Eli "Lucky" Thompson (June 16, 1924 – July 30, 2005)[1] was an American jazz tenor and soprano saxophonist whose playing combined elements of swing and bebop.[2] Although John Coltrane usually receives the most credit for bringing the soprano saxophone out of obsolescence in the early 1960s, Thompson (along with Steve Lacy) embraced the instrument earlier than Coltrane.[3][4]

Lucky Thompson
Lucky Thompson at the Three Deuces, New York, 1947 Photo: William P. Gottlieb
Lucky Thompson at the Three Deuces, New York, 1947
Photo: William P. Gottlieb
Background information
Birth nameEli Thompson
Born(1924-06-16)June 16, 1924
Columbia, South Carolina, U.S.
OriginDetroit, Michigan, U.S.
DiedJuly 30, 2005(2005-07-30) (aged 81)
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
  • Tenor saxophone
  • soprano saxophone
Years active1942–1970s

Early life edit

Thompson was born in Columbia, South Carolina, and moved to Detroit, Michigan, during his childhood.[1][5] Thompson had to raise his siblings after his mother died, and he practiced saxophone fingerings on a broom handle before acquiring his first instrument.[6][7] He joined Erskine Hawkins' band in 1942 upon graduating from high school.[1]

Career edit

After playing with the swing orchestras of Lionel Hampton,[1] Don Redman, Billy Eckstine (alongside Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker),[1] Lucky Millinder, and Count Basie, he worked in rhythm and blues and then established a career in bebop and hard bop, working with Kenny Clarke, Miles Davis, Gillespie and Milt Jackson.

Ben Ratliff observed that Thompson "connected the swing era to the more cerebral and complex bebop style. His sophisticated, harmonically abstract approach to the tenor saxophone built off that of Don Byas and Coleman Hawkins; he played with beboppers, but resisted Charlie Parker's pervasive influence."[1] He showed these capabilities as sideman on many albums recorded during the mid-1950s, such as Stan Kenton's Cuban Fire!, and those under his own name. He recorded with Parker (on two Los Angeles Dial Records sessions) and on Miles Davis's hard bop Walkin' session.[1][5] Thompson recorded albums as leader for Disques Vogue (in Paris), ABC Paramount and Prestige and as a sideman on records for Savoy Records with Jackson as leader.

Thompson was strongly critical of the music business,[1] later describing promoters, music producers and record companies as "parasites" or "vultures".[5] This, in part, led him to move to Paris, where he lived and made several recordings between 1957 and 1962.[1] During this time, he began playing soprano saxophone.[5]

Thompson returned to New York, then lived in Lausanne, Switzerland, from 1968 until 1970,[1] and recorded several albums there including A Lucky Songbook in Europe. He taught at Dartmouth College in 1973 and 1974, then completely left the music business.[1]

Later life edit

Thompson's whereabouts after the mid-1970s are unclear; he is believed to have lived briefly on Manitoulin Island in Canada and in Savannah, Georgia.[1]

In his last years, he lived in Seattle, Washington.[1][5] Acquaintances reported that Thompson was homeless by the early 1990s, and lived as a hermit.[1][5]

Thompson died from Alzheimer's disease in an assisted living facility on July 30, 2005.[1][5][8]

Family edit

Thompson was married to Thelma Thompson, who died in 1963.[9] Thompson's son, guitarist Daryl Thompson, played with Peter Tosh and Black Uhuru before embarking on a jazz career in the late 1980s.[10] Thompson also had a daughter, Jade Thompson-Fredericks, and two grandchildren.[1]

Discography edit

As leader/co-leader edit

As sideman edit

With Louis Armstrong

With Harry Arnold

  • Guest Book (Metronome, 1961)

With Art Blakey

With Benny Carter

  • A Man Called Adam (Reprise, 1965)

With Kenny Clarke

  • Kenny Clarke Plays Pierre Michelot (Columbia, 1957)

With Jimmy Cleveland

With Johnny Dankworth

  • The Zodiac Variations (Fontana, 1964)

With Miles Davis

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Milt Jackson

With Quincy Jones

With Stan Kenton

With John Lewis

With Thelonious Monk

With Oscar Pettiford

With Ralph Sharon

  • Around the World in Jazz (Rama, 1957)

With Martial Solal

  • Martial Solal et Son Grand Orchestre (Swing, 1957)

With Dinah Washington


References edit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Ratliff, Ben (2005-08-05). "Lucky Thompson, Jazz Saxophonist, Is Dead at 81". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-01-16.
  2. ^ "Lucky Thompson | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved August 2, 2021.
  3. ^ "Happy Days - Lucky Thompson | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved August 2, 2021.
  4. ^ "Lucky Strikes - Lucky Thompson | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved August 2, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Chia Hui Hsu, Judy (2005-08-06). "Jazz great Eli Thompson soared for 3 decades, fell silent". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2012-01-16.
  6. ^ Ankeny, Jason. Lucky Thompson at AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  7. ^ a b Cook, Richard; Brian Morton (2008). The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (9th ed.). New York: Penguin. pp. 1397–1398. ISBN 978-0-14-103401-0.
  8. ^ Vacher, Peter (5 October 2005). "Obituary: 'Lucky' Thompson". Theguardian.com. Retrieved 3 December 2017.
  9. ^ Johnson, John H., ed. (August 15, 1963). "New York Beat". JET. Chicago: Johnson. 24 (17): 64. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved 2011-04-26. Thelma Thompson, who died of a stroke, was the wife of tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson. They had been separated for over a year
  10. ^ Johnson, John H., ed. (September 25, 1989). "New Image". JET. Chicago: Johnson. 76 (25): 18. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved 2011-04-26.
  11. ^ "Monk, Thelonious Discography". Blue Note Records. Archived from the original on 2010-01-05. Retrieved 2012-01-16.
  12. ^ Cohen, Noal (November 12, 2018). "Lucky Thompson Discography: 1957-1974". Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  13. ^ Cohen, Noal (November 12, 2018). "Lucky Thompson Discography: 1951-1956". Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  14. ^ Cohen, Noal (November 8, 2018). "Lucky Thompson Discography: 1943-1950". Retrieved December 19, 2018.