Letters 11-23-2015

Cheering From Petoskey While red-eyed rats boil fanatically up from the ancient sewers of Paris to feast on pools of French blood, at the G20 meeting the farcical pied piper of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thrusts a bony finger at the president of the Russian Federation and yells: “liberté, égalité, fraternité, Clinton, Kerry--Obamaism!”

The Other Mothers And Fathers Regarding the very nice recent article on “The First Lady of Yoga,” I have taken many classes with Sandy Carden, and I consider her to be a great teacher. However, I feel the article is remiss to not even give acknowledgement to other very important yoga influences in northern Michigan...

Drop The Blue Angels The last time I went to the National Cherry Festival, I picked the wrong day. The Blue Angels were forcing everyone to duck and cover from the earsplitting cacophony overhead...

Real Advice For The Sick In the Nov. 16 article “Flu Fighters,” author Kristi Kates fails to mention the most basic tool in our arsenal during Influenza season... the flu vaccine! I understand you might be afraid of being the victim of Jenny McCarthyism, but the science is there...

Keeping Traverse City in the Dark Our environment is our greatest asset. It sustains our lives; it drives our economy. We ignore it at our peril. Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) has submitted letters of concern to both the city commission and planning commission regarding the proposed 9-story buildings on Pine Street. We have requested an independent environmental assessment with clear answers before a land use permit is granted...

All About Them Another cartoon by Jen Sorensen that brings out the truth! Most of her cartoons are too slanted in a Socialist manner, but when she gets it correct, she hits the nail on the target! “Arizona is the first state to put a 12-month lifetime limit on welfare benefits.” That quote is in the opening panel... 

Unfair To County Employees It appears that the commissioners of Grand Traverse County will seek to remedy a shortfall in the 2016 budget by instituting cuts in expenditures, the most notable the reduction of contributions to various insurance benefits in place for county employees. As one example, the county’s contributions to health insurance premiums will decrease from ten to six percent in 2016. What this means, of course, is that if a county employee wishes to maintain coverage at the current level next year, the employee will have to come up with the difference...

Up, Not Out I would like to congratulate the Traverse City Planning Commission on their decision to approve the River West development. Traverse City will either grow up or grow out. For countless reasons, up is better than out. Or do we enjoy such things as traffic congestion and replacing wooded hillsides with hideous spectacles like the one behind Tom’s West Bay. At least that one is on the edge of town as opposed to in the formerly beautiful rolling meadows of Acme Township...

Lessons In Winning War I am saddened to hear the response of so many of legislators tasked with keeping our country safe. I listen and wonder if they know what “winning” this kind of conflict requires or even means? Did we win in Korea? Did we win in Vietnam? Are we winning in Afghanistan? How is Israel winning against the Palestinians? Will they “take out” Hezbollah...

Home · Articles · News · Music · Butch Thompson
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Butch Thompson

Kristi Kates - January 17th, 2011
Butch Thompson, Jazz Original 1/17/11
By Kristi Kates
Accomplished pianist/clarinetist Butch Thompson - also a Grammy Award winner and one of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion sidekicks - is on his way to the City Opera House in TC this Saturday, complete with his all-star New Orleans Jazz Originals lineup.
It’s set to be a great show from the career musician and informal jazz historian who’s well-steeped in the legends and sounds of the N’Awlins music scene - a long cry from Thompson’s low-key Midwestern beginnings.
“I was born in a small town on the St. Croix River in Minnesota,” Thompson explains. “the population there was 300, with the nearest ‘big city,’ St. Paul, about 30 miles away.”
The first live music Thompson heard was played on the family’s upright piano. He started formal lessons with a local pianist when he was six, and grew up listening to his dad’s jazz recordings up to the World War II era, becoming a fan of Louis Armstrong from the time he turned 10 years old.
“What fascinated me about that music was the rhythm, I think,” Thompson says, “as a teenager, I was also involved with the ’50s music of my own generation - Fats Domino, Elvis - but I was more fascinated with early jazz.”
Piano lessons began for Thompson at the age of six, while clarinet became part of his musical life in high school, where he played in the school band.
“I loved the clarinet because I had heard great jazz clarinetists on my dad’s records,” Thompson recollects. “I was also crazy about boogie-woogie piano as a teenager, and used to play the ‘50s popular hits in that style, which went over very well with my high school classmates.”
In college, he met the Hall Brothers Jazz Band, a six-piece outfit that played traditional New Orleans-style jazz, and they took the upstart performer on as their clarinetist Louisiana suddenly became only a few steps away.
“I learned a lot from them, and traveled to New Orleans numerous times while in college,” he says.

Thompson’s experiences in New Orleans were anchored by his early meetings of what he calls “the old-timers” - N’Awlins “local legend” musicians who were part of the scene there.
“There was a clarinetist, George Lewis - he was in his early ’60s when I met him - I bought all the recordings (of his) that I could find, and tried hard to imitate everything he did,” Thompson says.
New Orleans famed Preservation Hall, set deep in the French Quarter with its rotating roster of jazz bands, opened in 1961 - and Thompson was practically on its doorstep, soon to become one of the few non-locals to perform at the venue.
“I was there by early 1962.” he says, “The entire Hall Brothers band was there, and we were invited to play a party. Allan Jaffe, who ran the place, invited a lot of the older musicians who performed regularly at the Hall, so we sat there and played for them. They were extremely friendly and interested in what we were doing - which was wonderful - but the best part was when a number of them sat in.
“That’s where my real New Orleans training began.”
By the mid-’60s, Thompson was learning everything that he could about the old style in New Orleans, right alongside his fellow musicians, both established talents and “newbies.” He never actually lived in the city of his inspiration, but he spent ample chunks of time there, and was sometimes even hired to perform with some of his heroes.
“It was a great honor, and I learned more than I can possibly say,” Thompson says.

Taking all of this acquired knowledge and skill and putting it into a band project of his own would become the achievement that Thompson is perhaps best known for these days, next to his work with Keillor’s show (he was house pianist/bandleader for Prairie Home... from 1974 to 1985, and continues to make appearances today) His popular New Orleans Jazz Originals group brings together some of the best early jazz players in the country, with Thompson happily at the helm.
“They’re all friends and collaborators of mine,” he says, “they’re from all over the country, and we can only get together on tour, but whenever we book a show, everything just gells perfectly.”
The band, Thompson says, doesn’t have a particular method of putting together their live setlist, either.
“The simple answer is that we play things we like,” he explains, “we include ragtime, blues, vintage pop songs, spirituals, and more.”
This, of course, is part of the band’s success - not only do they include tunes that will appeal to a wide range of jazz fans, but their carefree enthusiasm is infectious, as is Thompson’s own appreciation for the opportunities he’s had as a musician to date. His shows are fun and energetic, and the music, of course, is played with top-notch skill.
“I am extremely lucky to be able to bring the music that means so much to me to a wider audience,” he says, “my shows are not designed as history lessons - they’re supposed to be entertainment. It’s a lesson I take from Louis Armstrong. He had the highest musical standards, but a big part of his mission was to entertain - it’s the New Orleans way.”

Butch Thompson and The New Orleans Jazz Originals will be in concert at the City Opera House in Traverse City on Saturday, January 22, at 8 p.m. Tickets $35/$20, student tickets $15. www.cityoperahouse.org.

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