Chester Thompson

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Chester Thompson
2157 - Pittsburgh - Mellon Arena - Genesis - Drum Duet (Chester Thompson crop).JPG
Thompson playing with Genesis in 2007
Background information
Birth nameChester Cortez Thompson
Born (1948-12-11) December 11, 1948 (age 70)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Years active1970–present
Associated acts

Chester Cortez Thompson (born December 11, 1948) is an American drummer, percussionist, session musician, producer, and teacher. He performed with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention from 1973 to 1975, and with the progressive rock band Genesis from 1977 to 1992, and again in 2007. [1] He is a current member of his jazz group, the Chester Thompson Trio, formed in 2011.

Frank Zappa American musician

Frank Vincent Zappa was an American musician, composer, activist and filmmaker. His work is characterized by nonconformity, free-form improvisation, sound experiments, musical virtuosity, and satire of American culture. In a career spanning more than 30 years, Zappa composed rock, pop, jazz, jazz fusion, orchestral and musique concrète works, and produced almost all of the 60-plus albums that he released with his band the Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist. Zappa also directed feature-length films and music videos, and designed album covers. He is considered one of the most innovative and stylistically diverse rock musicians of his era.

The Mothers of Invention American rock band

The Mothers of Invention were an American rock band from California. Formed in 1964, their work is marked by the use of sonic experimentation, innovative album art, and elaborate live shows.

Genesis (band) English rock band

Genesis were an English rock band formed at Charterhouse School, Godalming, Surrey, in 1967. The most successful and longest-lasting line-up consisted of keyboardist Tony Banks, bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford and drummer/singer Phil Collins. Significant former members were original lead singer Peter Gabriel and guitarist Steve Hackett. The band moved from folk music to progressive rock in the 1970s, before moving towards pop at the end of the decade. They have sold 21.5 million copies of their albums in the United States, with worldwide sales of between 100 million and 150 million.


Early life

Thompson was born on December 11, 1948, in Baltimore, Maryland. He has an older brother, who played in the drum corps. Unfortunately, he grew up without a father. [2] [3] At elementary school, he learned to play the flute and read music. [4] [3] At eleven, Thompson took up the drums, receiving lessons from James Harrison, a professional jazz drummer from whom he learned his rudiments. [5] [4] Thompson practiced by playing along with albums by jazz musicians Miles Davis, Max Roach and Art Blakey. From there, he moved on to studying records by drummer Elvin Jones, whom Thompson cites as a major musical influence along with Tony Williams. [3] [2] While attending high school, he studied privately with drummer and percussionist Tony Ames of the National Symphony Orchestra for one semester. [5] Thompson's practice focused on mastering drumming rudiments using a book published by the National Association of Rudimental Drummers. [3] He started to play his first live gigs two years later in local venues. Still underage, Thompson went as far as to draw a mustache on his upper lip using an eyebrow pencil "because the club owners were worried about me playing there". [4] He played as many as three jam sessions a week. [3]

Miles Davis American jazz musician

Miles Dewey Davis III was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer. He is among the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th century music. Davis adopted a variety of musical directions in a five-decade career that kept him at the forefront of many major stylistic developments in jazz.

Max Roach American jazz percussionist, drummer, and composer

Maxwell Lemuel Roach was an American jazz drummer and composer. A pioneer of bebop, he worked in many other styles of music, and is generally considered alongside the most important drummers in history. He worked with many famous jazz musicians, including Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Abbey Lincoln, Dinah Washington, Charles Mingus, Billy Eckstine, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy, and Booker Little. He was inducted into the DownBeat Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1992.

Art Blakey American jazz drummer and bandleader

Arthur "Art" Blakey was an American jazz drummer and bandleader. He was briefly known as Abdullah Ibn Buhaina after he became a Muslim in the late 1940s.


1970–1976: Early bands

Among his first major jobs was a short tour, mainly across Canada, with jazz singer Ben E. King. [4] [2] In 1970, he played with organist Jack McDuff, [2] [3] followed by gigs with other local groups before returning to Baltimore in 1971 to study at the Community College of Baltimore County. Thompson studied there for two years, including the flute, and coached a basketball team at the Rec Center. [5] He played as part of the house band in a club that supported visiting soul artists. [2]

Ben E. King American musician

Benjamin Earl King was an American soul and R&B singer and record producer. He was perhaps best known as the singer and co-composer of "Stand by Me"—a US Top 10 hit, both in 1961 and later in 1986, a number one hit in the UK in 1987, and no. 25 on the RIAA's list of Songs of the Century—and as one of the principal lead singers of the R&B vocal group the Drifters notably singing the lead vocals of one of their biggest global hit singles "Save the Last Dance for Me".

Jack McDuff American jazz organist and organ trio bandleader

Eugene McDuff, known professionally as "Brother" Jack McDuff or "Captain" Jack McDuff, was an American jazz organist and organ trio bandleader who was most prominent during the hard bop and soul jazz era of the 1960s, often performing with an organ trio. He is also credited with giving guitarist George Benson his first break.

Community College of Baltimore County

The Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) is an accredited community college located in Baltimore County, Maryland in the United States with three main campuses and three extension centers.

Thompson built a reputation as a session drummer. One of his first bands was Doc "Soul Stirrer" Young and The We Four Trio. Since the early 1970s, Thompson has played with the jazz rock band Air Pocket, a band with the Fowler Brothers at its core. [4]

Air Pocket was a jazz fusion band founded by the Fowler brothers.

From 1973 to 1975, Thompson toured and recorded with Frank Zappa as a member of his band, The Mothers of Invention. [3] He was a friend of their tour manager, Marty Perellis, also of Baltimore, and landed an audition in Los Angeles after learning of Zappa's wish to use two drummers in his group. [4] Thompson recalled the audition involved him jamming with the band for a solid hour without a break. "We just drifted in and out of so many different kinds of feels and grooves," he remembers. After the jam, Zappa told Thompson that he got the gig. [6] His time in Zappa's band was challenging because of the leader's "incredibly difficult music" which involved as much as 40 hours of weekly practice for four to six weeks before a tour. [2] Thompson played on several Zappa albums, including Roxy & Elsewhere (1974), One Size Fits All (1975), Studio Tan (1978), and You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 2 (1988).

<i>Roxy & Elsewhere</i> 1974 live album by Frank Zappa / The Mothers

Roxy & Elsewhere is a double live album by Frank Zappa and The Mothers, released in September 1974. Most of the songs were recorded on December 8, 9 and 10, 1973 at The Roxy Theatre in Hollywood, California.

<i>One Size Fits All</i> (Frank Zappa album) 1975 studio album by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention

One Size Fits All is a rock album by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, released in June 1975. It is the tenth and last studio album of the band. A special four-channel quadraphonic version of the album was advertised but not released.

<i>Studio Tan</i> 1978 studio album by Frank Zappa

Studio Tan is the 24th album by American musician Frank Zappa, first released in September 1978 on his own DiscReet Records label. It reached #147 on the Billboard 200 albums chart in the United States.

In 1975, after a Zappa tour was cancelled, Thompson joined the jazz rock band Weather Report following the departure of drummer Leon "Ndugu" Chancler and the completion of Tale Spinnin' (1975). [2] Their bassist, Alphonso Johnson, invited him to jam with them and it was a success. Thompson recalled his time in the band as a "major knock out" because he was a big fan of the group. [2] Thompson stayed with the band for Black Market , after which he left. [2]

Weather Report American jazz fusion band of the 1970s and early 1980s

Weather Report was an American jazz fusion band of the 1970s and early 1980s. The band was initially co-led by the Austrian-born keyboard player Joe Zawinul, the American saxophonist Wayne Shorter and Czech bassist Miroslav Vitouš. Other prominent members at various points in the band's lifespan included bassists Alphonso Johnson, Jaco Pastorius and Victor Bailey; and drummers/percussionists Peter Erskine, Alex Acuña, Airto Moreira, and Chester Thompson. Throughout most of its existence, the band was a quintet of keyboards, saxophone, bass, drums and percussion.

<i>Tale Spinnin</i> 1975 studio album by Weather Report

Tale Spinnin' is the fifth studio album by Weather Report, recorded and released in 1975, featuring the addition of Leon "Ndugu" Chancler on the drums. Ndugu was recruited after Josef Zawinul heard him play with Carlos Santana. Weather Report was recording next door to Ndugu in the studio, and Chancler was asked to join them for a recording session. That session ended up lasting a week and produced Tale Spinnin'. After the record, Ndugu was asked to join the band as a permanent member, but declined in favor of continuing to work with Carlos Santana.

Alphonso Johnson American musician

Alphonso Johnson is an American jazz bassist active since the early 1970s. Johnson was a member of the influential jazz fusion group Weather Report from 1973 to 1975, and has performed and recorded with numerous high-profile rock and jazz acts including Santana, Phil Collins, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, and Chet Baker.

After leaving Weather Report, Thompson played recording sessions in Los Angeles and well as part of the San Francisco Broadway theatre production of The Wiz . [5] [4] He was recommended for the gig by his friend Roy McCurdy, and it was there where he met his future wife who had parts in the musical. [3] He also toured as a member of the live band for The Pointer Sisters, and rehearsed with Santana after they expressed an interest in having Thompson join the band. [3]

1976–2007: Genesis

Thompson performing with Genesis in 1981 Chester Thompson.jpg
Thompson performing with Genesis in 1981

Just two weeks into Santana rehearsals, Thompson was invited by Genesis drummer and singer Phil Collins to join the band as their touring drummer after their current drummer, Bill Bruford, wished to move on. [4] Collins wished to pick an American drummer, and heard Thompson's playing on Zappa's live album Roxy & Elsewhere which featured Thompson playing in tandem with drummer Ralph Humphrey. [6] Thompson had heard of Genesis's music from bassist Alphonso Johnson, and agreed to join the band for rehearsals in November 1976 for their upcoming tour supporting Wind & Wuthering (1976). [4] "The first day of rehearsal, we just started jamming as everybody was setting up gear, we were just going for it". [6] Thompson was shown the drum part to "Afterglow" and at first had difficulty in playing its straightforward beat.

From 1976–2007, Thompson played with Genesis as their touring drummer. [7] Thompson is featured on the live albums Seconds Out (1977), Three Sides Live (1982), The Way We Walk, Volume One: The Shorts (1992), The Way We Walk, Volume Two: The Longs (1993), and Live over Europe 2007 (2007).

After the 1992 tour, Thompson stepped down as their touring drummer in order to spend more time with his family. [2] He talked with Genesis bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford about the possibility of playing the drums on their final studio album, Calling All Stations (1997). However, since Collins had left the band, Thompson wanted to become a full-time member of the band, and not just a side man. However, Genesis continued without Thompson for the album and tour. [2] Thompson played an impromptu jam at Collins's wedding in 1999, which made him realize how much he had missed his Genesis band mates. [2]

1977–present: Later career

Thompson joined Phil Collins as drummer for Collins's solo concert tours, drumming on the 1982/83 Hello, I Must Be Going! tour, 1985 No Jacket Required tour, 1990 ...But Seriously tour, The Tarzan Premiere tour of 1999 and The Final Farewell tour of 2004/05. He also appears on Collins' Serious Hits... Live! (1990) live album and DVD. [8]

In 1988, Thompson was invited to play the drums for former boss Frank Zappa's final concert tour before his death. Thompson declined the offer. By this time, Thompson had become a devout Christian, and Zappa's anti-religious sentiments and lyrics conflicted with his own religious beliefs. [6]

In 1989, Thompson worked as the drummer for Bee Gees for their One for All tour, in support for their One album. He was later replaced by Michael Murphy in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Thompson continued to work with other members of Genesis on their solo projects. Thompson also plays on the Steve Hackett albums, Please Don't Touch (1978) and Watcher of the Skies: Genesis Revisited (1996). Later on, he played on Tony Banks' solo album A Curious Feeling (1979). He also appears on Steve Hackett's live album The Tokyo Tapes released in 1998 which also features John Wetton, Ian McDonald and Julian Colbeck.

He was also a founding member of the band Fire Merchants with Brand X guitarist John Goodsall and bassist Doug Lunn and appeared on their first eponymous recording in 1989. Thompson played drums with Santana in 1984 and is credited in the Beyond Appearances album along with Chester D. Thompson on keyboards.

In 1992, Thompson and his family relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, after liking the area when they visited to attend noted drummer Larrie London's funeral. [9] He has since played on sessions for various artists in the area, mainly in jazz, pop, and Christian music. [2]

In 1995, former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett invited Thompson to play on his Genesis project album Genesis Revisited . Thompson was unsure of playing on all of the tracks as initially discussed, and said "we both thought it would be too weird to do the whole album with both of us being sort of ex-Genesis people". [2] Instead, Hackett brought on additional musicians and Thompson plays on just three tracks.

In the late 1990s, Thompson began touring with jazz guitarist Denny Jiosa. [2] In 1999, he released his first solo album, A Joyful Noise. In 2001, Thompson toured Korea with singer and worship leader Ron Kenoly. [2] In January 2002, Thompson performed at the debut charity gig by Collins's Little Dreams Foundation. [2]

Thompson has taught drums at Belmont University in Nashville since 1998, [2] and has also taken classes at the university in composition and arranging. In 2008, he was "two classes away" from earning a degree. [6] He is an adjunct instructor at its school of music.

In 2008, Thompson was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 32nd Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC). [10]

In 2011, Thompson formed his jazz group, the Chester Thompson Trio, with pianist Joe Davidian and bassist Mike Rinne. They had initially played together as part of the rhythm section of the Nashville Trombone Festival which was followed by a weekly residency at the Commodore Lounge for over a year. They have released two albums: Approved (2013) and Simpler Times (2015). [11]


Thompson has endorsed Ludwig Drums (1970-March, 1977), Pearl Drums (April, 1977 - July, 1987), Sonor Drums (1990–1999) and Paiste cymbals (1970–90); he has endorsed DW Drums since 2000 and Sabian cymbals since 1990. He uses Remo drumheads, Meinl Percussion, Gibraltar racks and has his own Regaltip Chester Thompson signature drumstick.

Private life

In 1980, Thompson became a Christian. He married his wife who he first met during his time playing in The Wiz in 1976. [3] They have one son. [12]

Selected discography


Chester Thompson Trio

Appears on

With O'Donel Levy

With Frank Zappa/Beefheart/Mothers of Invention

With Air Pocket

  • Fly On (1975)
  • Hunter (1985)
  • Breakfast for Dinosaurs (1988)

With Alphonso Johnson

  • Yesterday's Dreams (1976)

With Weather Report

With Caldera

With Genesis

With Flora Purim

  • Everyday, Everynight (1978)

With Steve Hackett

With Tony Banks

With Linda Clifford

With Freddie Hubbard

With Leroy Hutson

With David Pritchard

  • City Dreams (1979)

With Brenda Holloway

  • Brand New! (1980)

With Ahmad Jamal

With Hidehiko Matsumoto

  • Prediction (1980)

With High Inergy

  • High Inergy (1981)

With Bingo Miki & His Inner Galaxy Orchestra of America

  • Mystic Solar Dance (1981)

With Johnny Lytle/Albert Dailey/Chester Thompson

  • I Giganti Del Jazz Vol. 93 (1982)

With Stefano Sabatini

  • Sabatini (1982)

With Michel Colombier

  • Old Fool Back on Earth (1983)

With Santana

With Cosmos & Their L.A. Friends

  • Session V (1985)

With Fire Merchants

  • Fire Merchants (1989)

With Phil Collins

With Chris Catena

  • Freak Out (2004)

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