I’ve loved Eli “Lucky” Thompson’s mellifluous tenor and soprano saxophone playing since I first heard it on Lucky Strikes about 45 years ago. His name resonates too, even though it’s a misnomer. It was skill, not luck, that brought Thompson renown in the mid-forties for performances like “Cherokee,” “Just One More Chance,” and “Irresistible You,” and for his extensive sideman work with Dinah Washington, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, and many lesser known figures around Los Angeles. Before his 25th birthday, he’d appeared on over 100 recordings.
In the fifties, his tenor graced Miles Davis’s groundbreaking hard bop session, Walkin’, as well as dates with Thelonious Monk and Oscar Pettiford, Jo Jones and Jack Teagarden. Thompson and Milt Jackson first worked together with Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in 1945, and later sat in with Bird at the Royal Roost in 1949. In the mid-fifties, they recorded for Savoy and Atlantic. The Savoy release, The Jazz Skyline, is another that’s never been far from my turntable. Thompson recorded “Lover” at least twice in the wake of Peggy Lee’s 1953 revival of the Rodgers and Hart waltz; first with Teagarden in ’54, and here as the opening title on The Jazz Skyline.
In 1956, Thompson played and recorded in France and found it to his liking; he returned the following year and remained until 1962. Thompson recorded several sessions for Disque Vogue during his years in France, and often teamed with the brilliant Algerian-born pianist Martial Solal. I wrote about Thompson and one of his tenor models, Don Byas, here two years ago, and about a nice YouTube clip of Lucky playing “Tenderly” here.
More recently, I found this fine clip of LT at the Club St. Germain in Paris with bassist Pierre Michelot and drummer Kenny Clarke hurtling through the changes of a piece incorrectly announced as “You Move, You Lose.” It’s a Thompson tune entitled, “Why Weep.”