Lucky Thompson

Born in Columbia, SC, on June 16, 1924, tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson bridged the gap between the physical dynamism of swing and the cerebral intricacies of bebop, emerging as one of his instrument's foremost practitioners and a stylist par excellence. Eli Thompson's lifelong nickname -- the byproduct of a jersey, given him by his father, with the word "lucky" stitched across the chest -- would prove bitterly inappropriate: when he was five, his mother died, and the remainder of his childhood, spent largely in Detroit, was devoted to helping raise his younger siblings. Thompson loved music, but without hope of acquiring an instrument of his own, he ran errands to earn enough money to purchase an instructional book on the saxophone, complete with fingering chart. He then carved imitation lines and keys into a broom handle, teaching himself to read music years before he ever played an actual sax. According to legend, Thompson finally received his own saxophone by accident -- a delivery company mistakenly dropped one off at his home along with some furniture, and after graduating high school and working briefly as a barber, he signed on with Erskine Hawkins' 'Bama State Collegians, touring with the group until 1943, when he joined Lionel Hampton and settled in New York City.