DeBrest, Spanky (Jimmy)
- Scott Yanow
was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A childhood friend of trumpeter Lee Morgan, DeBrest took up the upright bass early on and as a youth was already part of the very fertile Philadelphia jazz scene. He worked as a teenager with local musicians including co-leading a group with Morgan as early as 1953, and performing with drummer Jimmy DePreist’s band. He acquired the lifelong nickname Spanky during that period, possibly due to his percussive style which sometimes found him snapping a string as he played.
In 1956 Art Blakey arrived in Philadelphia with his Jazz Messengers but was short a bassist and a trumpeter. DeBrest and Morgan subbed for two weeks and, while Morgan decided to stay in Philadelphia for the time being, DeBrest joined Blakey’s group and soon moved to New York. He gained his greatest fame during the next year as a member of the Jazz Messengers.