NPR Jazz Profiles - Oscar Pettiford: Bass Beyond Bop
January 30, 2008
One of the giants of the double bass, Oscar Pettiford was known for his fine tone, the clarity of his attack, and the melody of his line. A successor to Jimmy Blanton and a contemporary of Red Callender and Charles Mingus, Pettiford was among the most sought-after musicians in jazz. During his short life, Pettiford distinguished himself as a performer, composer, and bandleader.
Born in 1922 on an Indian reservation in Okmulgee, Okla., Pettiford grew up around music — his father headed the family band, and his mother played the piano and taught music. Even at a young age, “OP,” as he was called by friends, was a talent to be reckoned with. By age 10, Pettiford was singing in front of the family band. By 14, he was playing the bass, and his burgeoning skill would soon change the way the bass was heard and played.
During the early ’40s, Jimmy Blanton, Duke Ellington’s nimble bassist, was redefining the role of the bass in jazz. Blanton and fellow bassist Milt Hinton were both major influences on Pettiford. Once, while living in Minneapolis, Pettiford quit the bass for a steady job, but Hinton convinced him to stay with it. Just months later, he was hired by saxophone-playing bandleader Charlie Barnet. [READ MORE]