Jazz tenor saxophonist played with bop era greats.
Eli "Lucky" Thompson, a jazz tenor saxophonist known for his voluptuous tone and command of the instrument and his work with the greats of the bop era, died July 30 of dementia at an assisted living facility in Seattle. He was 81.
After coming to New York from his native Detroit in the '40s, Thompson landed jobs with swing band greats Lionel Hampton and Count Basie. By the middle of that decade, the new bop music being preached by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie caught his ear. He went on to play with both giants, as well as Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis, among others.
Thompson's composition "Blue 'n' Boogie," which he featured on Davis's 1954 hard-bop album "Walkin'," became a jazz standard. That album is still in print, as are two remarkable solo albums from the '60s, "Lucky Strikes" and "Happy Days," all originally on Prestige and reissued through Fantasy Records.
Not a fan of the seedy side of the jazz label business in that era, Thompson left for Paris in the mid-'50s. He played and recorded with European and expatriate musician colleagues in Paris and also Switzerland.
In the '70s, he returned to the United States for teaching stints at Dartmouth College and Yale University.
Thompson's later years proved anything but lucky. Mounting pressures, including the death of his wife, family strife, civil rights movement calamities and his disillusionment with the business took their toll, and he abandoned teaching and playing.
According to press reports, in recent years, Thompson wandered from town to town across America. He ended up homeless for a time in Seattle before being taken in by fans who knew of his career.
He is survived by three children.