Remembering trombonist James D. Thompson


Volume 117, No. 1January, 2017

Mildred Koester

James (Jim) Thompson (1925-2013)

My brother, the trombonist Jim Thompson, was born in 1925 in East McKeesport, Pennsylvania. As a boy, he learned how to play trombone thanks to his paper route. One of his customers was a trombonist and Jim asked him for lessons; the man agreed and refused to charge him anything. Jim sometimes practiced as much as six hours a day and was often told to stop so others in the house could sleep. One night Jim was awakened by his father who told him that he had to audition immediately for lessons from the top trombone player in Pittsburgh. So he got out of bed, went to a bar with his father and played for the trombonist around midnight. He won the lessons and his trombone skills soon increased.

Jim studied trombone first at Carnegie Tech and later at Juilliard. During World War II, he served as a stretcher bearer in the infantry, at Leyte and Okinawa. He carried his mouthpiece with him and practiced as often as he could. One day while on R&R on Okinawa, he talked to a member of the Army band who told him that the trombonist had just been shipped home. Jim talked to the leader and was transferred to the band. He always said that saved his life: his former division was sent to Iwo Jima and was wiped out.

When the war was over, Jim got on a ship headed back to California. The soldiers were told that they would be greeted by any movie star they chose. Thinking it was a joke, they asked for Marjorie Main, but were surprised when the ship landed and Marjorie Main actually showed up, accompanied by a band. Jim told this story later to his younger brother Bob. Coincidentally, Bob had been playing in the band that had backed up Marjorie Main at that exact moment. Both brothers had been in the same place at the same time but didn’t know it!

Jim settled in New York and played for Broadway shows and at Radio City Music Hall. He joined the Sauter-Finegan orchestra and performed all over the country before coming back to NYC.

One day, a woman named Anna Lippolis was at the New York music library with her boyfriend. She noticed a man looking at her. It was Jim. He came up to her and introduced himself. He told her that he was playing in an outdoor concert and maybe she would like to come. She went, they went for coffee after, and soon they were dating. Their marriage eventually lasted 50 years.

Jim was asked to play at the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico. He played at the festival for a few years and Jim and Anna decided to move there. They found an old hall and a backer who produced musicals and operas. Anna was a singer and she often sang in the operas. Jim also taught at the University of Puerto Rico. They enjoyed several years there with their daughter Jennifer.

Jim missed the states, so they moved back to New York and lived in Brooklyn. For many years he conducted the Doctors’ Orchestra, an amateur orchestra made up of medical professionals and others who enjoyed music as an avocation. They performed concerts all over the New York area. He continued to play his trombone daily for his own personal enjoyment. When Jim retired from music, they moved to southern New Jersey and enjoyed having family get-togethers where he loved to tell of his earlier adventures and accomplishments.

Jim died more than three years ago, on May 3, 2013, at the age of 88. He had been a member of Local 802 for almost 40 years. His wife Anna died on Feb. 10, 2016. We didn’t get a chance to notify fellow union musicians at the time, so we hope that Jim’s friends and colleagues enjoy this tribute.

Jim is survived by his three sisters – myself, Mae and June – and his daughter Jennifer.