Danny Ray Thompson, saxophonist, flutist, and band manager for Sun Ra Arkestra, has died at 72. According to The New York Times, he passed in hospice on March 12th after a long battle with an undisclosed illness.
Born October 1st, 1947, Thompson met Sun Ra in New York in 1967, and worked for the experimental jazz pioneer first as a house-sitter and then as a driver. Only 20 years-old at the time, Thompson had been taking night classes at the prestigious Juilliard School, and he eventually convinced Sun Ra to give him a shot in the Arkestra.
Initially, Thompson was tasked with nothing more than playing the bass lines on the baritone sax. Soon he became the musical lynchpin of the cosmic ensemble, and over the last five decades, he’s handled half-a-dozen instruments and provided a foundation for wide-ranging experiments in Afrofuturism, swing revival, free jazz experimentation, and nearly everything in-between. That doesn’t even count his managerial contributions, including the booking and scheduling of tours and the distribution of the band’s self-released albums.
Shortly after Sun Ra’s death in 1993, Thompson retired from music to work at the Census Bureau and later the Transportation Security Administration. But in the 2000’s he rejoined the band, and participated in Sun Ra Arkestra’s popular revival. Spurred on by nostalgia and the 2013 centennial of Sun Ra’s birth, the Arkestra has been performing dozens of shows a year and even touring internationally.
Although Thompson had been in and out of the hospital for some time, he mustered the resolve to play his final show on March 4th, hardly a week before his death.
In a statement on the band’s website, the surviving members of Sun Ra Arkestra wrote that he will “now soar with the spirit of Sun Ra.”
Danny Ray Thompson has left the planet
Danny Ray Thompson, long time Sun Ra Arkestra member, left the planet on Thursday night March 12, 2020. He was on 72 Arkestra recordings and performed on baritone sax, alto sax, flute, Neptunian libflecto (bassoon with French horn or saxophone mouthpiece), percussion, and vocals within the band.
He performed 45 years in the Sun Ra Arkestra, first joining it in 1967. He also served as Band Manager during his Arkestra tenure.
Danny Ray Thompson is now traveling the spaceways, joining the many beloved Arkestra members who have previously left the planet and who now soar with the spirit of Sun Ra.