"He had been living in Europe and I never heard him except on record. He made 'Body and Soul,' and that was a number that was imitated by almost every saxophonist that played the music. So it was musicians like him and Lester Young, whom I played with later on, who influenced me personally to play, of course, as well as the piano players: Count Basie was my really first mentor.
Thompson, who lived near Hawkins and played with him in his New York days, said "I went to his house several times. He had been living in Europe, and he was a very educated and cultured man."
As far was working with the sax giant, he called him "a wonderful professor. He played something that he thought would be suitable for everybody to be comfortable playing. He played mostly songs that you would appreciate playing. He was very compatable."
Sir Charles discounts the idea that Hawkins was a musician who advanced with the times. Rather, he said it was the other way around.
"As far as I'm concerned, Coleman Hawkins and those musicians were leaders. They didn't imitate anybody. Everybody who played any instrument after that were trying to play like those musicians that they had heard. And Coleman Hawkins was the most influential of all of them by his technique and not only that, but by his quiet mannerisms as a gentleman."
If you wonder why California resident Thompson has not made it to New York more often, there are a variety of reasons, one of which has nothing to do with music.
"I like the warm weather of California. You see, golf is my second hobby. And it gives me exercise and fresh air. That was my main reason for taking up residence in California in preference to New York, because I can play golf all year round," he said.
How, then, besides greens fees and caddies, can you get Sir Charles to New York?
"Hire me more often and pay me," he said with a laugh. " I always look forward to coming to New York, because as far as I'm concerned, in America, New York is THE city in America.
After all these years, Thompson's unfullfilled wishes are few. Asked what he would like to do if money were no consideration, he replied: "I'd just like to play more jobs where people appreciate my playing and I can enjoy it. That's it.
"The most important time to me now is now, that I have to play now. And I hope I can play good. That's what's on my mind now, how I can figure how I can play good tonight," he said.Suggested listening: Takin' Off
- Delmark Apollo Series DD-450 Robbins' Nest: Live at the Jazz Showcase
- Delmark 526 I Got Rhythm: Live at the Jazz Showcase
- (with Eric Schneider) Delmark 537