March 2007

Malachi Thompson (8.21.49 – 7.16.06)

Moving forward with a complete commitment to your journey is a rare feat for most people. Malachi Thompson is an extraordinary spirit who undoubtedly did this. He embraced his calling with an unrelenting conviction. I speak of my friend and comrade Malachi in the present, for there is no death in an African-centered consciousness; there is only the transition of spirit from one level to another.

Malachi Richard Thompson was a star even when we were in high school. He was two years ahead of me and I wanted to reach the same level of musicianship that he had at such a young age. Cats were talking about him and listening to him all over Chicago. He was performing with Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Operation Breadbasket Band with Ari Brown and for Record Row recording sessions as well as at Von Freeman jam sessions. The cat was the talk of the town.

Malachi was hip. He dressed hip, talked hip, walked hip and played hip. By hip I’m referring to what I call “The Highly Intelligent Perspective.” Brother Thompson imbued this aura. He was a quintessential Chicago-style musician. He played in a variety of genres with a singular voice and exemplary execution. The man had a lot of style. He could express something very intellectual and give it an urban realness simultaneously.

In the early ’70s, Malachi Thompson left Chicago for New York. We heard nothing but good things about him. He formed a trumpet ensemble with Lester Bowie, Olu Dara, Wynton Marsalis and Stafford James. You had to be a bad dude to pull something like that off. He also led his Free Bop Band that included such greats as Gary Bartz, Billy Harper, Oliver Lake, Carter Jefferson, Hamiet Bluiett, Kirk Brown, Avree Ra, Nasar Abadey and Amiri Baraka. He led and composed for Africa Brass and that included such Chicago greats as Steve Berry, Bill McFarland, Bob Griffin, Corey Wilkes, Ike Jackson, Leon Joyce, Dr. Cuz, Enoch Williamson and Dee Alexander.

The last time I saw Malachi was at the Delmark recording studio. I was finishing mixing my own session and he was coming in after me. Many of his band members arrived earlier than he. We were all discussing our regrets about Malachi’s illness and we had doubts that he would be able to conduct the session because he was coming directly from chemotherapy. Brother Thompson was amazing; I will never forget that night. He was so spiritually focused and clear. He made the cats play. It was inspirational. I witnessed an example of pure love and ultimate conviction.

As a young cat Malachi showed me how to get into this music and he has now shown me the right way to take it out. I will never forget him and will always respect his example and commitment. Thanks Daddio! Job well done.

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