Tag Archives: Music

The great Eddie Thompson

Peter Batten pays tribute to one of the great British jazz pianists

One wet Friday evening in November 1961 I was about to leave my place of work, the Stevenage College of Further Education. As I came to the main entrance I met a bachelor colleague. Like me he was new to the College; we had both arrived in September.

“What are you doing this evening?” he asked. I explained that I was going to a jazz club run by one of my new neighbours. 

“May I join you?” he asked.

Later that evening he gave me a lift and we arrived at the club just as Eddie Thompson was about to play. His dog was already settled comfortably under the grand piano.

Eddie [1925-86] had long been recognised as one of our finest jazz pianists. Born blind, he attended the same school as the great George Shearing. Like some other people with his disability, he turned to piano tuning as his trade. However his talent for jazz soon began to shine through. He performed  solo and with bands in a variety of styles. That evening, although I had heard several of his recordings, I was to hear him in person for the first time. I fell in love with his playing. What I did not know was that his dog was about to retire. A few months later Eddie took a very brave decision to try his luck in the clubs of New York.

He was away for ten years. Although he won great respect in New York, he knew that the experience would enhance his ability to make a living in London. By the time he returned I was working at a new college in South London. He often appeared nearby at a pub called the Leather Bottle in Merton. One of my friends played bass with Eddie at his regular gig at the Playboy Club as well at Merton so I was introduced. At that time I was very fond of a great song by Tadd Dameron called “If You Could See Me Now.” Eddie played it superbly, so it became a regular request from me.

Then I decided to give myself a special treat. The music studio at the Sutton College was equipped with a small Bosendorfer grand piano, one of the world’s finest pianos. I arranged for Eddie to give a solo performance for an audience of about 50 people. He loved the piano. The result was an evening of outstanding jazz. I never heard him play better. And there was a bonus. Eddie had a very sharp wit and a stock of jokes, most of them unsuited for polite company. It was an “Evening with Eddie Thompson” to remember.

As we entered the 1980s he was playing better than ever. Sadly his years were limited. He was diagnosed with emphysema. Within 18 months he declined rapidly, was housebound, confined to bed and died, aged 61. He had been a very heavy smoker.     ]

If you want to know what a great player he was, call up some of his recordings on Youtube. I would particularly recommend “One Morning in May” by his trio with the great Martin Drew on drums.

At 87 years of age I have been shielding at home during Lockdown. That is my excuse for leading you back through my memories of a lovely, gifted man. One special evening comes to mind. It was August and very hot. I went to the Bull’s Head at Barnes, a famous jazz venue, to hear the great American saxophonist Johnny Griffin. To my delight Eddie was at the piano, with Martin Drew on drums. The music was fantastic, the room was packed, the sweat was pouring off us and even seemed to be running down the walls. Through it all I could see Eddie, exactly opposite me at the grand piano, a broad grin on his face, enjoying the chance to accompany such a great musician.

A final story. One of Eddie’s friends had given him a lift home from a gig. Eddie invited him to come in for a coffee. The curtains were drawn, the house was in total darkness and the friend began to collide with the furniture. “Sorry” said Eddie, “I’ll put the light on. I’d forgotten you could see”.

Music at West Hill Hall

13 October 7:30pm
Danny Schmidt + Carrie Elkin

Don’t miss these two great artists in a rare double-bill performance, sharing songs back and forth, lending their voices to each other’s tunes in perfect harmony. Tickets £9

26 October 7pm
Cold Pumas’ Album Launch
Local band launch their debut album, released on Faux Discx records, with support from Sauna Youth, Fair Ohs and Sealings. Tickets £5

3 November 6pm
Riots Not Diets Halloween Bonanza
Film screening of cult 90s teen-horror film, “The Craft”, followed by a variety of Riot Grrrl/Queer Noise bands in the shape of Faggot, Methodist Centre, Roseanne Barrr, Phat Trophies. A terrifyingly fun time guaranteed for all. Tickets £6

WAS 16 November 7.30pm – NEW DATE TBC in 2013
BLURT – POSTPONED
Legendary saxophone driven post-punk trio return to Brighton for a one-off show in a venue which could have been made for them. Led by Ted Milton, Blurt are one of the few surviving 70s post punk outfits to have become tighter, leaner, and more explosive with the passing of time. Tickets £7 OTD, £5.50 adv

Off the Cuff

When it comes to going out and seeing live music we are spoiled for choice in Brighton, and here in West Hill we are even more privileged given our proximity to two of the more lively and happening venues in our city, The Green Door Store in Trafalgar Arches and The Prince Albert in Trafalgar Street. For those of you who don’t know TGDS, it is a bar, nightclub and live music venue. It has a basic, punky feel; intimate, with low lighting and stripped back décor – a capacity of around 150 in the performance room (behind the curtain). It serves reasonably priced drinks at the bar, with a super selection of bottled ales (including many local brews); a place which accommodates both the gig/club goers and punters who just want to enjoy the bar. Fast becoming a hip stop on the national music scene, artists visiting this year have included legends The Monochrome Set and Vic Goddard’s Subway Sect, plus more recent hipsters such as The Travelling Band.
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Mini Movers Dance Group

Thursdays 11.30-12.15 at West Hill Hall

Every parent knows just how much little children love to dance. From a very young age, often way before they can walk, they begin to dance. It seems responding to music with simple rhythmic movement is a deeply ingrained instinct and a very important part of being human. Although as adults many of us lose touch with this instinct, saying we “can’t dance” or are “not musical”, I have yet to come across a young child who does not respond to music with rudimentary dancing. It is often amazing to see just what a good sense of rhythm a baby can have at an age when they seem hardly able to control their bodies in other ways. Shaking a rattle, banging on the table or rocking and swaying along to the radio is an important way for young children to learn about how their bodies work and how to make an impact on the world around them. I remember when my own child was just 6 months old she was rocking back and forth to a Bob Dylan track, then when the middle eight came on she started swaying from side to side instead. I was very impressed with her sense of musicality, as well as her good taste in music!
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