My first meeting with Ed Thigpen was in rehearsal for a series of trio and quartet concerts that took place between 1998 and 2001, mostly in France. The band was led by the fine American pianist Eric Watson and included special guest saxophonist Bennie Wallace. I remember Ed saying to me, “You know, Mark, next year will be my 50th year in show business.” I thought to myself, “‘Show business’—that’s what we’re doing!” On reflection, Ed made me realize that no matter what my self-image was as an artist, at the end of the day, we had an audience who was there to have an experience with us. We’d talk a lot about music and playing in a rhythm section. He’d talk about the mini-pulse within his beat. I remember him telling me to “put the ‘feel-good’ on everything you play.”
Ed told me about his background growing up in Los Angeles, how his mother, who had been a live-in domestic worker for a white family, once had to put him in an orphanage. But I never sensed any bitterness in him; on the contrary, he had a remarkably optimistic attitude and was always looking forward to what the next project was going to be.