I sat down with Contemporary Latin Jazz Flutologist, Arch Thompson and talked with him about his music and his life as a Jazz Musician.
Arch comes from a family of musicians. At a young age he was exposed to all types of music. Everyone in his family was encouraged to listen to and play music.
Arch began his music career at the age of twelve. He said he first wanted to
play trumpet when in elementary school but that never came about. At his
first opportunity to become a member of a band, he wanted to play the flute
but there was only one in the school band and it was in the hands of an upper
classman. Arch's first instrument was the trombone. He was not pleased with
the instrument but it got him into the music. While the trombone is a worthy
instrument, it did not feel right in his hands and is not his first choice
of a wind instrument. While playing in the school band, Arch traded in the
trombone for a Saxophone, but he kept his eye on the flute. At some point
several flute instruments came into the possession of the music teacher. Arch
asked if he could borrow one to practice with. The teacher allowed him to do
When he began practicing with the flute, he would play along with a
friend named "Reggie". He did this until he began taking flute
lessons with the L.A. Philharmonic Youth Organization through his school .
During this time he began to see music as a spiritual calling for him, but
he had never actually performed in front of an audience.
his mother died he withdrew himself from negative influences in his life.
The true turning point for him was his flute solo at her funeral. He
said he did not know if he had the courage to stand up and play the solo.
He promised himself that he would pursue the playing of the flute as his
life mission if he did and he has kept this promise.
While 16 years old, he said his father would take him to clubs
where he would sit in with the band. He said he remembered standing
online with other musicians waiting to have a turn on stage. His
father was his spokesperson at the clubs for his music and the club "Jam
Sessions" were his inspiration.
In Los Angeles, on any given day, one might go to Griffith Park to
hear the sound of the drums. This was a group of musicians that would gather and
beat out the rhythms. As part of his learning flute, Arch would go to
park and play behind the drums. He did this on a regular basis.
He said one day, some people who had been listening to him said "Hey!
Listen to this guy!", speaking of Arch playing. He was accepted into
the group and learned to play the drum as well as the flute. Arch
became a "percussion flute player" and will sometimes also play a percussion
instrument during his performances.
After graduating, Arch attended City College in L.A. where he said he came in
contact with better musicians. Through these contacts he began doing a lot of performing.
It was also around this time that he heard the music of John Coltrane.
He said that through Coltrane, he began to see music as an even greater spiritual experience.
He said Coltrane's "Love Supreme" raised his consciousness and he began
playing his own "music within". He adopted a spiritual life -
both within and outside the music and began dedicating more time to it.
Arch left City College to join the Army, but not as a musician. Once in though,
he auditioned for the Army Band and was accepted. He was assigned to
the band under an "on the job" program to learn to play with them.
What he discovered was that he did not like the type of music he was
required to play. While with the Army Band, he had the opportunity to play
with a salsa band, this chance encounter introduced him to a number of Latin
artists and awakened an interest in Latin music.
After the Army, he returned to City College, but was possessed of a
desire to learn to play Latin music. He talked about the music with
someone he knew while at school on a regular basis and was finally told he should stop asking and go
there. Arch decided that he needed to immerse himself in the culture of
the music to learn it and the only way to do that would be to go to the
Caribbean. Once committed, he bought a plane ticket to Puerto Rico.
Beyond buying the plane ticket, Arch did not plan the trip, he just went.
After arriving in San Juan, he wound up broke with no place to live.
He began playing his flute on the street to
made enough money to secure a place. He was in Puerto Rico for five
months living and playing the music in venues on the island.
Arch left Puerto Rico for New York City. He had always wanted
to go there to live and learn more about music and play his flute. He related an earlier excursion in
which he took his flute on a bus from L.A. to New York. He arrived and was
overwhelmed by the place. He stayed three days then took the bus back
to L.A. He said he had always looked on that experience as one of his
failings, but he realizes he was "not ready". On this trip
to New York from Puerto Rico he had the good fortune to meet a lady on the plane "Sister
Iris", who took him in for a year.
After arriving in New York, Arch said he saw musicians playing in the subway. He
found this intriguing. He was not working and thought it would be an
opportunity to practice and make a living so he swallowed his pride and
began playing his flute in the subway. He
said after he started, he began to meet other musicians. He would hang
out at the Blue Note and would take part in Jam Sessions. While a
dangerous way to live, he said "the Street was good" to him. It showed
him "if you really love something then you live it". He was in "the City"
for 12 years.
DCB: Did you ever tour or play in an orchestra? AT: No. As a flute player, you
limit yourself. Unless you have your own band, you will find yourself
out of work. While at City College I played with one for an Easter
Sunrise service at Vickery Baptist Church and they paid us. Other than
that one occasion, I did not play in an orchestra but did play in small
DCB: While in New York, what kinds of groups did you
play with? AT: I began sitting in with Cuban musicians
like Potato, Chocolate and others. It should be noted that Potato and
Chocolate were well known Latin musicians in the city. I played with "Los Africanos",
which was an African Caribbean style of jazz band. It was a big experience.
I performed with Stefon Harris and Alex Blake and Bob Cunningham
as well. For a while I played with a dance company. I did an
Alvin Ailey gig on Broadway. I can say I went from the "subway to
Broadway" while in New York.
DCB: All things considered, if you had the opportunity
to play another style of music, what would it be and
why? AT: Gospel. Starting with Coltrane's "A
Love Supreme", I feel that I have been evolving into a more spiritual person.
The way I see it, spirituals exalt the higher self - the Love Supreme.
Playing or singing gospels are about God. The lyrics are clean and
non-derogatory, which appeals to me.
DCB: What is your favorite music to play? AT: I'm receptive to most types of music.
I play Classical, R&B and straight ahead jazz, but my favorite is
"Afro-Cuban". For me, music is about the "beats and rhythm". I
was moved enough by the Latin rhythms to go to Puerto Rico to both live and
learn the music. It is a part of me.
DCB: What are your thoughts about today's musicians? AT: There was a time when musicians would meet
and rehearse. Today most performances are just "Jam Sessions".
Musicians don't have time to rehearse. Their most important thought is
how and when they will get paid. This is not a bad thing because we
have to pay the rent, but I think the art suffers some from this. I
sense a loss of originality because of this. There was a time when you
could differentiate between Coleman Hawkins and Stanley Turrentine.
Now so many sound the same.
DCB: What have you taken away from your experiences
over the years? AT: Living on "the street" was my most
difficult experience. I saw and experienced both the good and the bad
I learned good things. I learned that the ultimate thing is
to endure. I apply this to both life and music.
moved to the DC area to be near his kids several years ago. Since arriving, he has continued his musical
evolution. He can be heard performing with his own groups,
Flute Visions and Visions of Jazz. He also performs with numerous groups
in the area. You can
contact Arch and obtain information about future performances through his
Visit Arch's website to read more about his musical
philosophy, his background and where he hopes to go with his music.