BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Evans Thompson, a jazz pianist, composer and multitalented artist well known on the Downtown music scene, died in mid-February. He was 75.
The cause was reportedly a fall in his Irving Place apartment, where he was found by his building superintendent.
According to his son, Kali Smikle, Evans Thompson grew up in White Plains, in Westchester County. He was adopted, with his adoptive father a corrections officer.
He was the leader of a band, the Evans Thompson True Story, and known especially for Afro-Cuban music. He often played piano at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, sometimes dropping by after a service to hold a show there. He was also a draftsman and a poet.
Thompson was also known from the neighborhood in the East Village, where he liked to hang out and previously lived on E. 10th Street before moving to Gramercy.
Possibly due to a botched knee operation after an injury when he was 15, he had a distinctive gait, trailing a stiff leg behind him as he walked, yet was strong and agile.
A group of about 20 friends gathered at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery on Sun., June 25, for a memorial. The event was organized by Frank Morales, a former pastor at the East Village church.
Robert James, who grew up with Thompson, recalled days playing basketball as youths and that Thompson had a sweet shot. He recalled concerts at Thompson’s home, with up to a dozen musicians, more like spontaneous jam sessions, with Latin music and jazz standards. People would pick up congas and just start playing, he said.
Thompson’s friend X Pitts, an East Village artist, said, “He was an artist and poet besides his music. He was deep and we were close.”
Thompson’s son, Smikle, said he never knew his father until he was 20, when Smikle was involved in a high-profile robbery on Long Island — of Sing Sing Prison’s pastor. Thompson recognized his son’s name in the news stories.
“I was arrested for something,” he told The Village Sun. “I was in the news. He saw it. He wrote me a letter. I thought it was fake.”
Smikle said Thompson wasn’t in his life earlier on because he had a drug habit, which he kicked in 1983.
“He was on drugs. He was on heroin,” he said. “That’s why he wasn’t around.”
In an interesting note, he said Thompson used his drafting skills to make a tie drawer for Larry Silverstein, the World Trade Center developer. He had studied drafting and had a drafting table in his home.
Smikle had only just recently found out about his dad’s passing.
“My daughter’s Sweet 16 is on June 30 — I was going to call him,” he said.
Other survivors include Thompson’s adoptive sister and her daughter.
Marie McAuliffe, a Westbeth resident, recalled fun times going to music workshops and jazz shows with Thompson.
“We’d go to the Knickerbocker and Sweet Basil’s,” she said. “He was so full of life and obstreperousness. If you had an opposing view — salt and vinegar. The last time I saw him, in January, he was on a whole waffles kick,” she said, recalling a last breakfast together, at Veselka.
Guitarist On Davis said of Thompson, “Being Downtown, all the musicians knew each other. He had basically created his own scene. He was the captain of his own ship.”
Katharine Wolpe said she would just really miss seeing Thompson around the neighborhood.
Thompson also was learned on African pantheism and the Yoruba gods, like Oshun, to whom, he would sometimes explain during sets, Africans would sing during the middle passage on slave ships.
“I staged an Afro-Cuban version of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ at Columbia University and Nuyorican Poets Cafe in 1995,” recalled Elizabeth Ruf, who also sang at the memorial. “Evans was brought into the show; he coached the singers in Orisha singing and played congas.”
Afterward, Morales said he hoped the community of Thompson’s friends would stay connected.
“I know him from the neighborhood from the mid-’80s. I liked his music,” he said. “He gave me his CDs. He was very committed to Black liberation and the Black predicament in this country, and he let you know it. We would talk politics, and I like to talk politics. But it was his music that really drew me to him.
“This is like a rolling memorial,” Morales said. “It’s going to evolve into maybe an Evans Thompson Jazz Fest.”
For more about Evans Thompson and his music, visit evansthompsontruestory.com.