Journey To A Destination Unknown: Barbara Thompson MBE – The Autobiographical Story Of Her Musical Life (Jazz In Britain)

Way back around 1978 saxophonist Barbara Thompson was the first guest of the newly formed Birmingham Jazz Society, an institution that is still going strong today. I was at that first gig and it was one of the first jazz gigs I ever attended. The group was ‘Paraphernalia’ and it is a testament to the quality of the music that I still remember the event all these years on. Thompson’s music has weaved itself in and around my own journey into jazz.

It is therefore particularly gratifying to read this story of Thompson’s life in music. The text opens with a Foreword from fellow saxophonist Dave Gelly MBE which sets the scene for what is to come over the following twenty chapters. There follows a Prologue from Barbara herself. At the age of 75, she is now able to look back on her life and considers that “music is a gateway to the world. There is no limit to where it can lead, and the challenges never stop”. But as important to her as music is, the family is even more important with her children Marcus and Ana and her husband the late Jon Hiseman who used to say of them that they “were two incomplete people when we were apart”. It is certainly clear that throughout their 51-year marriage Hiseman was her constant support both musically and personally.

Thompson is clearly grateful for the many opportunities which came her way, be it working with the New Jazz Orchestra, Andrew Lloyd Webber or providing music for the detective series ‘A Touch of Frost’.

The book traces her life from the age of 10 to the present day and is an absorbing chronicle that guides the reader through an eventful life. It will be as interesting to the casual reader as to the jazz connoisseur. It’s easy to read and I completed it in three sessions. Thompson’s conversational writing style draws the reader into her story and a wealth of photographs and other memorabilia add substance. The book is handsomely produced in hardback and published by Jazz in Britain; a veritable jazz cottage industry working tirelessly to bring to the jazz aficionado music from the hidden corners of the British jazz scene of the 1960s, 70’s and beyond on CD, digital download and vinyl.

Thompson writes with good humour throughout but induces pathos in the reader when writing about her long struggle with Parkinson’s Disease which ultimately led to her retirement from live performance and yet has not dimmed her enthusiasm for the music that she so clearly loves as she finds ways to continue writing music. Fortunately, she is still able to express herself creatively and explore new ideas. Long may that continue.

Alan Musson

Astral Travelling Since 1993