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Lucky Thompson

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Lucky Thompson

Lucky Thompson
Al McKibbon, Lucky Thompson and Hilda A. Taylor at the Three Deuces, New York, 1947.
Photo: William P. Gottlieb.
Background information
Birth name Eli Thompson
Born June 16, 1924
Columbia, South Carolina, United States
Origin Detroit, Michigan
Died July 30, 2005(2005-07-30) (aged 81)
Seattle, Washington
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Saxophonist
Instruments Tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone
Years active 1942–1970s
Associated acts Lionel Hampton, Don Redman, Billy Eckstine, Lucky Millinder, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker

Eli "Lucky" Thompson (June 16, 1924 – July 30, 2005)[1] was an American jazz tenor and soprano saxophonist. While 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.[2][3]


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
  • Later life 3
  • Family 4
  • Discography 5
    • As sideman 5.1
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Thompson was born in Columbia, South Carolina, and moved to Detroit, Michigan, during his childhood.[1][4] Thompson had to raise his siblings after his mother died, and he practiced saxophone fingerings on a broom handle before acquiring his first instrument.[5][6] He joined Erskine Hawkins' band in 1942 upon graduating from high school.[1]


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, Dizzy Gillespie and Milt Jackson.

Ben Ratliff notes 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 Charlie Parker (on two Los Angeles Dial Records sessions) and on Miles Davis’s hard bop Walkin' session.[1][4] Thompson recorded albums as leader for ABC Paramount and Prestige and as a sideman on records for Savoy Records with Milt Jackson as leader.

Thompson was strongly critical of the music business,[1] later describing promoters, producers and record companies as "parasites" or "vultures".[4] 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.[4]

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

In his last years he lived in Seattle, Washington.[1][4] Acquaintances reported that Thompson was homeless by the early 1990s, and lived as a hermit.[1][4] Thompson died in an assisted living facility on July 30, 2005.[1][4]


Thompson was married to Thelma Thompson, who died in 1963.[7] Thompson's son, guitarist Daryl Thompson, played with Peter Tosh and Black Uhuru before embarking on a jazz career in the late 1980s.[8] Thompson also had a daughter, Jade Thompson-Fredericks, and two grandchildren.[1]


As sideman

With Oscar Pettiford

With Art Blakey

With Jimmy Cleveland

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Milt Jackson
With Thelonious Monk
With Stan Kenton
With Dinah Washington


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Ratliff, Ben (2005-08-05). "Lucky Thompson, Jazz Saxophonist, Is Dead at 81".  
  2. ^ , DaysLucky Thompson -
  3. ^ , StrikesLucky Thompson -
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Chia Hui Hsu, Judy (2005-08-06). "Jazz great Eli Thompson soared for 3 decades, fell silent".  
  5. ^ Ankeny, Jason. Lucky Thompson at AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-01-17.
  6. ^ a b  
  7. ^  
  8. ^  
  9. ^ "Monk, Thelonious Discography".  
  10. ^ Yanow, Scott. Mellow Mama at AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-01-18.

External links

Complete Discography Overview
Complete Discography 1943 - 1950
Complete Discography 1951 - 1956
Complete Discography 1957 - 1974

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