Chester Thompson Quartet
Earthy, energetic, exciting are all terms that have been used to describe the musical style of organist and keyboard player, Chester Thompson. In whichever musical setting he finds himself, he brings an impressive blend of talent, versatility and skill that ultimately drives those around him to their highest level of expression. After 25 years with Santana and 10 years, prior to that, with Tower of Power, Chester Thompson now finds himself returning to band leadership with his own powerful quartet.
Chester started playing the piano at his home in Oklahoma City at the age of five; picking out the notes he would hear from popular songs on the radio. His parents were quick to recognize this gift and arranged for formal piano lessons. Soon after, he began doubling on the organ and would accompany the choir in his church. By the time he was 13, he discovered jazz music and it soon became the major force in his musical development. At 16 years of age he decided to switch to the Hammond organ exclusively and pursue the musical revolution of the 60s.
While still in high school, Chester was approached by saxophonist, Rudy Johnson, who had heard the young organist and was inspired to reach out to him. By the time Chester was 19, he was eager to move forward in music and so he decided to pack his bags and go on the road with Rudy and his band. Along their tour of the country, the band found its way to San Francisco. Chester was so impressed with the city that when the Rudy Johnson band broke up in 1969, Chester made a permanent move to the City by the Bay and began working at a bank while he broke into the local music scene. It wasn’t long before Chester was hired as the regular keyboardist for saxophonist Jules Broussard and soon after fronted his own quartet which was heard at popular spots like Jack’s on Fillmore, among others. This led to Chester’s first record date as a leader, called Power House, which was released on the Black Jazz label in 1971.
In 1973, a member of the popular group called Tower of Power heard Chester playing at a club and asked him to join the band. This would require Chester to go back out on the road but the offer was convincing enough for him to make yet another major decision in his music career. For the next ten years, Chester Thompson fueled TOP with the highest and most energized R&B funk sound imaginable. He also wrote many of the band’s hits which now comprise their legendary playlist.
The next giant step in Chester’s career would come with the Santana band which he joined in 1983. He began with his debut on Beyond Appearances and forged ahead to inject the band’s music with his own powerful and creative musical energy. His writing skills would also continue to develop as he co-wrote, with Carlos Santana, the songs on their album Blues for Salvador, which benefited from Chester’s added spark in its Grammy Award-winning title track. For 25 years, Chester was able to have the best of both worlds: a steady gig and an environment in which to thrive and develop his composition skills. In addition to all this, Chester was afforded the opportunity to play and tour with some of the most significant people in the music world – not the least of whom was Wayne Shorter.
Today, Chester Thompson finds himself in a much less vigorous schedule but one which still demands his utmost devotion to performing and improvising in the moment. As a date leader, he can be heard returning to his jazz roots more and surrounding himself with like-minded musicians, like Dr. Lonnie Smith, who shares his love of this music in an uncompromising manner. Chester Thompson is on the move and the long awaited return of this engaging man and his music is here to behold.
Photo © Chuck Gee