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Ed Thigpen Jazz Drummer Dies

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Ed Thigpen Jazz drummer Ed Thigpen, who often was described as “Mr. Taste" for his sensitive accompaniment of instrumentalists and singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell and Billy Taylor, died Wednesday at Hvidovre Hospital in Copenhagen. He was 79.

Thigpen, who suffered from Parkinson's disease, was hospitalized before Christmas with heart and lung problems. His son, Michel, noted on Thigpens website that his father “passed away very peacefully . . . in the company of his friends and family."

In addition to the “Mr. Taste" label, Thigpen also was identified as a musician's drummer, a player who set a standard for blending subtle, propulsive swing with an adaptability that allowed him to function in a wide range of musical settings.

“Even though he seldom ever wanted to show all of the skills that he had -- which was a matter of his good taste and selectivity," said drummer and friend Ed Shaughnessy, “he had a great deal of ability on the drum set. He wasn't a dogmatic player. He could be as perfect as he was with Oscar Peterson, and then he could be completely different in another context."

Universally admired for the subtle range of timbres he extracted from his drum kit, Thigpen was especially adept with the use of brushes -- a technique that he believed had been largely abandoned by a younger generation of drummers.

“Since the emergence of rock, which for the most part has always required heavy drumming," he told Leonard Feather in The Times in 1986, “the brushes were set aside, or, for most of the young players who began during this period, have never been used at all. My father and many others -- Jo Jones, Art Blakey, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Elvin Jones -- all had a great influence on my use of the brushes, which I still believe must remain an important part of any drummer's performance."

In the mid-'50s, his performances and recordings reached from singer Dinah Washington, saxophonists Johnny Hodges and Paul Quinichette to such cutting-edge artists as Lennie Tristano and Gil Melle.

From 1959 to 1966, he joined with bassist Ray Brown as the rhythm team for Oscar Peterson, forming one of the classic jazz trios, recording dozens of albums with the high powered pianist.

“When you're in a band like Oscar Peterson's," said drummer Bobby Colomby, “it's as much supporting as it is getting out of the way, which, for a drummer, is quite a talent. And Thigpen added something that was perfect for the context of that situation, and for whatever music he was playing."


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