Here’s a record that captures the long tradition of performing New Orleans jazz way up here in Minneapolis. Butch Thompson is, of course, most known for his long association with A Prairie Home Companion, but began a career seeped in New Orleans jazz at nineteen when he joined Minneapolis’ Hall Brothers Jazz Band as a clarinetist.
Lots of folks wouldn’t think of Minneapolis as a hotbed of traditional jazz, but in fact our city has a direct link to New Orleans through riverboats and the bands that played them. The Hall Brothers were just a couple of many local musicians who worked to bring traditional jazz performers to Minneapolis — one of their great successes was a 1966 concert by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the old Guthrie Theater, with Sweet Emma Barrett playing the piano.
Thompson didn’t stay long with the Hall Brothers’ band, but brought something of their sense of arrangement to his piano playing, making his style a perfect match for the piano solos of jazz’s first great arranger, Jelly Roll Morton. From his debut album in 1966 (pictured here is a reissue), here is Butch Thompson performing one of our favorite Jelly Roll compositions, “Tiger Rag”:
Thompson was born in Marine on St. Croix, and discovered the music of New Orleans by collecting records. From his brief online autobiography:
By now I was collecting 12-inch LPs, and had a multi-speed “high fidelity” record player. I bought everything I could find by Louis Armstrong, including his wonderful tribute LPs to W.C. Handy and Fats Waller, reissues of his Hot Fives and Sevens from the ’20s, and even an album of his earliest work, the 1923 acoustic recordings with King Oliver and His Creole Jazz Band.
And if you think traditional jazz is not alive and well here in our hometown, we encourage you to check out the Southside Aces. You can hear this exceptional band on the second Thursday of every month at the Eagles Club right here in our neighborhood. You won’t be disappointed!