Ave Lucky Thompson

Years before his death at the end of July, disillusionment, indigence, homelessness and mental illness stilled Lucky Thompson’s tenor saxophone. His life began to unravel in the sixties. In the early seventies, he played little, then stopped. Kind strangers who admired his music saw after him in his last years.
I never knew Mr. Thompson, never saw him in live performance, but his work reached me from the first time I heard it on Charlie Parker’s 1946 Dial recordings. On “Moose The Mooche,” “Yardbird Suite,” “Ornithology” and “A Night in Tunisia,” Thompson’s solos suggested elements of Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas, but the surge and thrust of his invented lines and the swagger in his delivery—particularly on the master take of “Tunisia”—set him apart from other tenor players. He was not, srictly speaking, one of the early bebop artists, but his playing fit perfectly with theirs. Later, I went back a step to 1944 to listen to Thompson on Count Basie’s “Taps Miller” and “Avenue C” and found that he was a fully formed soloist at twenty, mixing smoothness and roughness in perfect balance.
If I were to recommend essential Thompson recordings to people unfamiliar with him, I would start with the Parker Dials, then refer them to the 1954 Miles Davis Walkinsession on Prestige, which has some of Thompson’s greatest solos. Of his own albums, I suggest Tricotimsm (1956) on Impulse! and Lucky Strikes (1964) on Prestige. Tricotism includes bassist Oscar Pettiford and pianist Hank Jones, with both of whom Thompson had special rapport. The album is hard to find. Here is one possible source. Jones, with bassist Richard Davis and drummer Connie Kay, is also on Lucky Strikes. In it, Thompson plays soprano saxophone in addition to tenor, and the album may well be his masterpiece.

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