In the first paragraph of Part 3 of this series, it was not by random choice that I included Red Mitchell’s name in the short list of important bassists who emerged in the 1940s. He discovered ways of playing the instrument that made a difference in the bass’s role in jazz. Bill Crow, the hero of part 3, has kindly agreed to expand on some of the reasons for Mitchell’s importance.
In between the Blanton (and Pettiford) soloing styles that were so influential in the 1940s and 50s and the new age that was marked by Scott LaFaro’s playing, was Red Mitchell. Red was the first bassist I heard who used a lower action, pressed rather than pulled the strings and used some left-handed plucking articulation. It cut his in-person volume down a lot, but was phenomenal on recordings. And his solo lines were melodic, horn-like, and very original. He opened up the ears of a lot of us to other possibilities of the instrument. I think he may have given Scotty some ideas. And this was all pre-amplification. When Red finally started using pickups, the result was beautifully audible soloing at the highest level.
In the early 1980s, Mitchell worked frequently in a duo with Bill Mays. In their performance of a Thelonious Monk piece, he demonstrates what Bill Crow emphasizes about his peer’s skill and originality.