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Don Thompson

Don (Donald Winston) Thompson. Pianist, bassist, vibraphonist, drummer, composer, arranger, recording engineer, b Powell River, north of Vancouver, 18 Jan 1940. After childhood piano lessons he took up the string bass and the vibraphone in his teens. He is essentially self-taught on all instruments. In Vancouver 1960-5 he was sideman to Chris Gage (playing bass or vibraphone) and Dave Robbins (bass) and accompanied the visiting US jazzmen Barney Kessel, John Handy, and others in local nightclubs. With the drummer Terry Clarke he joined Handy's quintet in the USA in 1965, touring widely and making two LPs, one of which, Live at Monterey, was among the most popular jazz recordings of the 1960s.

Thompson returned to Vancouver in 1967 (after working briefly in Montreal with Lee Gagnon that year) and then moved to Toronto in 1969. He quickly became that city's first-call studio bassist, a standing he maintained until he turned exclusively to jazz in the mid-1970s.

Thompson has been a member of the Boss Brass (bassist 1969-82 and pianist as of 1988) and the bands of Sonny Greenwich (pianist 1970-82 and again as of 1990) and Moe Koffman (bassist 1970-4 and pianist 1975-8). He also played bass or drums for Lenny Breau and has maintained a lengthy association with the guitarist Ed Bickert in various jazz settings. Thompson's work as a bassist at the Toronto jazz club Bourbon Street with (among others) the US guitarist Jim Hall and the US alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, documented by live recordings there in 1975 (for which Thompson served as recording engineer), renewed his international profile. In 1976 he began touring with Hall (Japan, the USA and Europe) and 1982-7 he was concert partner to the celebrated British pianist George Shearing, with whom he played both bass and piano. He was the sole accompanist to Shearing and the singer Mel Tormé on Top Drawer, winner of a (US) Grammy award in 1984. While working with Shearing, he began to teach each summer at the Banff CA Jazz Workshop in 1982, and established the short-lived record label, From Bebop to Now, in 1983.

Resuming his activities in Toronto in 1987, he has played piano in the Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra, accompanied Jane Bunnett, Trudy Desmond, and others locally, and taught privately. His pupils have included the pianists Hugh Fraser, James Gelfand, Jeff Johnston, Andy Milne, and Dave Restivo, and the bassists George Mitchell and Alec Walkington. Thompson's own groups have appeared intermittently in Toronto clubs. One quartet, with the leader at the piano, was heard in 1977 at the Laren's International Jazz Festival in Holland; another, with Thompson playing the vibraphone, appeared at several Canadian jazz festivals in 1991.

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