For quite a few years, Butch Thompson was the music director of A Prairie Home Companion. Then he left and Richard Dworksky took over and has been there since. I don't know why he left, but there you have it. Perhaps he wanted to focus more on his solo career.
When they made the Prairie Home Companion movie several years back, it was a treat to see his name in the credits, though you had to look hard to spot him, playing in the background onstage. But it was great that he was included.
And then the last few weeks, I've noticed that he's been back on the show as a guest. It's possible that he's been on more than that, but I just haven't been paying close enough attention. Here's a video of him on the show this past weekend.
I've always liked Butch Thompson a lot. A friend though wasn't crazy about him, saying that he made so many flubs while playing -- and he did. But it never bothered me, because 99% was so wonderful. I said that you can't be that wonderful and not be a terrific musician. The problem, I said, was that I think most people are used to listening to performers on studio recordings, when the musician plays under ideal conditions and if there's a flub, they redo it -- and redo it -- until it's perfect. But when performing live, mistakes do happen.
(I remember as a kid my parents taking me to the Ravinia Music Festival where the legendary Van Cliburn was playing. And even as a kid I remember thinking, "Gee, he made another flub there.")
It happens. Not all the time. But live performances -- especially ones where there's a clock ticking and people are running around the stage, and it's a madhouse -- will have flubs.
But I was always convinced that Butch Thompson was an absolutely wonderful musician, and was sure that if he had a studio recording, that would prove it.
Maybe about seven years ago, I actually found a Butch Thompson CD. It had the wonderful name, Yulestride," and was a collection of Christmas songs played in a Dixeland jazz style called "stride." It's great -- and now one of my favorite holiday albums I look forward to listening to again and again.
And what's a joy, too, is how it proved my theory about Butch Thompson. I challenge anyone to listen to this studio recording and not slap themselves in the forehand and go, "Yipes! Those are flying fingers! He's great."
This might be my favorite, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear."
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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