Bert Thompson biography

Born Dec. 31, 1934, in Dundee, Scotland, Bert Thompson began playing snare drum in Scottish bagpipe bands from the age of ten and continued until he emigrated to the U.S.A.

He became aware of traditional jazz while in high school where, with a group of like-minded pupils, he listened to records by Bunk Johnson, Lu Watters, Muggsy Spanier, Turk Murphy, and the emerging British bands of Chris Barber, Ken Colyer, etc. At that time he began collecting jazz records and still does. Although he longed to play jazz, he had no drum set and did not know of any other aspiring jazz musicians while in school. So he had to make do with listening to the records.

In 1956 Bert decided to emigrate to America. At the time there was a military draft there, so he joined the U.S. Army for two years. He was sent for basic training to Fort Carson in Colorado, and there he had an audition and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division Band in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

One of his fellow bandsmen was going to be a professional drummer in New York after discharge, and he agreed to give Bert some tips on playing a drum set. As well as playing with the marching band (68 pieces strong), he played with the 16-piece dance band (Miller, the Dorseys, Kenton, Goodman, etc. arrangements) and with a quintet, which also played some traditional jazz tunes.

After being discharged in 1958 and coming back to San Francisco, Bert went to university where he earned several degrees and began his career as an English professor. In addition to teaching, he went back to music in the late 1970's, attending some jam sessions that were being held in a nearby town. Some of the musicians there decided to form a Chicago-style band, And That's Jazz, and he was asked to join.

Leaving them in 1984, he was invited the following year to join Professor Plum's Jazz, a very popular West Coast-style band with a large following. They were featured on numerous cruises and played just about every festival in the Western United States, as well as others throughout the country. Three times they had residences in Mexico. He was with that band until it disbanded in 1995.

In 1989 Bert was also asked to join Gremoli, a New Orleans-style band, all of whose members live in Southern California. Obviously he can not play many gigs with them as they are located about 400 miles from his home, but he does try to play jazz festivals and other jobs with them whenever possible.

In the mid 1980's Bert also joined a two-trumpet band led by Ted Shafer called the Jelly Roll Jazz Band, which plays many tunes from the books of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band and Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band. Around this time, too, Bert formed his own New Orleans-style band, the New Revival Jazzmen, and led it for several years before disbanding.

In the early nineties he also got a call from a New Orleans-style brass band named the Zenith New Orleans Parade Band, asking if he would play snare drum. The band consists of seven to ten pieces, depending on the gig, and is led by its only black member, its parade marshal.

Several years ago he also was asked to play drums with the British-style Phoenix Jazzers from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and did until it folded about two years later.

In addition to playing today with Gremoli, the Jelly Roll Jazz Band, and the Zenith New Orleans Parade Band, Bert is kept busy substituting with other bands in the San Francisco Bay Area needing a drummer.

Spotlight on Bert Thompson