Monday, January 18, 2010

Ed Thigpen - London Times

Ed Thigpen was born on September 28, 1930. He died on January 13, 2010, aged 79.
Ed Thigpen: Jazz Drummer
London Times, January 18, 2010

"Of all the drummers who ever worked for me," recalled the late Oscar Peterson, "Ed Thigpen was the neatest." Renowned for his exemplary technique with sticks, brushes and even his fingertips, Thigpen was a percussion perfectionist. Yet he never lost the ability to provide swing and movement for every group with whom he played, and his sensitive use of the kit added timbral depth as well.

Edmund Leonard Thigpen was born in Chicago in 1930 into a jazz family. His father, Ben Thigpen, was the drummer with Andy Kirk's big band, the Clouds of Joy, which achieved national fame in the US when Ed was a boy. Although his parents separated early in his life, and the boy went to live with his mother in Los Angeles, his father had a profound influence on his playing, especially in the use of the brushes, at which Thigpen excelled. His subtle brushwork earned him the nickname "Mr Taste", which he used for the title of one of his latterday records in 1991.

Thigpen began his professional career with the West Coast jazz saxophonist Buddy Collette and, after a spell playing rhythm and blues, he joined Duke Ellington's former trumpeter Cootie Williams in the early 1950s. After army service, he went to New York, and quickly established a reputation as a fine freelance drummer. He had a particular aptitude for accompanying singers and worked with Dinah Washington and Blossom Dearie. As well as playing for some of the era's leading saxophonists, including John Coltrane, Johnny Hodges, Gil Melle, Paul Quinichette and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, he played in piano trios with Toshiko Akiyoshi, Bud Powell, Lennie Tristano and Mal Waldron. At the time this was the creme de la creme of Manhattan's jazz scene, and it prepared him perfectly for the invitation to join Oscar Peterson in 1959.

Until that point, Peterson had led a trio of piano, guitar and bass for almost ten years. When his guitarist Herb Ellis left, Peterson decided not to replace him, but to add a drummer instead, and thus with Thigpen's arrival the second so-called classic Peterson trio was formed, with Ray Brown remaining as the group's bass player. If anything, this band became even more popular than Peterson's earlier group, with Thigpen's neat but propulsive drumming adding a greater drive to the band. "We always felt that each of us was playing for the other two," said Peterson. "It's what gives a group body, background and spirit."

Their albums such as Fiorello!, Live from Chicago and West Side Story all became collectors' items, and newly discovered concert recordings of the trio in action are still being issued.

In 1965 Thigpen left to join Ella Fitzgerald's backing group, and he worked with her on and off until the early 1970s, although during that time he also made plenty of freelance records with other musicians. He left in 1972 to move to Denmark, where he married a local girl and settled. After his wife's death in 1981 he decided to remain in Scandinavia to bring up his two children. As a result, Thigpen became a member of the elite group of US expatriate musicians in Copenhagen, on hand to accompany visiting soloists from all parts of the globe, and notably playing for such saxophonists as Johnny Griffin, Benny Carter and Ernie Wilkins. His years in Peterson's trio also made him a sought-after accompanist for other pianists and he toured and recorded in Europe with such celebrated players as Teddy Wilson, Duke Jordan and Kenny Drew.

Thigpen made several records under his own name after his move to Europe, and in the 1990s after his children had left home he began to visit the US again, working with a variety of former colleagues and touring with European musicians. In Europe he toured on several occasions in the mid-1990s with the all-star US saxophone group Roots.

He was a committed teacher and after moving to Scandinavia he lectured at Malmo in Sweden. He went on to teach at the conservatory in Copenhagen, and to work as a visiting teacher at several other European music colleges. He wrote a number of instruction manuals on drumming, of which The Sound of Brushes (1981) is his most distinguished. It passes on a tradition that he inherited from his father and which he was worried would die out unless his generation made efforts to pass its skills to younger players.

He was very much a traditional, orthodox player, sitting bolt upright at the drums, and his deft style was marked by his economy of movement. He always eschewed flamboyance and rabble-rousing solos in favour of subtle demonstrations of his mastery of all aspects of jazz drumming.

Although suffering from Parkinson's disease, Thigpen was still playing regularly until last October.

He is survived by a son and a daughter.

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