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Bass Player with Prodigious Musical AssociatesCopyright © 2002
Wendell Lewis Marshall belonged to a highly musical family, and took up bass in emulation of his cousin, the great but tragically short-lived Jimmy Blanton, whose playing with Duke Ellington in the early 1940s triggered a revolution in jazz bass.
He began playing professionally in his home town in the late 1930s, and played with Lionel Hampton in 1942. He graduated from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, and served in the Army from 1943-6 before returning to his music career.
He recorded with Stuff Smith in St Louis, then moved to New York in 1948, where he worked with Mercer Ellington and then Duke Ellington. He remained in the Duke's band until 1955, and appeared in several films with the orchestra.
He became a freelance in 1955, and was the house bass player for Prestige Records form 1956-63. His rich tone, reliable sense of time and fine technique made him a popular collaborator for a wide range of players and singers. He worked up a prodigious list of musical associates, and is said to have featured on over 150 albums.
He recorded Wendell Marshall with the Billy Byers Orchestra for RCA in 1955, his only album as a leader. He was part of the Jazz Lab quintet led by Donald Byrd and Gigi Gryce, and also worked in more commercial settings in Broadway shows.
He retired in 1968, and returned to St Louis, where he set up his own insurance business.
He died of colon cancer, and is survived by three daughters and two grandsons.