When people talk about female saxophonists of international renown, it’s usually Candy Dulfer that comes to mind; when I think about players of the fair sex, it’s always Barbara Thompson whose name and music I mentally hear. And now the lady who was a part of jazz elite for decades – as long as she was able to blow her instrument – and was awarded the MBE in 1996 for services to music has passed away, drawing her last ever breath on July 9th, not long before her 78th birthday. An associate member of UNITED JAZZ AND ROCK ENSEMBLE and COLOSSEUM and the leader of JUBIABA abd PARAPHERNALIA, the latter band’s concerts emphasizing what an intrepid performer Ms. Thompson used to be.
Though classically trained, Barbara never let the rules of symphonic idiom limit her natural leanings towards improvisation, and that’s how she ended up working with such luminaries of this genre as Neil Ardley, Ian Carr, Peter Lemer, Roy Babbington and, of course, Jon Hiseman whom she met in THE NEW JAZZ ORCHESTRA and married in 1967 – which led to the spouses participating in each other’s endeavors and in other artists’ projects, including “Variations” by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The lady’s sax and flute lines can be heard on, to recall but a few, COLOSSEUM’s "Valentyne Suite" and "The Roaring Silence" from MANFRED MANN‘S EARTH BAND, the original London cast’s recording of “Cats” and “The Battle Of North West Six” by KEEF HARTLEY BAND – as well on her solo albums and platters from the groups she fronted. Barbara replaced the late Dick Heckstall-Smith in COLOSSEUM in 2005 yet had to retire soon after due to Parkinson’s disease she had been fighting since 1997.
Her illness was one of the concerns Jon shared with me when we met in 2004, and it was for his wife that Hiseman asked me to send a photo of him I took in the café of Royal Festival Hall – because she liked the picture. So while our paths, Thompson’s and mine, never crossed, even after her husband’s passing in 2018, I always felt like I knew her in a way. She was great as a person, and despite the complexity of her oeuvre, she had a lot of fans, the success of last year’s 14CD-box set “Live At The BBC” a testament to that. In her case, the banal “they don’t make it like that anymore” wouldn’t be so clichéd – she will be sorely, sorely missed by many.