The news from Yoshio Toyama (from Mike Fitzgerald’s online jazz research group):
“Sir Charles Thompson left us on June 16th in Japan.
He was a very unique pianist with style in between swing and bebop, also very close to great Count Basie’s piano style. He was married to Japanese wife Makiko Thompson in 1990s, lived in Japan in 1990s and 2002 to this day. Funeral will be held in Tokyo, Japan, Higashi Kurume, by his wife Makiko Thompson and family and friends on June 21st.
He was born March 21, 1918, and he just turned 98 last March. He started as professional when he was very young, played with and admired people like Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins . . . .
He was very active in Bebop era also, and his style has lots of Bebop flavor mixed with mellow swing. He was very good golf player too.
He left so many great jazz records including “Vic Dickenson Showcase”. In Japan, he made recording with Yoshio and Keiko Toyama in late 1990s. Had appeared in many concerts held by Toyama’s Wonderful World Jazz Foundation. Sir Charles and Toyama stayed very close friends.
We all miss him. Yoshio and Keiko”
Readers will know that I have worked very hard to keep this blog focused on the living thread of the music I and others love. Were it to become a necrology (and the temptation is powerful) it would slide into being JAZZ DIES. But I make exceptions for musicians whose emotional connection with me is powerful. I never met Sir Charles, but he was an integral part of recordings I loved and knew by heart forty-five years ago. Here he is in 1955 with Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones. You could make a case that anyone would swing with those three people, but Sir Charles was consistently his own subtle swing engine: he could light up the sonic universe all by himself.
Hearing that, you can understand why Lester Young knighted him.
And — from that same period — another glorious Vanguard session featuring Vic Dickenson (the second volume, since I presume the first was a success, both musically and for its wonderful clarity of sound) on EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, where Vic and Sir Charles are joined by Shad Collins, trumpet; Ruby Braff, cornet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Steve Jordan, guitar; Walter Page, string bass; Jo Jones, drums:
That’s been one of my favorite recordings since my teens, and it continues to cheer and uplift. But listen to Sir Charles — not only in solo, but as a wonderfully subtle ensemble player. With a less splendid pianist (I won’t name names) these soloists would have been less able to float so gracefully.
If you measure a musician’s worth by the company (s)he keeps, Sir Charles was indeed remarkable: the pianist of choice for the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions; work with Coleman Hawkins early and late, with Charlie Parker both in the studio and on the air in Boston, with Lionel Hampton, Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Dexter Gordon, Buck Clayton, Danny Barker, Lucky Millinder, Shadow Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Stitt, Leo Parker, Pete Brown, J.J. Johnson, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Rushing, Earl Bostic, Ike Quebec, Buddy Tate, Paul Gonsalves, Paul Quinichette, Joe Williams, Harry Edison, Ben Webster, Eddie Condon, Jimmy Witherspoon, Bobby Hackett, Don Byas, Humphrey Lyttelton, Herbie Steward . . . and on and on.
If you want to hear more of Sir Charles, YouTube is full of musical evidence, from the 1945 sides with Bird and with Hawkins, all the way up to 2012 with Yoshio’s band (playing, among other things, RUSSIAN LULLABY) and as a speaking member of a panel — with Allan Eager and Hank Jones — talking about Charlie Parker.
But I will remember Sir Charles as the man who — in his own way and with his own sound — played a good deal like Basie, but understanding that impulse from within rather than copying him, adding in Fats, Wilson, and more advanced harmonies. His sound, his touch, and his swing are unmistakable, and although he lived a very long life and had a long performance career, his death leaves a void in the swing universe.
I’ll let the poetic pianist Ray Skjelbred have the last word: “He was a perfect player who knew the force of silence around his notes. An inspiration to me.”
There is a silence where Sir Charles Thompson used to be.