Lucky Thompson (ts, ss), Roger Guérin, Fernand Verstraete, Christian Bellest (tp), Benny Vasseur, Charles Verstraete, André Paquinet (tb), Jo Hrasko, Teddy Hameline (as), Jean-Louis Chautemps (ts), Michel de Villers (as, bs), William Boucaya (bs), Martial Solal, Henri Renaud (p), Jean-Pierre Sasson (g), Benoit Quersin (b), Gérard Pochonet, Roger Paraboschi (d), Christian Chevallier, Jack Sels (arr)
Reference: FSRCD 938
Bar code: 8427328609388
In the months following his arrival in Paris in February 1956, American tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson appeared in more record sessions than he had in years in his own country. Although his recordings in France were mostly with small groups, he also recorded four sessions with medium-sized orchestras made up by some of the most relevant jazzmen of the Parisian scene.
For the first of these sessions, Lucky joined the Modern Jazz Group —a ten-piece band— to play a series of compositions written by pianist Henri Renaud, and newly arranged to highlight Thompson’s rhythmic, melodic and harmonic imagination. For the remaining three, he had the backing of Dave Pochonet leading several all-star groups that played originals and well-conceived arrangements penned by Lucky. In addition to his writing, his splendid solos project some hard-driving swing, as well as lyricism in the Hawkins-Webster mood. Most of his charts also offer ample solo space for other band members, who don’t squander the chance and jump in with more than commendable musicianship.
Thompson’s effort to sustain a high, solid mood throughout these sessions is somewhat amazing, making it clear that he was not only a saxophonist of excellent control of tone and ideas, but also an imaginative composer and unpretentious arranger.
"Tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson (1924–2005) worked in some of the most famous jazz orchestras of the 1940s and early ’50s, playing in big bands led by such swing icons as Billy Eckstine, Lionel Hampton and Count Basie. He was one of the first African Americans in Boyd Raeburn’s legendary orchestra. Thompson often found himself on the bandstand situated in proximity to such future giants as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Charles Mingus, Leo Parker and many more. According to jazz critics of the time, Thompson was in the same league as these extraordinary gentlemen, garnering comparisons to modern jazz pioneers such as Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young in the pages of publications like DownBeat and Esquire.
But the intriguing thing about Thompson was that he clearly didn’t suffer fools gladly. His quickness to call out club owners or music industry executives who did him wrong earned him a reputation for being difficult, costing him gigs both at clubs and in the studio.
Tired of petty politics, Thompson relocated to Paris in 1956, where he would spend the remainder of the decade honing his craft in the small-band format with some of the hottest players in French jazz. He frequently collaborated with pianist Martial Solal, and he worked with a rotating combo consisting of such young Parisian lions as guitarist Jean-Pierre Sasson, bassist Benoit Quersin and drummer Gérard “Dave” Pochonet. He also shared the bandstand with fellow American expats, like trumpeter Emmett Berry, drummer Kenny Clarke and pianist Sammy Price.
Recorded in mono, the four-disc set Complete Parisian Small Group Sessions 1956–1959 (FSRCD 933) documents Thompson’s transition from a blacklisted freelance musician in the States to one of the most respected and in-demand leaders on the Parisian scene. His work in the quartet and quintet formats allowed him to explore the feather-light intimacies of melody, rhythm and texture, expressing himself in a way that would have been difficult, if not impossible, in a big band.
For fans who prefer to hear Thompson in the throes of a large ensemble, there’s a companion disc, Lucky Thompson In Paris 1956 (FSRCD 938), which shines a light on the saxophonist’s All Star Orchestra Sessions. On the first of these sessions, Thompson joined the 10-piece Modern Jazz Group to play five compositions written by pianist Henri Renaud (including “Meet Quincy Jones”) and arranged to highlight the newly arrived saxophonist. For the remaining three sessions, Thompson and Pochonet co-led medium-sized all-star groups that played originals like Sasson’s “Portrait Of Django” and Thompson’s “Still Waters,” as well as an arrangement of Count Basie and Neal Hefti’s “Bluebeard Blues.”
The pleasures of hearing this unsung tenor master overcome the dogma of his homeland and reinvent his legacy as a leader makes these reissues a revelation, especially if you are a fan of the embryonic stage of modern jazz.
Moreover, Thompson’s life story illustrates a vitally important lesson: If you are true to yourself and to your beliefs, despite the forces of oppression in your vicinity, you might find another place in this world where behavior once perceived as difficult is considered dynamic."
Ron Hart (December, 2017)
"Tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson was a player who never garnered the recognition that he deserved. His outspoken distaste for the business side of the music business gave him a reputation as difficult, and his playing opportunities became more and more limited. By the mid-1950s he made a move to Paris hoping to find conditions more to his liking. He was immediately accepted by the French musicians, and in the years between 1956 and 1959 he recorded many small group sessions, and a few with larger ensembles. These can be found on The All Star Orchestra Sessions Lucky Thompson in Paris 1956 (FSRCD 938).
The four sessions comprising this disc were all recorded in 1956, on March 5 and 7, March 29, April 17 and May 11. The earliest two dates were recorded under the name of the Modern Jazz Tentette featuring Lucky Thompson, the next two billed as the Lucky Thompson & Gérard Pochonet All Stars, and the last as the Dave Pochonet All Stars featuring Lucky Thompson. Pianist Henri Renaud composed the tunes by the first group, while Thompson wrote the songs for the balance of the sessions. The groups varied in size from eight to ten players. All of the bands have a full sound, much closer to a big band than a smaller group. The charts mostly have a swing feel, but a few of the earlier ones have a touch of cool about them.
While Thompson’s playing is the focus of these recordings, the quality of the French players is also impressive. Particularly notable are pianist Martial Solal and drummer Gérard “Dave” Pochonet. Solal has been a major figure on the international jazz scene for well over 60 years, and is still active at the age of 90. Pochonet also had a busy career, eventually settling in the United States.
Jordi Pujol is to be commended for making this music widely available again, and in great sound. He has also contributed informative notes to both of these items."
Joe Lang (November, 2017)
New Jersey Jazz Society
"One of the truly sad stories of jazz is the career arc of “Lucky” Thompson, who, as the excellent liner notes state, couldn’t have been a more ironic moniker. He had a smooth tone akin to Lester Young, a harmonic sophistication similar to Coleman Hawkins and a style that fit in with either bebop, swing or hard bop. He is on a handful of seminal sessions with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, but he’s best known for his classic solo on Miles Davis’ “Walkin’.” He put out an impressive catalogue on his own, but for various reasons, he slipped through the cracks, ending up dying on the streets of Seattle a number of years ago. Sad but true.
The “Orchestra” album has a handful of sessions with bands of “all stars” ranging from 8-12, including Roger Guerin/tp, Henri Renaud/p, Marital Solal/p, Jo Hrasko/as-cl and Gerard “Dave” Pochonet/dr, who co-leads most of the sessions with Lucky Thompson. The charts by Christian Chevallier, Bob Shronk, Henri Renaud and Jack Sels are uniformly swinging and clever, hinting at West Coast Cool charts a la Shorty Rogers and Gerry Mulligan. The reeds and piano give off a Basie feel Oon “Easy Going” and “One for the Boys and Us” while going Ellington velvety during “Soulscription.” Solal is lyrical on Thompson’s “A Sunkissed Rose” while the rhythm team goes Latin on “A Distant Sound.”
As for Thompson himself, he’s swingin on a star during “Theme for a Brown Rose” and brings down the house on ballads like “You You Dear One” while skipping like a rock on a lake during “The Parisian Knight” and Renaud’s punchy “G. and B.”
Both sets (small groups & orchestra sessions) have complete session listings and come with insightful notes to give you the background on this poor soul who owned the tenor sax. After even just one listen, you’re gonna think to yourself “How have I missed out on this guy?” Well, just like salvation and the right lady for you, just be glad it finally arrives!"
George W. Harris (October 23, 2017)
"One of the great tenor saxophonists to emerge at the close of the swing era, Lucky Thompson made his first notable recordings with Parker, Gillespie and Miles Davis. But the ironically named Lucky had a truncated career – partly due to his disenchantment with and criticisms of the “vultures” in the American music “industry” with their discriminatory treatment of African-American musicians. More recently, he has attracted the favourable attention of critics, impressed by his distinctive musical voice - derived from Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry, Ben Webster and (most importantly) Don Byas. A player of high intelligence, elegance and virtuosity (on both tenor and later soprano), Thompson spent several years from the mid-1950s in self-imposed exile in Paris where he produced some of his best work.
These aptly-titled All Star Orchestra Sessions find Lucky in commanding form on the Tentette dates, featuring Henri Renaud playing West Coast flavoured compositions like Souscription, Marcel The Furrier and Meet Quincy Jones. On all 21 tracks, an alternately driving and rhapsodic Thompson receives unswerving support from some relatively unknown French jazz players – and such veterans as pianist Renaud and drummer Pochonet. One outstanding.
These seminal French sessions helped bring Thompson to the attention of an international audience. The 1997 release of some other 1961 Paris recordings as the CD Lord, Lord, Am I Ever Gonna Know?, compiled by Mark Gardner, further confirmed Thompson’s stature. Back in America, he made two fine late recordings – Lucky Strikes (1964) and Lucky Meets Tommy [Flanagan] (1965) – but increasingly embittered, he “retired” in 1974. As his health declined, he sold his saxophones to pay for dental work, and ended his life in poverty in Seattle, Washington in 2005.
John White (October, 2017)
Jazz Journal Magazine