Donald Winston Thompson (born 18 January 1940) is a Canadian jazz musician, playing bass, piano and vibraphone, and a composer, arranger, producer and educator.
After taking piano lessons as a young child, Thompson took up the bass and the vibraphone in his teens.
He moved to Vancouver in 1960 and began his career as a professional musician, appearing with groups led by some of Vancouver’s finest musicians including Dave Robbins, Fraser McPherson and Chris Gage.
He joined the John Handy Quintet in 1965 and moved to San Francisco for two years. During this time the Handy Quintet played extensively throughout North America and recorded two albums for Columbia Records – one of which, John Handy Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival, became one of the most popular jazz albums of the 1960s.
Thompson returned to Canada in 1967 and joined Rob McConnell’s The Boss Brass in 1969. Initially he was a percussionist in the band, but switched to bass in 1971, and then 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.
He played in the house rhythm section at Toronto’s Bourbon Street jazz club, working with such musicians as Paul Desmond, Jim Hall, Milt Jackson, Art Farmer, Clark Terry, Lee Konitz and Abbey Lincoln, to name a few. At other Toronto venues he played with Sarah Vaughan, Red Rodney, Joe Henderson and Kenny Wheeler, among others.
In 1974, he joined guitarist Jim Hall’s trio, travelling to Europe and Japan and touring the USA and Canada. He joined pianist George Shearing in 1982 for five years, appearing at virtually every major jazz club and festival in the USA, as well as touring the UK and Brazil.
In the late 1990s, Thompson formed the Banff Alumni Jazz Ensemble and toured Canada in 1998, playing all of the jazz festivals. In 1999, he played Carnegie Hall as a member of the George Shearing Quintet, this time on vibraphone. He continued to work with Shearing until the latter’s retirement in 2004.
In 2000, Thompson played Montreal International Jazz Festival with Jim Hall and joined the George Shearing Quartet for a week in New York to play at the famous Birdland. This week was recorded and formed TELARC Records’ critically acclaimed Back to Birdland album.
In 2007, Thompson composed ‘Reflections’ for cellist Coenraad Bloemendal and harpist Erica Goodman. He also produced one half of a concert for CBC Radio (Canada Live) featuring his Quartet performing his own jazz adaptations of some of Bach’s music.
Most recently, in 2013, Thompson recorded two albums as a pianist – Look for the Silver Lining with Phil Dwyer on tenor sax, and Tranquility with bassist Neil Swainson.
In this live recording, the Don Thompson Quintet play ‘Salt Peanuts’ at Jazz at the Old Millerphonic in 2007 – with Thompson on piano.