Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy



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Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Soprano Stylings of Lucky Thompson




During the 20th century, Paris served as a musical and financial sanctuary for two of our greatest soprano players: Sydney Bechet, who moved there in 1925, and Steve Lacy who relocated in 1970.  And this also holds true for a third under-rated master of the straight horn: Lucky Thompson.

Thompson's tenure in Paris was more short-lived than that of Bechet and Lacy, both of whom resided there for the majority of their careers. Thompson lived in Paris between 1957 and 1962. The city offered more work, more hope, and more respect--as it did for many American jazz musicians, including Bud Powell and Dexter Gordon.

And for Thompson, this is also where he began to explore the soprano saxophone more deeply.

I can't say for certain, but I suspect that since the Selmer company introduced the Mark VI line of saxophones in 1954, only three years before his arrival, Thompson probably had access to some of the best-made sopranos in the world, in terms of instrumental mechanics and pitch accuracy. This would certainly make a saxophonist less hesitant about trying out the pitch-defiant horn.

Below are 10 notable soprano saxophone performances by Thompson. Bare in mind, these are performances and recordings that I find interesting. In no way are these being presented as Lucky Thompson's greatest work.  Just some cool soprano playing I thought you might enjoy,

What's interesting about these performances is how comfortable he sounds on the instrument. His tone is pretty uniform, in-tune throughout the registers, and very airy--which is very difficult to achieve on the soprano.  Even when employing many of his swinging double-time runs, there is still a strong melodicism that permeates throughout.

On the slower pieces, Thompson proves why he was one of the great balladeers in jazz. In fact, he was one of the first to come along to accentuate the instrument's sensuous side. Even Sidney Bechet while playing ballads on the soprano approached them pretty aggressively and majestically--much in the street parade style of Louis Armstrong. Bechet's fast and wide-vibrato approach was far from soft, sweet nothings in your ear. Thompson, on the other hand, was much more of a straight horn crooner, with a sound and approach that was less robust, more intimate, and more smooth. Saxophonists like Grover Washington Jr. and Kenny G took this idea of smoothness on the soprano to the extreme, but it was Thompson who introduced this sound into the soprano's sonic lexicon.


Video 1:"Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be?)" was recorded in 1968 at the Blue Note in Paris, France for a French television broadcast.

Lucky Thompson - soprano saxophone
Alice Coltrane - piano
Pierre Michelot - bass
Kenny Clarke - drums



Video 2: "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)" was recorded live at the 1962 Moldejazz festival Molde, Norway.

Lucky Thompson - soprano saxophone
Unknown - piano
Unknown - bass
Unknown - drums



Video 3: "On Green Dolphin Street" was recorded for Dutch national radio on November 22, 1968, at Jazz Club B-14 in Rotterdam.

Lucky Thompson - soprano saxophone
Rob Madna - piano
Ruud Jacobs - bass
Eric Ineke - drums



Video 4 - "The World Awakes" from his album Soul's Nite Out, released in 1971 on the Spanish label Ensayo in 1971.

Lucky Thompson - soprano saxophone
Tete Montoliu - piano
Eric Peter - bass
Peer Wyboris - drums



Video 5: "When Sunny Gets Blue" from his album Soul's Nite Out, released in 1971 on the Spanish label Ensayo.

Lucky Thompson - soprano saxophone
Tete Montoliu - piano
Eric Peter - bass
Peer Wyboris - drums



Video 6: “You Don’t Know What Love Is” from his album Happy Days, recorded March 8, 1963- February 16, 1965, released in 1965 on the Prestige label.

Lucky Thompson - soprano saxophone
Tommy Flanagan - piano
George Tucker - bass
Walter Perkins - drums



Video 7: "Einsames Mädchen Am Meer" from the album  Four Brothers, released November 25, 1960, on the German label Sonogram.

Lucky Thompson - soprano saxophone (on this cut)
Helmut Brandt - tenor and baritone saxophones
Bent Jaedig - tenor sax
Barney Wilsen - soprano and tenor saxophones
Roland Kovac - piano
Larry Atwell - guitar
Jürgen Ehlers - bass
Rudi Pronk - drums



Video 8:  “In a Sentimental Mood” from his album Lucky Strikes, recorded September 15, 1964,  and released in 1965 on the Prestige label.

Lucky Thompson - soprano saxophone
Hank Jones - piano
Richard Davis - bass
Connie Kay – drums




Video 9: "Beautiful Tuesday" from the album Lord, Lord Am I Ever Gonna Know?,  released in 1961 on Candid Records.

Lucky Thompson - soprano saxophone
Martial Solal - piano
Peter Trunk - bass
Kenny Clarke - drums


Video 10: “Have You Met Miss Jones” from the album Lucky in Paris, recorded January 14, 1959, and released in 1999 on High Note records.

Lucky Thompson - soprano saxophone
Martial Solal - piano
Michael Hausser - vibes
Gilbert Gassin - bass
Gerard Pochonet - drums





Please check out my book Life Lessons from the Horn and my new CD, Sopranoville.

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2 comments:

  1. Great choices! Are you also a fan of Barney Wilen's soprano playing?

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