Lucky Thompson with Boyd Raeburn: A Revision

Now having the ability to enter solo information using the BRIAN software, I have been going through sessions gathering information on soloists’ identities, solo order and duration. The first subject that I’m tackling in this regard is Lucky Thompson, which, of course, is a monumental undertaking.

In listening to music for the first time in many years, I am making discoveries that are causing me to reevaluate some of the data currently displayed in my discographies. Here is an example from the Boyd Raeburn session of February 5, 1946 for Jewell Records (later reissued on Savoy). Dieter Salemann, in the additions/corrections to his publication “Eli ‘Lucky’ Thompson 1943-1950: Roots of Modern Jazz – The Bebop Era, Vol. 13” (2001), indicates that based on aural evidence, Thompson is not present on “Boyd Meets Stravinsky” (matrix JRC133-2) and that the tenor sax solo is by Ralph Lee. A similar view is offered by Jack McKinney in his notes for Savoy SJL 2250 (Jewells). On the other hand, the 1995 Savoy (Nippon Columbia) CD reissue SV 0273 (Jewells) indicates that Thompson is the “guest” tenor sax soloist on this track, as does the booklet accompanying the box set Smithsonian DMM 6-0610 (Big Band Jazz). Weir’s excellent Thompson discography (Names & Numbers, 2010) and Jan Evensmo’s Thompson solography (“The Tenor Sax of Eli ‘Lucky’ Thompson”) (2015) also attribute the solo to Thompson.

I had always assumed that Thompson was the soloist on this track but after recently (August 2016) reanalyzing this track and other versions of “Boyd Meets Stravinsky,” it is now my opinion that the tenor saxophone soloist is, in fact, Ralph Lee. The solo does not display Thompson’s tone, conception and assuredness and sounds like Lee is struggling at the breakneck tempo. Actually, to my ears, of the three versions of this composition in the discography, the only one on which Thompson solos is the AFRS Jubilee 169 transcription from early February 1946.

One might wonder, as I did, who was Ralph Lee? Lord’s The Jazz Discography indicates that his short recording career began in 1942 with Freddie Slack’s orchestra, an association that seems to have lasted until the end of 1944. During 1945 and 1946, he overlaps with Thompson in the bands of Raeburn, Earle Spencer and Lyle Griffin, but then he’s not heard from again. If anyone has further information on Lee, I’d be interested in hearing it.