Jazz music, news and views

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

RIP Malachi Thompson


Trumpeter Malachi Thompson passed away on July 16, 2006 in his home. Though he was a native of Kentucky, he is strongly associated with Chicago’s jazz scene, having grown up and discovered jazz there. The city's deep jazz and blues roots are his as well. By his late teens, he was a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and was discovering his voice, which would become rich with the influences of traditional R&B, bebop, hardbop, free jazz and, of course, the blues. He relocated to New York in 1974 with the encouragement of Art Blakey and freelanced with Joe Henderson, Sam Rivers, Jackie McLean, Frank Foster, Archie Shepp and Lester Bowie among others. Bowie and Thompson co-led Brass Proud from the mid-‘70s until 1980 and Thompson remained in the group when it became Brass Fantasy.

Thompson was also responsible for founding and leading some notable groups of his own. His Freebop Band first took form in the late ‘70s when he was part of New York’s loft scene, and he maintained the group through the ‘90s, which has featured some singularly powerful reedmen like Gary Bartz, Billy Harper, Carter Jefferson, Joe Ford, Oliver Lake and George Adams. Africa Brass was born after Thompson’s return to Chicago (he had lived for a time in Washington D.C. and Vienna) and blended elements of early brass bands, big bands and Afro-Cuban music.

The trumpeter received well-deserved honors from jazz media, as well as commissions from foundations, and recognition from the public for his tireless efforts to keep Chicago’s jazz scene vital in his lifetime. He served as a clinician, writer, historian and spokesman for jazz education. In addition to over a dozen recordings under his own name (and over two dozen with other artists), Thompson’s memory is preserved in the The Sutherland, a play penned by Charles Smith and loosely inspired by Thompson’s own life story.

He was diagnosed with lymphoma in the 1980s, and though it had been in remission for the past two decades, it claimed his life at 56 years old. Throughout his career, he explored all corners of jazz, spanning its varied history and bringing that history to its present audience in a reverent -- and relevant -- form.

Read:
- Thompson's obituary by Howard Reich in the Chicago Tribune.
- An article by Thompson: “The Evolution of Jazz and the Survival of Our Democratic Society.”
- An article on his life, scholarship and thoughts on African-American music from American Visions.

Listen to:
- A feature on Thompson hosted by Steve Edwards of the program “Eight Forty-Eight” on WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio).

And pick up a copy of 47th Street, Thompson’s dedication to a jazz avenue in Bronzeville on the south side of Chicago where jazz and the city’s black community thrived (in a fashion similar to Central Avenue here in Los Angeles). Some of the music on this album was written for The Sutherland.

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