Butch Thompson
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Added November 24, 2003

Butch ThompsonButch Thompson will make his first appearance at the West Coast Ragtime Festival in 2004.  In a career spanning 35 years, pianist Butch Thompson has earned a world-wide reputation as a master of ragtime, stride, and classic jazz piano. He spends much of his time on tour in the U.S. and internationally. Although he often travels as a soloist , he also appears with his well-known trio or his eight-piece New Orleans Jazz Originals band. He performs with symphony orchestras, among them recently the Hartford Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Cairo (Egypt) Symphony. Widely known for his 12-year stint (1974-1986) as house pianist and band leader on public radio's A Prairie Home Companion, he continues as a frequent guest on that show.

Thompson was born and raised in Marine on St. Croix, a small river town in Minnesota, where he was playing Christmas carols on his mother's upright piano by age three, and began formal lessons at six. He studied clarinet in high school, and led his first professional jazz group as a senior.  At 18, he made his pilgrimage to New Orleans, where he befriended and studied with the late clarinetist George Lewis, and was one of the few non-New Orleanians to appear at Preservation Hall during the 1960s and '70s.

After two years in an Army band during the '60s, Thompson returned to Minnesota. While studying Latin American music at the University of Minnesota, he spent some time in Ecuador, and wrote music based on that country's folk tunes. His Ecuadorean Suite, based on those early pieces, was premiered by the Minnesota Orchestra with Thompson at the piano in June 1998.

In 1974., Thompson began his well-remembered 12-year run as the house pianist on A Prairie Home Companion, beginning with the show's first broadcasts in July of that year. The Butch Thompson Trio, formed as the show went into national distribution in 1978, remained the official house band until 1986. Marty Eggers (current WCRS Director, and former WCRS president and West Coast Ragtime Festival director) is a member of the Trio.

During the 70s and 80s, he toured widely in Europe. In 1985, to commemorate the 100th birthday of jazz cornetist Joe "King"  Oliver, he formed his eight-piece King Oliver Centennial Band for tours in Switzerland, Germany, and England.

In 1987, Thompson commissioned composer Gordon Wright to orchestrate the five-part Scott Joplin Suite for Piano and Orchestra. Since then, he has toured widely as a pops concert soloist, specializing in such American composers as Joplin, Fats Waller, Eubie Blake and James P. Johnson.

During the early 90s, Thompson began an association with the off-Broadway show Jelly Roll! The Music and the Man, which won Obie Lucille Lortell and Outer Critics Circle awards as best off-Broadway musical of 1995. Thompson worked onstage with the show in New York and on several national tours through 1997.

In addition to his career as a performer, Thompson writes articles and reviews on jazz and produces his own weekly radio show, Jazz Originals on KBEM radio in Minneapolis. [See the WCRS Radio and TV listing for a link to the station to listen to the program live on Sunday and on its Tuesday repeat).  His writing has appeared in The Mississippi Rag, Keyboard Classics, New Orleans Music and other magazines, as well as in various CD booklets.

His recent recordings include the grammy-winning Verve release "Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton" and "Bethlehem After Dark" the ninth release in his continuing series "The 88s," produced by Mason Daring and distributed by Rounder Records. This well-known series also includes "Butch and Doc," an album of duets with the late trumpeter Doc Cheatham; and "Thompson Plays Joplin," a CD devoted to the music of Scott Joplin. A new CD,"Butch Thompson on Tour" was recorded in England.