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Saxophonist Lucky Thompson Dies

Saxophonist Lucky Thompson died on Saturday after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 81.

Born Eli Thompson on June 16, 1924 in Columbia, S.C., Thompson moved to New York in 1943 and soon began to play tenor saxophone with musicians such as Lionel Hampton, Don Redman, Billy Eckstine, Count Basie and Lucky Millinder. After leaving Basie’s orchestra in 1945, Thompson moved to the West Coast, where he was hired by Dizzy Gillespie as a substitute for Charlie Parker.

In 1946, Thompson joined the cooperative band Stars of Swing, created by Charles Mingus and Buddy Collette; however, the group never recorded. By the late 1940s Thompson had moved back to New York and created his own band, which headlined the Savoy Ballroom in the 1950s. He worked in R&B for a short time and made several jazz albums with Oscar Pettiford and Milt Jackson. He also recorded with Miles Davis in Davis’ Prestige session with J.J. Johnson, Horace Silver, Percy Heath and Art Blakey.

Thompson visited Europe in 1956 and recorded in France, while also touring with Stan Kenton. Thompson called Europe home for several years in the late 1950s and early 1960s and then again at the end of the 1960s until 1973. After teaching at Dartmouth for a few years upon his return from Europe, Thompson retired early from music because of the injustices musicians faced from record companies, club owners and others in the music business. He was known as being especially disgusted by the racial discriminatory practices during his time as a musician.

As a musician, Thompson was influenced by both Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas, although he possessed an imaginative and original style. He is considered one of the most inventive saxophonists who worked in the post-bebop mainstream.

Thompson is survived by his son, guitarist Daryl.

Originally Published