Barbara Thompson obituary | Jazz

The early twenty first century’s fast-moving tale of genre-fluid, culture-crossing musical innovation in this day and age takes with no consideration the contributions of a rising cohort of robust feminine saxophone avid gamers. But now not see you later in the past, a girl used to be a startling rarity on an tool whose evolution in fashionable track, from the Twenties onwards, have been virtually completely pushed through males. Barbara Thompson, who has died elderly 77 of Parkinson’s illness, used to be one of the inspirational exceptions.

Thompson’s bold instrumental talents encompassed a tenor-saxophone voice that would vary from the sensuous lyricism of Coleman Hawkins or Stan Getz to the facility of John Coltrane’s turbulent soliloquies; nimble bebop fluency at the alto sax; and a dulcet-to-abstract tonal vary at the flute. As a prolific composer, she wrote classical concertos and choral works, TV issues (together with A Touch of Frost) and settings for poetry. She made buddies and lovers in all places Europe (in particular in Germany), and throughout generations. The composer and trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, as a part of her Polyhymnia venture for International Women’s Day in 2015, composed a set merely entitled Barbara in tribute to her bold elder’s paintings and affect.

Barbara used to be born in Oxford, to Dick Thompson, later registrar of the court docket of legal attraction, and Joan (nee Gracey), who have been a fellow Oxford University scholar ahead of their marriage. The kid used to be raised in London, first at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, after which in Notting Hill, the place she attended the Fox number one faculty, and discovered to play the recorder. Her oldsters separated when Barbara used to be six, and her shelter from loss and war used to be to check the ins and outs of musicmaking for hours.

At Queen’s College faculty in Harley Street (1955-62), she discovered the clarinet and piano, and performed for 5 years within the London Schools Symphony Orchestra. Then she spent a season with the Ivy Benson All Girl Band, having taken up the alto saxophone on listening to Johnny Hodges enjoying with Duke Ellington. At the Royal College of Music (1962-65), she studied the flute, piano, clarinet and composition whilst additionally taking personal saxophone courses.

In 1965, Thompson joined the New Jazz Orchestra (NJO), an adventurous large band led through Neil Ardley, and shaped the former 12 months on the Green Man pub in Blackheath. Her jazz enjoy used to be nonetheless restricted, however she discovered instant and enthusiastically, particularly in touch with the brand new track of such authentic native composers as Ardley, Michael Gibbs and Michael Garrick. Thompson and the NJO drummer, Jon Hiseman, started a dating that become a wedding in 1967.

Thompson’s occupation won momentum, each as a composer (her first printed piece, for flute and piano, used to be written whilst she used to be nonetheless at school), and as a contract. Between 1967 and 1971, she performed within the all-female staff She Trinity (enjoying the hefty baritone sax with them because the strengthen act on some gigs through the Who), co-led a quintet with the saxophonist Art Themen, and labored with John Dankworth and Cleo Laine, Gibbs and Don Rendell. In 1972, Thompson shaped the genre-splicing band Paraphernalia, with Hiseman becoming a member of later within the decade – converting incarnations of the gang would proceed as a car for her composing for the following 40 years.

Thompson performed saxes and flute along Hiseman’s jazz-rock quintet, Colosseum, on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1978 classical crossover album Variations, and he or she due to this fact collaborated with Lloyd Webber at the musicals Cats and Starlight Express. From 1973 till 1980, she led Jubiaba, a nine-piece Latin-jazz staff, and within the past due 80s introduced the massive band Moving Parts. Throughout those years, she used to be additionally incessantly a member of the world United Jazz and Rock Ensemble, a formidable outfit with a Europe-wide target market, and a lineup together with the United Kingdom trumpeters Ian Carr and Kenny Wheeler, the German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, and the United States saxist Charlie Mariano.

In 1992, to mark European Union Year, Thompson shaped the all-acoustic sextet Sans Frontiers, which featured the Italian trumpet famous person Enrico Rava and the Polish violinist Michael Urbaniak.

She used to be appointed MBE in 1996. The following 12 months, following issues about her fingering, she used to be identified with Parkinson’s illness. She endured to paintings, excursion and file for the following 4 years, however used to be in the end compelled to retire from energetic efficiency. In 2001, she instructed the Observer jazz author Dave Gelly that, even supposing medicine may just most definitely assist her thru a couple of years extra: “I won’t play below my best.”

Barbara Thompson in 1967, when it used to be a startling rarity for a lady to play saxophone Photograph: Norman Potter/Getty Images

But medicine advanced, and Thompson did go back to the level for a 2003 excursion with Colosseum, and for Paraphernalia gigs in Europe in 2005, recorded as Paraphernalia Live ’05. In 2007, she and Hiseman launched the studio album Never Say Goodbye. By the top of the last decade, Thompson used to be running on a piano concerto, the four-movement Quantum Leaps suite for the flautist Shona Brown, and the single-movement Perpetual Motion, for a 12-piece saxophone ensemble, and extra. A BBC documentary directed through Mike Dibb, Playing Against Time, a delicate learn about 5 years within the making and launched in 2011, portrayed Thompson’s inventive and bodily battles.

Thompson contributed to Colosseum’s swansong album, Time on Our Side, and toured once more with the band in 2015. She completed paintings on Paraphernalia’s eclectic ultimate album, The Last Fandango, with the Apollo Saxophone Quartet and Shona Brown guesting, and her personal lyrically shapely and storytelling improv muse on each soprano and tenor saxes.

In 2018 Hiseman died following surgical operation to take away a mind tumour. Thompson witnessed a heartfelt birthday celebration of the couple’s achievements at Shepherd’s Bush Empire the next 12 months, that includes contributors of Paraphernalia and Colosseum, and their daughter, Anna (the singer-songwriter Ana Gracey). The National Youth Jazz Orchestra’s collaboration with the rest energetic avid gamers of Paraphernalia on 10 Thompson originals used to be launched in 2021 because the studio album Bulletproof.

Thompson is survived through her youngsters, Marcus and Anna, and through two siblings, Hugh and Jane.

Barbara Gracey Thompson, saxophonist and composer, born 27 July 1944; died 9 July 2022

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