This B&A was done for JazzTimes just after the drummer’s performance at the 2005 Toronto Jazz Festival (pictured above). If anyone wants a deeper insight into how Thigpen thought about himself and his music, I’d recommend Don McGlynn’s aptly named documentary film, Ed Thigpen: Master of Time, Rhythm & Taste.
I’ve been waiting many years to meet and hear drummer Ed Thigpen in person. This master of the brushes has been living in Copenhagen since 1972, and because he rarely tours the U.S., I’ve had to get my Thigpen fix by listening to his 1966 Verve session “Before The Storm” and various recordings with Oscar Peterson, Dinah Washington, Ben Webster, Lennie Tristano, Ella Fitzgerald and others. Born in Chicago and raised in Los Angeles, Edmund Thigpen was inspired by his father Ben Thigpen, who played drums with Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy. He gained early experience with Cootie Williams, Bud Powell, and Johnny Hodges, and appeared on the groundbreaking NBC television series “The Subject Is Jazz” with a band led by Billy Taylor.
Since relocating to Denmark, Thigpen has taught, written several instructional books, and recorded his various groups on the Danish Stunt label. His latest “Ed Thigpen Scantet #1” features five original compositions by Thigpen, including a lovely tune written for his daughter Denise. We finally caught up in Toronto where he was appearing with the Scantet. An airline snafu meant he and the group had to come right from the airport and hit the stage. People expecting a set of subtle brushwork must have been surprised to hear the band roar. It was worth the wait.
1. Jo Jones
“I Got Rhythm Pt. II” (from Jo Jones The Everest Years, Empire). Jo Jones, drums; Ray Bryant, piano; Tom Bryant, bass. Recorded in 1958/re-issued 2005.
Before: [immediately] Jonathan. Everything about him is wonderful. Nobody has as clean a sound. Is that with Ray Bryant? That’s a classic recording. You hear the clarity, the touch. It’s just so perfect. I don’t know if he’s the first to play brushes like this but as far as I’m concerned he’s the best. The way he played music. He knew music. And the effect he had on the musicians he played with. All this was very inspiring to me. What he brought out in the music. [listens closely to the breaks] He’s a dancer. He’s so happy. It’s classic. It’s an example of taking a small unit and making it sound like a full band.
After: Jo was my mentor. I didn’t take formal lessons from him. The way you learned from Jo Jones was by listening to him. And I learned from him about life and how to take care of yourself as a man. We didn’t talk that much about drums per se, we talked about music and life. But after I’d talk with him I’d play better that night, because you play life. We talk about all types of things; the children, the grandchildren, and his experiences with the people he knew. Never negative. He was very concerned about humanity. The things that made him unhappy were the people who were not respectful to one another. He had virtue, let’s put it that way. People like Jo Jones and Milt Hinton were our leaders and our mentors.