Malachi Thompson: 1949-2006


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Delmark Records has very sad news to report as our long time Delmark family friend and musician, Malachi Thompson, passed away yesterday morning at home, July 16th, 2006. Malachi (1949-2006) was a beautiful soul and an extremely kind man and will be dearly missed by so many people whose lives he has positively touched. Malachi was a brilliant trumpet player and composer, writer and jazz historian, and a highly influential advocate for jazz and arts education. As part of the 2nd generation of AACM, Malachi Thompson is best known for his innovative approach in combining free jazz with the discipline of bop and the emotion of the blues and gospel. Malachi sadly passed away from leukemia, which had been in remission for almost 20 years. Just like his main musical heroes, Coltrane and Lester Bowie, Malachi was more than a musician, but a musician with vision and purpose. Malachi's band Africa Brass with Billy Harper will be performing in a tribute to Malachi Thompson at the world famous Chicago Jazz Festival on Friday, Sept 1, 2006 from 6- 7 pm at the Petrillo Main Stage. This will be a special tribute and very moving performance. I know Malachi was looking forward greatly to this anticipated event.

No other details about Malachi's memorial service are announced at this point.

“Jazz is the music of freedom." - Malachi Thompson “In my reality, time moves in one direction, ever forward. I've got to live and create in the present in order to shape the future. I hope I can maintain the imagination and the chops to keep pushing the boundaries of jazz trumpet." - Malachi from Delmark's “Timeline" liners.


Delmark recording artist Malachi Thompson was a composer, band leader, trumpet soloist, artist, teacher and arts activist. Born in Princeton, Kentucky on August 21, 1949, Thompson's jazz roots are on Chicago's South Side. In 1968, he joined the influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) playing the music of Henry Threadgill and Richard Muhal Abrams. He also became a member of Dr. M.L. King's Operation Breadbasket Orchestra, the musical arm of SCLC in 1968, working for civil rights for African Americans. In 1974, after completing work for a degree in Music Composition, Thompson was encouraged to move to NYC by jazz legend Art Blakey. While in NYC, Thompson performed with many of the greatest names in jazz: Joe Henderson, Sam Wooding, Jackie McLean, Frank Foster, Leon Thomas, Sam Rivers, Lester Bowie, and Archie Shepp to name a few. In 1978, he formed the highly acclaimed Freebop Band. After 10 years in NYC, he moved to Washington DC and later Vienna, Austria performing and composing for various bands.

In 1989, Thompson was diagnosed with cancer and returned to his native Chicago. After his recovery, he became an outspoken advocate for jazz and arts education. He is also a published writer and jazz historian. He often performs or serves as an artist in residence in Chicago's public schools. He conducts master classes, jazz workshops and lectures on all things jazz at colleges and universities nationwide.

In 1991, Mr. Thompson founded the Sutherland Community Arts Initiative (SCAI), a not for profit 501 (c)3 arts and arts education presenting organization on Chicago's South Side. As a member of S C A I, Mr. Thompson helped found and establish the Hyde Park /Kenwood J A A Z Festival, The Visiting Jazz Artists Program and “Creativity" magazine. In 1994 Thompson helped develop the cultural component of the award winning proposal to HUD that brought 8 million dollars in federal Empowerment Zone (EZ) funds to cultural institutions in Chicago's EZ communities.

In 1997, Thompson's Freebop Band recorded “47th Street" for Delmark Records featuring original music from the play The Sutherland, written by playwright Charles Smith and based partly on Mr. Thompson's life and struggles to overcome cancer. The Sutherland had a successful 6-week run at Victory Gardens Theater in the fall of 1997 and won the Illinois Arts Council's New Play Award. Thompson's original music from The Sutherland won the prestigious Jeff award (the equivalent of a Tony in NYC). “47th Street" was selected as jazz record of the year by the “Chicago Sun- Times" and made it to the top ten of the CMJ national jazz charts. Thompson's recordings consistently track high on jazz radio charts indicating substantial national airplay. Thompson's 8th CD for Delmark Records, “Rising Daystar" (featuring Gary Bartz) was released October 1999 was charted at #4 on “Jazziz" radio charts. Over the past 25 years, Thompson's Freebop Band has featured jazz masters like Carter Jefferson, Billy Harper, Joe Ford, Albert Dailey, George Adams and David Murray. Recently, Thompson scored the sound track for the PBS documentary “Remembering 47th Street," which won an Emmy for Best Documentary in 2001. In 2003, Thompson received a commission from Chamber Music America to compose new works to commemorate the band's 25th Anniversary.

In 1991, Thompson created Africa Brass, a thirteen piece brass ensemble as a larger vehicle for his original compositions. Africa Brass was inspired by the traditional brass bands that became popular around the turn of the century in New Orleans. However Africa Brass is no re-creation, but a logical extension of the brass band tradition that combines big band jazz with Afro-Cuban music forms. Africa Brass has three highly acclaimed CDs on Delmark, including “Lift Every Voice" and “Buddy Bolden's Rag" featuring special guest soloist Lester Bowie. In 2002 Africa Brass received a grant from the Aaron Copland Fund to record Thompson's “Black Metropolis Suite" and “Blues For A Saint Called Louis." These new works were released in November 2003 on the Delmark Records CD, “Blue Jazz," featuring Gary Bartz and Billy Harper. The CD peaked at #2 on CMJ's Jazz Chart and received worldwide critical acclaim.

In 1995 Thompson was selected as an Arts Midwest Jazz Master. Thompson was also selected as a “Chicagoan of the Year" in 1996 by the “Chicago Tribune" for his efforts to bring jazz back to the South Side of Chicago. In 1997 Thompson was honored by the Chicago Endowment for the Arts for his arts activism. Mr. Thompson's trumpet playing has been recognized in “DownBeat" magazine's annual International Critic's Poll. Mr. Thompson is featured on 29 recordings of which thirteen he is the featured artist. Thompson has performed in over 15 countries around the world and in 22 states across the U.S. In June 1998 Thompson's Freebop Band performed at the St. Louis International Jazz Festival in Senegal, West Africa sponsored by the United States Information Agency. Thompson composed two new compositions for the performance. Thompson is known in international jazz circles for his exciting, innovative music and as a leading exponent of Chicago jazz.

For more information about Malachi Thompson reference these publications: All Music Guide to Jazz; The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz by L. Feather and I. Gitler; The Blackwell Guide to Recorded Jazz (2nd Edition); Music Hound: The Essential Album Guide; The Penguin Guide to Jazz (4th Edition); Gramophone Jazz: Good CD Guide and The Jazz Scene by Royal Stokes. Search the internet under Malachi Thompson or Freebop or www.delmark.com

Discography on Delmark

1) TIMELINE (1972-1988) 2000 DE 421
2) SPIRIT (1984-1987) 1990 DE 442
3) THE JAZ LIFE 1991 DE 453
4) LIFT EVERY VOICE 1992 DE 463 *
5) NEW STANDARDS 1993 DE 473
6) BUDDY BOLDEN'S RAG 1995 DE 481 *
7) 47th STREET 1997 DE 497
8) FREEBOP NOW! 1998 DE 506
10) TALKING HORNS 2001 DE 532
11) BLUE JAZZ 2003 DE 548 *
12) future Delmark release!

* with Africa Brass

Also featured on many more recordings, including Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, Archie Shepp, Gil Scott-Heron, Quincy Jones.


“...among the next wave of jazz innovation." - Robert Palmer, New York Times

“...one of the ageless innovators of jazz...(Thompson has) a gift for conceiving arrangements and solos of stunning technical and emotional range." - Reuben Jackson, Washington Post

“...universally recognized as one of Chicago's most innovative, insightful and colorful musicians." - Arts Midwest

“...by choosing to advance jazz, both structurally and compositionally, rather than dwelling within the safe confines of bebop, Thompson has pushed jazz forward into the new millennium." - Fred Jung, L.A. Jazz Scene “... (Thompson) demonstrates commitment to the proper historical development of jazz myth." - John MacCalkies, New City

“...trumpeter Malachi Thompson long ago established himself as one of the more innovative composer-bandleaders in jazz." - Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune “...a trumpet player who's racked up acclaim for his always innovative technique." - Mike Breen, Cincinnati City Beat “...Thompson's trumpet styling recall a master whose approach has not been truly appreciated." - Willard Jenkins Jazz Times THE FREEBOP BAND “...Thompson leads his small band through some innovative turns on standards and originals." - Rapport Magazine

“...Thompson's Freebop Band from Chicago begins about 10 steps ahead of most jazz ensembles." -Lazaro Vega, Grand Rapids Press

“...as intellectually probing and viscerally exciting as anything in jazz today." - Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune

“...the group attempts to shatter, or more accurately, stretch the mainstream." - Robert Goldblum, Richmond Times Dispatch

“...This is hard bop like it ought to be but is seldom heard." - Village Voice

AFRICA BRASS “...Outstanding originals range from New Orleans-style...to hard driving free-ism." - Billboard Critic's Choice “...a book full of infectious and occasionally intoxicating arrangements." - Neil Tesser, Playboy “...power and ingenuity." - Bob Blumenthal, Boston Globe

“...There is the spirit of adventurousness that recalls the innovation of the Bebop era." - Stereo Review

“...I dare say this group collectively will stand the test of time." - Lofton Emenari, Hyde Park Citizen

Read Billy Harper's tribute to Malachi Thompson at http://www.jazzchicago.net/malachi.html.

This story appears courtesy of All About Jazz.
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