b. Gail Alison Thompson, 15 June 1958, London, England. After leaving school in the mid-70s, Thompson began attracting attention with her striking saxophone playing, in particular her work on baritone. She played with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and was co-founder with Courtney Pine of the Jazz Warriors. She also played with Charlie Watt’s big band and led her own group, Gail Force. Her future as a performer appeared assured when she played baritone with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, thus becoming the first and only female Messenger. Unfortunately, within a few hours of this gig, Thompson was struck by a spasm of her facial muscles and was thereafter unable to play. While this disaster might well have destroyed a less determined and resourceful individual, Thompson rallied and turned her enthusiasm for music in other directions.
Since then she has been a director of Mick Jagger’s music company and founded Musicworks, a centre and workshop for musicians. Starting out in one room at her house, the organisation grew to occupy a three-storey warehouse employing 20 staff and, by century’s end, serving the needs of 3, 000 students. Additionally, Thompson has run workshops in Africa, Belgium, Canada, Germany and Russia. The African experience, in the 80s, in which she travelled by truck from Morocco to Kenya, was the inspiration for Jazz Africa, a big band blending jazz and African music, and for several compositions which draw upon the music and cultures of the places she visited. Through the 90s she led big bands, much of whose repertoire draws upon her compositions. Late in the 90s, Thompson was able to resume playing, now on flute.