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Album Review

Tenor saxophonist Eli "Lucky" Thompson came up in Detroit but made all of his earliest recordings in the Los Angeles area during the 1940s. This fascinating album of rare jazz opens with a mind-blowing Timme Rosenkrantz-sponsored jam session recorded on December 26, 1944. Thompson leads an ensemble combining violinist Stuff Smith, trombonist Bobby Pratt, pianist Erroll Garner, and drummer George Wettling. "Test Pilots" appears to be a collective improvisation during which, like many Stuff Smith dates, the mood is wonderfully relaxed and informal. Recording for the Excelsior label in September of 1945, Lucky Thompson's All-Stars consisted of trumpeter Karl George, trombonist J.J. Johnson, bop clarinetist Rudy Rutherford and a tough rhythm section in Bill Doggett, Freddie Green, Rodney Richardson, and Shadow Wilson. In August, 1946, Thompson appeared in a live performance with fellow tenor Jack McVea and trumpeter Howard McGhee, along with pianist Jimmy Bunn, guitarist Irving Ashby, bassist Red Callender and drummer Jackie Mills. The proceedings were recorded and issued on the Black and White label under the heading of "Ralph Bass' Junior Jazz Series." The five-minute "Oodle Coo Bop" is really "Ornithology." It is followed by a gutsy jam titled "Bopin' Bop," and a 12-minute blowout simply called "Big Noise." This begins with a detailed introduction by producer Ralph Bass, who speaks like a 1940s high school principal or camp counselor. "Body and Soul," a feature for Hilton Jefferson-styled alto saxophonist Les Robinson, was included for the sake of completeness even though Thompson is not heard on this track. His next date as a leader occurred on September 13, 1946 and is noteworthy for the presence of piano genius Dodo Marmarosa. Red Callender and Jackie Mills acted as the perfect "other half" of this smart little quartet. Dodo and Red were present at the "Lucky Moments" session on April 22, 1947, where Thompson delivered a masterpiece in tenor sax ballad artistry, "Just One More Chance." This inventive octet included Benny Carter, Neal Hefti, baritone saxophonist Bob Lawson, guitarist Barney Kessel, and Lester Young's brother Lee on the drums. It forms one rousing conclusion for this excellent collection of Lucky Thompson's earliest recordings.


Born: 16 June 1924 in Columbia, SC

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Born in Columbia, SC, on June 16, 1924, tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson bridged the gap between the physical dynamism of swing and the cerebral intricacies of bebop, emerging as one of his instrument's foremost practitioners and a stylist par excellence. Eli Thompson's lifelong nickname -- the byproduct of a jersey, given him by his father, with the word "lucky" stitched across the chest -- would prove bitterly inappropriate: when he was five, his mother died, and the remainder of his childhood,...
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Top Albums and Songs by Lucky Thompson

1944-1947, Lucky Thompson
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