz to play with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.
Later he performed with Max Roach, Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie and Lee Morgan and also became known for his work with different incarnations of The Forerunners.
He won the Clef Club of Philadelphia’s Living Legend jazz award in 2013. This past January, the bassist was honored at a special Philadelphia event called “The Music of Jymie Merritt and The Forerunners,” which was recorded for broadcast on NPR’s Jazz Night in America.
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