Lucky Thompson In Person

The logical followup to the piece below about Chris Byars’ hero Lucky Thompson is a piece by Thompson. Here’s a film from Paris in 1959 at the Blue Note. The rhythm section is Bud Powell, piano; Pierre Michelot, bass; Jimmy Gourley, guitar; Kenny Clarke, drums. The compostion is Dizzy Gillespie’s and Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology.” The video clip ends before the tune does, but this is a rare opportunity to see the great tenor saxophonist in action with a band of his peers.

Make that two pieces by Thompson. This is from a 1957 French television broadcast. The song is “I’ll Remember April.” Michelot and Clarke are again in the rhythm section. This time the pianist is Martial Solal. Thompson’s ingenious exploitation of the chords is an example of the harmonic inventiveness that won him the admiration of musicians from the 1940s to this day.

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  1. says

    Exhilarating work by a master. Grand to see the great Lucky in happier times. How could such a creative and valued musician not strike luckier? How could his life devolve into such disgust with recording and the music biz, and then to his rapid descent into illness and silence? A man who worked at the home or hospital or whatever in Seatle where Lucky wound up used to visit my store occasionally and give painful reports on his final months. Thompson deserved much more from life. Thanks for the series of reminders.

  2. says

    In response to Ed Leimbacher:

    Yes, Lucky had a life filled with much difficulty, some of which he provided to himself and plenty that came his way. However, I’m not sure sure if he valued comfort, luxury, and appreciation over the abilities that he refined to the pinnacle of human achievement. At some point, the case must be made that even though he was not (and is still not) on the cover of the Jazz Magazines, Time’s Man of the Year, etc. there is an intrinsic reward to being the best at something. This man knew how to express himself with pinpoint accuracy with two saxophones and also pen and staff paper, and did so from the 1940’s into the 1970’s, a career much longer than the much-lauded Lester Young, John Coltrane, and Charlie Parker for example. Perhaps the unlucky ones are all the folks who haven’t heard his music yet. Let’s investigate the possibility that experiencing music as he did could have actually meant more than all the awards he could have received, all the pats on the back and all the huge paychecks. That “more from life” stuff is for folks like Quincy Jones.

    Did you ever hear Lucky tear into Quincy’s arrangement “Count ‘Em” on Introducing Jimmy Cleveland and His All Stars? Who’s the king in the castle, and who lives in the village…you decide! I’d rather be Lucky Thompson. He played that way because it was the most important thing in his life – it’s the only way you get THAT good. So he got what he wanted (although he said in 1968 that he felt like he was only scratching the surface). I don’t share the tragic view of his life; it overlooks the joy of playing music on a high level like this, for decades and decades. I appreciate your concern and I think it’s a noble thought, but don’t underestimate the feeling that comes with playing music on that level! In many ways, this man had it all, and I don’t think he would appreciate being pitied.

    • says

      Pity? You mistake me, sir. I didn’t pity Thompson, nor did I intend for anyone reading that brief comment to think such. I felt sad and angry whenever reminded that Lucky had fallen on hard times. (Surely you see some irony in the name he bore?) He had a fine, long, praised-by-many career, and I hope he enjoyed the praise when it was offered. One can always argue that adversity, bad luck, ignorant philistine critics (pick your poison) just make the proud artist more determined and driven. But not always; some folks, even musicians, do sputter and fade and quit.

      Of course you know Thompson’s life and works much better than I ever will. My impression from reading and listening (I mean to the info offered by deejays, Jazz fans, and others, including the male attendent I mentioned) was/is that the man was dissatisfied, sometimes angry–with producers, labels, the results of sessions, the money he was or wasn’t paid, the racism experienced by African-Americans, and more–and then finally too disgusted to keep up the pretense of just getting on with it. How and why did he wind up living on the streets, sleeping rough, refusing not just to play but even to speak? I’ll use words you may not approve of–didn’t his talent, dedication, compositions, hard-won success merit a better finish, perhaps an old age rich with memories, friends, praise, like those later years enjoyed by the honored elders of Jazz? Saying that Lucky lived longer and played more (quantitatively) than Pres, Bird, and Trane doesn’t prove much of anything; I’d say examining your premise that compared to those three, he also had less impact on listeners and on the course of Jazz. I think we both believe that his works should be better known; and based on what he did achieve, I selfishly would also like to have heard the solos he didn’t get to make and the later works he didn’t get, or choose, to write.

  3. Colm O'Sullivan says

    I admire Chris Byars open hearted arduous love for Lucky Thompson so much, and, in fact, I admire Chris Byars! He’s wonderful!
    I thought that this might be pertinent: follow this link, and scroll down to find the “Real Audio Interviews” list, which includes a link for a lengthy enough interview with Lucky Thompson himself, late in his life. It’s a while since I heard it, but I remember it being fascinating and by-times wonderful…

    (of course, there’s plenty else of huge interest on this list of interviews too – all that Desmond and Bird stuff).
    And how great to see this footage of Thompson with Martial Solal… how I wish we heard a piano solo here too… it would have been staggering, I know. Solal, in fact, has, of this writing, just completed another week in The Village Vanguard, late in April/2011. By all accounts it was an amazing, amazing triumph (and there is an NPR broadcast available for listening, for those smart enough to be inclined).

    (Posted by the Rifftides staff for Mr. O’Sullivan from an e-mail message because the comment submission procedure failed him. Therefore, DR’s photo appears with his comment. There is no physical resemblance beyond the usual positioning of nose, eyes, et al.)