On Sunday, July 16, trumpeter, composer and Chicago scene luminary Malachi Thompson lost his battle with cancer. He was 56.
Thompson was best known for his tremendous range in style, a blend of free jazz, bop, soul and gospel. After moving to New York City from Chicago in the mid-1970s, Thompson played with Joe Henderson, Sam Wooding, Jackie McLean, Frank Foster, Sam Rivers and others. In 1978 Thompson formed the renowned Freebop band and in 1991 helmed Africa Brass, a big band who artfully meshed historical pre-swing jazz with bop and the avant-garde. Thompson also performed on albums by Gil Scott-Heron, Quincy Jones and Lester Bowie’s Brass Fantasy. Thompson was a staunch social activist, working with Dr. Martin Luther King’s Operation Breadbasket Orchestra in 1968, a project by Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
After being diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma in 1989, Thompson moved back to Chicago to recover and continued his social work, becoming a devoted supporter of the arts in education, serving as an artist in residence in Chicago’s public schools and founding the Sutherland Community Arts Initiative in 1991. Thompson was also a prolific musician and composer from the early 1990s until his death, releasing nine albums for Chicago label Delmark between 1991 and 2003. Highlights of that catalogue include 47th Street, Rising Daystar (featuring Gary Bartz), and Lift Every Voice. Thompson was an integral member of the nonprofit group the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a relationship that stretched back to 1968. Finally, Thompson was a published writer and jazz historian. In 1996, the Chicago Tribune named Thompson a “Chicagoan of the Year,” and the Washington Post calls him one of the “ageless innovators of jazz.”
On Sept. 1, Africa Brass will play at the Chicago Jazz Festival in Thompson’s honor. Check for updates on this story at jazztimes.com.