Thompson, Lucky [Eli] (Columbia, SC, 16 June 1924)


Tenor and soprano saxophonist



He toured with the 'Bama State Collegians, then moved to New York in 1943. After six months with Lionel Hampton he became a member of Billy Eckstine's bop orchestra in 1944 and spent a year with Count Basie (1944-5). He then moved to Los Angeles, where he was in great demand as a studio musician. He played on more than 100 recordings in two years, both as a leader (he later cited as a personal favorite the magnificent version of Just one more Chance recorded in 1947) and as a sideman; in 1946 he participated in sessions with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.


After returning to New York (1948) Thompson led his own band at the Savoy (1951-3) and in 1954 made a major contribution to the session in which Miles Davis recorded Walkin'. In 1956 he made a number of recordings as a leader in Paris, and then toured Europe and the USA with Stan Kenton. From 1957 to 1962 he lived in France; during this period he mastered the soprano saxophone and he worked steadily throughout Europe. After a period of comparative inactivity he lived again in France (1968-71). In 1973-4 he taught at Dartmouth College, and then, disillusioned with the music business, he retired.


Thompson was an important player whose style drew on the work of Coleman Hawkins and Don Byas, tempered by the lighter tone of Lester Young and his own creative approach. He was one of the first of the modern group of soprano saxophonists.


 Scott Yanow


The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Macmillan Reference Ltd 1988