Don Thompson (bass, piano, vibraphone, composer, arranger, producer, educator) was born in 1940, in Powell River, British Columbia, Canada. After taking piano lessons as a young child, he took up the string bass and vibraphone in his teens, all instruments on which he is basically self-taught. He moved to Vancouver in 1960 and began his career as a professional musician, working with the likes of Dave Robbins and Fraser McPherson.
In 1965 he moved to San Francisco to join the Legendary John Handy Quintet for a two year stint. While there he also performed with Maynard Ferguson, Frank Rosolino and George Duke.
Thompson returned to Canada in 1967 and has resided in Toronto since 1969, the same year he became a member of Rob McConnell and The Boss Brass, initially as percussionist, then switching to bass in 1971, and later to piano from 1987 to 1993. He was also a member of Moe Koffman’s group from 1970 to 1979, first as bassist and later as pianist/arranger. Throughout the same period, he worked with guitarists Sonny Greenwich, Ed bickert, Lenny Breau, as well as projects of his own.
As a member of the house rhythm section at Toronto’s legendary Bourbon Street jazz club, Thompson worked with a legion of jazz celebrities including Paul Desmond, Jim Hall, Milt Jackson, Clark Terry, Zoot Sims, Lee Konitz, Art Farmer, also appearing in other Toronto venues with Sarah Vaughan, Joe Henderson, Red Rodney and Kenny Wheeler.
Thompson became a member of guitarist Jim Hall’s trio in 1974 and joined pianist George Shearing in 1982 for a five year period. He was a member of the Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra since its formation.
In 1997 he organized a band called the Banff Alumni Jazz Ensemble, and in 1998 toured Canada playing all of the Canadian Jazz festivals. In 1999, he played Carnegie hall as a member of the George Shearing Quintet, this time on vibraphone, and continued to work with Shearing until he retired in 2004.
Thompson has won Eight Jazz Report Awards for Vibraphonist of the Year, Six National Jazz Awards for Instrumentalist of the Year, Three Socan Awards for Best Composition of the Year, Three Juno Awards and achieved the Officer of the Order of Canada in 2009.
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Photo: by Jesse Cahill