Jymie Merritt was an American jazz double-bassist, electric-bass pioneer, band leader and composer. Merritt was a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers group from 1957 until 1962. The same year he left Blakey's band, Merritt formed his own group, The Forerunners, which he led sporadically until his death in 2020. Merritt also worked as a sideman for blues and jazz musicians such as Bullmoose Jackson, B.B. King, Chet Baker, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, and Lee Morgan.
Jymie Merritt worked in jazz, R&B, and blues. In the early 1950s he toured with rock and roll musicians Bullmoose Jackson and Chris Powell moving on to work with bluesman BB King from 1955 to 1957.
In 1957, Merritt moved to Manhattan, New York, to work with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. The Messenger ensemble Merritt joined featured his friend Benny Golson as well as Bobby Timmons and Lee Morgan. Merritt's touring and recording with Blakey extended until 1962, when an unknown ailment forced him to stop touring.
By 1964, Merritt was back, working with the trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker, and is featured prominently in Baker's unfinished autobiography published under the title As Though I Had Wings: The Lost Memoir.
From 1965 to 1968, Merritt worked with the drummer, composer and activist Max Roach, not only in the rhythm section but as a composer, recording "Nommo" on Roach's Atlantic album Drums Unlimited (1966). "Nommo" would earn Merritt a nomination for Best Jazz Composer in DownBeat magazine's Critics Poll.
Merritt left Max Roach in the late 1960s to work with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, appearing with Gillespie's band on The Dick Cavett Show.
One of Jymie Merritt's most productive showcases as a composer was when he reunited with his former Jazz Messenger colleague gifted trumpeter Lee Morgan. Morgan's Blue Note album Live at the Lighthouse (1970) featuring Merritt's composition "Absolutions" (recorded earlier by Max Roach).
In 1962, Jymie Merritt formed and fronted the Forerunners in Philadelphia. The band, which evolved into a music cooperative exploring Merritt's own system of chord inversions, harmonics, and unique approaches to composition and rehearsals, produced a lexicon of its own known as the Forerunner system or concept. The Forerunner concept in its early days culminated in Merritt's expansive composition "Visions of the Ghost Dance".
Among the original members of the Forerunner band were Odean Pope, Kenny Lowe, Donald Bailey, and September Wrice. This group performed regularly in and around Philadelphia for five years, until Merritt joined Max Roach’s band. Pope also joined Roach’s band, playing with him into the 1970s. Forerunner was on and off periodically from the 1960s through the 1980s, depending on what band Merritt was playing with at the time as well as how his health was. Saxophonist Bobby Zankel was a member of the second incarnation of the band when he joined in 1982, which also included Alan Nelson, Odean Pope, Julian Pressley, Colmore Duncan, and Warren McLendon. Zankel is primarily known as an alto player, but played baritone sax with the band, and described the role of the sax section over solos as taking on an accompanying role, where they would always play under the soloist, comparing it to the typical role of the bassist but in the sax section." Approaching his 90th birthday Merritt continued to rehearse and perform with the current incarnation of The Forerunners, many of whom have been with the ensemble from its inception.