Drummer Ed Thigpen, best known for his work with the Oscar Peterson trio, died Jan. 13, 2010, his family announced. We asked drummer Matt Wilson to write us some reflections on Thigpen. Here are his notes, immediately and graciously scribbled to us via iPhone. --Ed.
"Do you know why they call a drummer's seat a throne? Because drummers are kings and queens."
--Ed Thigpen, August 1984
I was a student at a Jamey Aebersold Camp in the summer of 1984. Mr. Ed Thigpen was on the faculty that week, and I recall him making that statement at the opening of his first masterclass.
Maestro Thigpen personified elegance. His posture sitting at the drums was regal. He was like a king, as he ruled the bandstand with a confident and empathetic hand. His ride cymbal sparkled with clarity. His magical touch could coax a myriad of sounds from the drums. He offered a song, a melody of time, that was the ultimate of swing and imaginative orchestration.
Then there was the wire brush in the hands of Mr. Thigpen. He could dance, weave and sing with the brushes like no other. Watching him convey the personality of the time with brushes will remain an eternal inspiration.
I contribute much of my friendship with the brushes to an invaluable 45-minute private lesson I took with him that week. He opened my ability to flow with brushes and use them to really get the drum head to sound.
I remember him saying, "Matt, your brush playing looks good, but I cannot hear them. You have to offer the band a feel with a confident sound." He then showed me ways to have a relationship with the brush to easily get that sound. My life was changed right then and there.
The other amazing aspect of Mr. Thigpen's musical life was his endless quest to learn.
That week at the camp, he attended many theory and composition classes. He was right there with us learning and absorbing. As accomplished as he was, he was a curious explorer. He was not afraid to venture into a zone where he was not totally comfortable, and was fearless. Observing that liberated many of us that week. We thought if he was willing to take chances and perhaps fail, then we should also.
My good friend Mark Dresser played on a couple of records with Mr. Thigpen, with pianist Eric Watson. Many would not immediately associate these two master musicians as a stylistic match. But the sound they make together and the feel they offer to those recordings is extraordinary. Mark loved Ed's courageous sense of adventure and ability to blend.
Like myself, Mark was inspired by this master musician with a long list of accomplishments who was still always searching and willing to evolve. Ed Thigpen celebrated the opportunity to share the moment with everyone, and was category-free. It was all music to him, and he offered everyone an elegance and sound that allowed us to venture beyond their established expectations.
Farewell, Ed Thigpen: long live a promoter of expression, and a king of sound and swing.
Jan. 14, 2010