In a career spanning over 45 years, pianist and clarinetist Butch Thompson has earned a world-wide reputation as a traditional jazz and ragtime master. He tours widely as a soloist or at the helm of any of his several ensembles, including his well-known Butch Thompson Trio, his eight-piece Jazz Originals band, the Butch Thompson Big Three, or his unique blues duo with fingerstyle guitarist Pat Donohue.
He has performed with many symphony orchestras, including the Hartford Symphony, the St. Louis Symphony, the Erie Philharmonic, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Cairo (Egypt) Symphony.
Widely known for his 12-year stint as house pianist on public radio’s A Prairie Home Companion, where the Butch Thompson Trio was the house band, he continues on the show as a frequent guest.
Born and raised in Marine-on-St. Croix, a small Minnesota river town, Thompson was playing Christmas carols on his mother’s upright piano by age three, and began formal lessons at six. He picked up the clarinet in high school and led his first jazz group, “Shirt Thompson and His Sleeves,” as a senior.
After high school, he joined the Hall Brothers New Orleans Jazz Band of Minneapolis, and at 18 made his first visit to New Orleans, where he became one of the few non-New Orleanians to perform at Preservation Hall during the 1960s and ‘70s.
In 1974, he joined the staff as the house pianist of public radio’s A Prairie Home Companion,.By 1980, the show was nationally syndicated, and the Butch Thompson Trio was the house band, a position the group held for the next six years.
By the late ‘90s, Thompson was known as a leading authority on early jazz. He served as a development consultant on the 1992 Broadway hit Jelly’s Last Jam, which starred Gregory Hines. He also joined the touring company of the off-Broadway hit Jelly Roll! The Music and the Man, playing several runs with that show in New York and with its touring company through 1997.
In addition to extensive touring (he has traveled the world from Cairo to Tokyo) as a soloist and with his trio and 8-piece Jazz Originals Band, he finds time to write and teach. His writing has appeared in various magazines including Down Beat and The Mississippi Rag, and among his teaching credits are residencies at the American University in Cairo and the New England Conservatory of Music.
Among Thompson’s many recordings are his acclaimed 10-volume solo series on Daring/Rounder, the 1997 Grammy-winning Verve release Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton., and his latest release, the critically acclaimed duo CD Vicksburg Blues with guitarist Pat Donohue.