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Jeter Thompson 1930 - 2017

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Pianist Jeter Thompson, whose leadership of the groups Quartette Trés Bien and Trio Trés Bien made him a significant figure on the St. Louis jazz scene from the Gaslight Square era into the 21st century, died on Friday, December 1. He was 87 years old.

Born in St. Louis on March 16, 1930, Thompson started playing piano at five years old, and made his first professional appearance at age 16 in 1946, performing with saxophonist Emmett Carter at a downtown club called the Coconut Grove.

He went to Sumner High School, where in 1948 he was senior class president, and subsequently attended Stowe College for two years, earning an associates degree. He then joined the U. S. Air Force, serving in Korea.

Returning home in 1954, Thompson played various local gigs until the formation in 1959 of Quartette Trés Bien, which in its best-known lineup included bassist Richard Simmons, drummer Albert St. James, and percussionist Percy James.

The group became a popular attraction in the then-booming Gaslight Square entertainment district, serving as the house band at The Dark Side, where in 1962 they were filmed as part of an episode of the CBS drama Route 66.

In 1963, Thompson and his bandmates became partners in the Trés Bien Club, located on the south side of Olive St. near the Gaslight Club. Around that same time, they were approached by Norman Wienstroer to record for his St. Louis-based label Norman Records.

The group made two albums for Norman, Boss Trés Bien and Kilimanjaro, and in 1965 also backed singer Jeanne Trevor on her debut recording for the label. Wienstroer subsequently helped the Quartette gain the attention of Decca Records, which re-issued their first two albums and would release eight more recordings of them over the next few years.

With an assist from fellow St. Louisan Dick Gregory, whose standup comedy career was peaking at the same time, Quartette Trés Bien also became a touring band. They appeared with Gregory at the Apollo in Harlem; on a bill with Thelonious Monk at the It Club in Los Angeles (where Monk would make a famous live recording for Columbia Records); and as headliners at storied jazz spots of the 1960s including the Plugged Nickel in Chicago, Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit, Crawford's Grill in Pittsburgh, The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, CA, and many others.

Back home in St. Louis, they performed with singer Sarah Vaughan at Powell Hall, and appeared on bills with singer Nancy Wilson and the Count Basie Orchestra.

In 1973, with Gaslight Square a distant memory and jazz clubs closing around the nation, Quartette Tres Bien dissolved. Thompson worked as a cartographer for the U.S. Defense Mapping Agency and as a real estate agent, and went on to form Trio Tres Bien with his brothers, bassist Harold Thompson and drummer Howard Thompson.

Trio Trés Bien found ample work locally playing clubs, concerts and private events, and in 2004 issued a self-released album, Coming Together. They continued to perform into the 2010s, sometimes with Harold's daughter, vocalist Danita Mumphard.

In 2014, Trio Trés Bien was inducted into the St. Louis Jazz Hall of Fame at Harris-Stowe State University's Wolfe Jazz Institute.

In addition to his brothers and niece, Jeter Thompson is survived by his wife, Louisa; his daughters Donna Patton and Pamela Cobb; his sister, Patricia Whitelocke; and, to quote his obituary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren."

Arrangements were by Austin Layne Normandy Chapel, and a funeral was held on Friday, December 8 at St. Louis Bible Way Baptist Church.

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This story appears courtesy of St. Louis Jazz Notes by Dean Minderman.
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