I added these paragraphs about Lucky Thompson and his aptly-named “Beautiful Tuesday” to yesterday’s post so it would be all of one piece. I’m offering it separately here for those who have already read the older one, to save the bother of going back to it.
Shortly after this post was published, another of “The Old Farts”, Ron Gaskin, left a comment with another Tuesday track – Lucky Thompson’s “Beautiful Tuesday”, so I’ve added this commentary and clip after the fact. Thank you Ron, this really caused the other shoe to drop, this was the track that had been vaguely rolling around in the cobwebs of my memory, just out of reach. I definitely should have thought of it for several reasons: I’m a huge Lucky Thompson fan and the album that it’s from – LORD, LORD, AM I EVER GONNA KNOW? is one of my very favourites by him, it stands as a testament to his art as much as any other record he made.
It was done in Paris during the spring of 1961 and eventually issued on Candid. By that point, Thompson had been living in France since 1956 and would return stateside shortly after recording this. He had used his time in Paris to great effect: mastering the soprano saxophone to add to his already formidable tenor and writing dozens of highly original compositions, it was an extremely productive period for him. Given this, I’ve never quite understood his decision to return to America, particularly the timing of it, which would eventually prove disastrous for him. Thompson had developed an outspoken and cynical distrust of the commercially motivated and graft-ridden practices inherent in the American music workplace – pirated publishing rights and royalties, sleazy agents and vulturous promoters, abusive clubs, fickle, trend-obsessed critics, a corrupt media, racism. These problems and conditions were not as bad in Europe, and Thompson had found very good and sympathetic musicians to play with there, including the men on this record. It may have simply been the powerful pull of homesickness, but it’s surpassingly strange that Thompson would choose to return to America at that time, when all the things that bothered him there were not improving, but rather worsening.
And he couldn’t have foreseen it, but in the years immediately following his return the jazz business would fall into a general slump, which exacerbated everything further. In retrospect, he would have been much better off staying in Paris, at a time when European interest in jazz was growing, and when many American musicians were leaving home for the better life there. Thompson made some very good records and had some good years back in the States at first, but eventually he would succumb to despair, entering a downward spiral which would see him marginalized and homeless, literally drifting in the wilderness, musically inactive for the last 30 years of his life. It’s possible this could have happened to him in Europe, but I seriously doubt it.
Because it was the last record Thompson made in Europe and it has such a fervent, prayerful title, LORD, LORD has always seemed to me like a harbinger, the document of a cautionary tale. This is underscored by the chilling effect of the unintentionally fateful message Lucky spoke into a tape recorder shortly after his American return, and which was included on the later CD issue of the album. It was addressed along with a letter to some British jazz fans who invited Thompson to a symposium in his honour to be held, if memory serves, in Birmingham. Lucky sounds very warm and wishes his friends well, giving an oddly outspoken but very mellow and spiritual speech cautioning against false idols and excessive commercialism and the like, he sounds like a gentle visionary. His message is bitter but his delivery is so laid-back, it’s quite affecting. The sad irony is that the event in England never happened, cancelled due to a lack of interest. Eli Thompson’s nickname of “Lucky” may be the most inapt in all of jazz, his was a star-crossed career.
On to a happier subject, namely this wonderful track. It’s a complex and graceful composition with a subtle blues element, its sinuous melody punctuated by stop-time figures from the rhythm section. Its chord changes – delicate and elusive – flow nicely at this perfectly loping tempo, a bebop soft-shoe. Thompson alternates between his two horns throughout the album and he’s on soprano here. He was fussy about who he played with, especially when it came to piano and drums, but he has no worries here, it’s one of the most sympathetic bands he ever played with. On piano is the redoubtable French-Algerian master Martial Solal, able to play so musically in any context ranging from Sidney Bechet to the avant-garde and stops in between, as here. The bassist is the very solid and under-appreciated Dutchman Peter Trunk, who has never sounded better. Thompson had trouble with drummers, he needed delicate ones like Connie Kay or Dave Bailey who could deliver the lightness and flexibility he needed, with some firmness underneath. Needless to say, Kenny Clarke, who practically invented this formula himself, delivers here. The only improvement on this performance would be if Clarke went from brushes to sticks on cymbals at some point. This is not a criticism, he’s wonderful with brushes. It’s just that Kenny Clarke’s ride cymbal is one of the most beautiful sounds in all of jazz, I would have liked to hear some here. Enjoy this, among the nicest five minutes I can imagine spending, a beautiful Tuesday indeed:
© 2016, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.