Fred Tompkins was born in St. Louis in 1943. After high school he played tenor saxophone in and around his home town for several years before beginning the formal study of music at the St. Louis Insitute of Music, in 1964. By this time his strongest influences were jazz artists such as John Coltrane, Art Blakey, and the Jazz Messengers and the M.J.Q., and classical composers such as Paul Hindemith and Béla Bartók.
His earliest compositions, as originally recorded on the album, Compositions of Fred Tompkins, showed a natural tendency to combine those genres into his own style. Some of the pieces tended to exploit a dramatic contrast between genres, but soon the transitions became smoother and the styles more synthesized