Ross Tompkins

Versatile jazz pianist


Ross Tompkins, pianist: born Detroit 13 May 1938; married; died St Augustine, Florida 29 June 2006.

The pianist Ross Tompkins was one of the horde of immensely gifted jazz musicians that moved to Los Angeles to take advantage of the abundant work in the film, radio and television industries concentrated there. The studio work was dull, but nights were free and there was, in the good years, a multitude of jazz clubs. Because the musicians were so gifted, standards in the jazz groups were exceptionally high. The result, during the Fifties and Sixties, was that bandleaders like Shorty Rogers, Marty Paich or Bill Holman had an unlimited choice of great soloists.

Moving to the city in 1971 Tompkins came late, but soon became ubiquitous. He was both an outstanding soloist and a tasteful accompanist who could play any kind of jazz. He was drawn into jazz when he heard Louis Armstrong; his piano playing then became influenced by that of Duke Ellington, Earl Hines and Fats Waller.

His family moved from Detroit to Florida when he was young and he was brought up there. He studied music at the New England Conservatory in Boston and moved to New York in 1960. There was no shortage of good pianists in New York, but Tompkins found his niche and worked in clubs with giants such as Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Joe Newman and Wes Montgomery. He had a regular job with the Kai Winding Trombones from 1960 to 1967, making exhausting tours to play at clubs and college campuses.

When Winding accepted a job as musical director of the Playboy Clubs, the touring slowed down and amongst his other work Tompkins became the pianist of the Clark Terry-Bob Brookmeyer Quintet and that of another quintet led by Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. He worked with Benny Goodman during 1968 and managed to get a much-sought-after job in the New York studios.

On moving to Los Angeles he joined the orchestra of The Tonight Show, a television programme presented by Johnny Carson that had a huge audience across the United States. Tompkins stayed in the band from 1971 until 1992 when Carson left the show. He became the first-choice pianist for many local musicians, notably the guitarist Herb Ellis and the trumpeter-comedian Jack Sheldon.

Tompkins began recording albums under his own name in 1975, but mostly recorded for other people. He was co-leader on albums with the violinist Joe Venuti (1977) and with Red Norvo (1979) and worked often in the big band and small groups led by the drummer Louie Bellson. In 1979 he appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival with Herb Ellis.

In New York Tompkins had been a key member in the quintet led by Zoot Sims and Al Cohn and he was delighted when Zoot Sims came to Hollywood to record in 1976. Sims chose Tompkins as his pianist on the album Hawthorne Nights, recorded for Norman Granz's Pablo label. Another of his old bosses, Al Cohn, came from New York in 1978 to work briefly on the West Coast orchestrating music for the 50th anniversary of the Columbia Broadcasting System. Tompkins took the chance to book a season for the two of them to play at Donte's, then a jazz bistro in North Hollywood where Tompkins played regularly with the guitarist Herb Ellis. Cohn joined Tompkins's regular trio to make the album Ross Tompkins and Good Friends for Concord in 1977.

Throughout the Eighties Tompkins worked mainly with the bands of the trumpeter Bill Berry and with his friend Jack Sheldon. "We hit it off," said Sheldon:

I've always wanted to work with just a piano. It really is intimate. And Ross is so good. He can do anything and he knows every tune. Every tune I've ever called, he's known, and I know quite a few.

Tompkins made his last album of piano solos, Younger Than Springtime, for the Arbors label in Florida in 2000.

Steve Voce

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent