Butch Thompson, the jazzrag-time pianist from “A Prairie Home Companion,” will join the Spokane Symphony Orchestra for a New Orleans-style feast on Saturday night. Cooking up the main courses will be chefs with names like Fats, Eubie and Jelly Roll, to name a few.
“I never get tired of this kind of music,” said Thompson, contacted at home in St. Paul, Minn. “I’ve never really wanted to do anything else, and I’m lucky enough to be able to do it for a living.”
He plays a “fair number” of pops concerts every year, in addition to his work on radio and records. In this concert, the program will include “Chevy Chase Rag” and “Memories of You” by Eubie Blake, “Jitterbug Waltz” by Fats Waller, “Body and Soul” by Johnnie Green, and the “Scott Joplin Suite” by Scott Joplin.
In addition to those numbers, arranged for piano and orchestra, he will also play a number of solo pieces, including some by Jelly Roll Morton, Thompson’s all-time favorite.
“I have no orchestration for Jelly Roll, because it would be hard to orchestrate so that it’s true to the spirit of the music,” said Thompson.
Thompson is also a clarinetist, and he will play the licorice stick on “Body and Soul” and “Memories of You.”
Thompson’s rollicking piano style is familiar to millions through “A Prairie Home Companion” on public radio. He was a regular on the staff for 12 years, and now does guest appearances on the show about six times a season.
Thompson grew up as far upstream from New Orleans as you can get on the Mississippi, but the music from those New Orleans clubs and dance halls left its stamp on him as a kid.
“When I was a teenager during the ‘50s, I was as interested in my dad’s teenage music (jazz and swing) as my own,” said Thompson. “I was quite interested in boogie woogie piano, which was not that much different from the music that Fats Domino and Little Richard were playing. So it went over big with my classmates.”
His interest in boogie woogie, stride, ragtime and jazz never flagged, and in his 20s his goal was to play everything just like Jelly Roll Morton would have played it. His tastes have broadened since then, but he still feels lucky to have that music in his soul.
“It’s artistically challenging, but also entertaining,” he said.
Thompson will play the second half of the concert; the Spokane Symphony will play on its own during the first half.
Randi Von Ellefson of Whitworth College is the guest conductor. He will conduct music by Gershwin and Ellington, among others.
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MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Spokane Symphony SuperPops with guest artist Butch Thompson Location and time: Opera House, Saturday, 8 p.m. Tickets: $13, $17, $22 and $27, available at the Spokane Symphony Ticket Office, 624-1200, and G&B; G et ready for some red hot American music.