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Richard Thompson Jazz Pianist and Composer

January 25, 2012
 Up Close and Personal with Richard Thompson:
International Composer/Pianist/Educator

He comes from Aberdeen Scotland and made his debut at the Purcell Room in the Royal Festival Hall In London. His manner is quiet, yet strong. When he sits at the piano, his posture is that of one who is greeting an old friend. 

This is the first installment of the long awaited interview dialogue with San Diego State University School of Music and Dance associate professor of Jazz Studies--Richard Thompson is an associate professor of Jazz Studies at San Diego State University School of Music.His official bio is posted at:  

For samples of his jazz/spirituals CD with Mirage entitled: Swing Low Sweet,Chariot click onto:

I have know Richard for several years now. His music is a unique blend of African American and European stylization. At a concert in honor of Black History month a couple of years ago, he signified at the end of an original composition with a combination of blues, modal jazz, and sanctified church gospel riffs that spoke volumes to the breadth of his understanding of African American idiomatic pianistic expression. Richard is a well read and knowledgeable music scholar with whom informal conversations over the last several years have been a pleasure.

Q:What are your first most vivid music memories?

A: Hearing Ellington's Black , Brown and Beige, On a Turquoise Cloud, C Jam Blues; Bud Powell's Dance of the Infidels, Bouncing with Bud and some fairly obscure tunes by Clark Terry.

Q:When did you start becoming wanting to become a musician.

A: Pretty early on. I think by about 6 I wanted to play music. But at that stage , it was the trumpet that fascinated me. My father was a jazz trumpet player, so I knew all the major trumpet players from his  record collection. I wanted to play like Cat Anderson!!  I actually met Cat Anderson, when I was about 7. Ellington had a British concert tour and he came to Scotland.  My father knew one of Ellington’s trumpet players,who arranged for me to meet my hero.  Cat  let me hold his trumpet!  I was over the moon!

When I was about 8 years old my mother bought  some classical records. One was a record of virtuoso piano pieces,played by Shura Cherkassky. That was it for me. The sound of the piano just invaded my soul.  She also got an Art Tatum record which I loved.

Q.Who were your first teachers?

A. My first teacher was a lady in Aberdeen. her name was Gina Harper. I had a lot of precocious talent and a natural technique. She encouraged me so much. After her, I went to Edinburgh University and studied with Dr. Colin Kingsley. I graduated from there and went to Milan, to study with a Hungarian lady, called Ilonka Deckers.  After her I had two great concert pianists as teachers, David Parkhouse , who lived in London and Theodore Lettvin,  at Rutgers. I also had two great jazz pianists as teachers, Donald Brown at Berklee, in Boston and Kenny Barron, also at Rutgers.   Looking back, I can say that I have been very fortunate. Strangely enough, I have never had a composition teacher. I have learned to compose by playing and listening to music and by studying scores.  Probably just as well!

Q: What types of music did you enjoy playing and listening to as a child?

A: When I started playing the piano, at age 8, I completely forgot about jazz. I learned to play very quickly. I fell in love with Chopin and learned  a lot of his music very early on. Somehow I could read and play a lot of difficult music quite easily, so I had a lot of fun!  For years all I thought about was classical music.

That single-minded interest persisted until my second year in Italy, when I heard Max Roach with Billy Harper. I knew who Max was because of my father’s records. After that concert I started to think that there was more to music than Beethoven, Schuman etc. I didn’t know where to begin, but I just wanted to hear some modern jazz. Soon afterwards  a girl I was seeing gave me “Crystal Silence” by Gary Burton and Chick Corea.  Again,I was captivated by the sounds. It was a different world! I wanted to play like that!

Peace Out,
Delores Fisher

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