Gretsch Greatest Hits…and Hitters
Kimberly Thompson: Doing It All
by Fred Gretsch
It’s hard to find a single word that accurately describes Kimberly Thompson. In fact, it’s hard to describe her using several words. “Original”… “dynamic”… “versatile” … “skillful”… they all fit. But perhaps the most appropriate term would be “determined.” From the very beginning of her drumming history, Kimberly has been determined to succeed…and to do so on her own terms.
There’s no doubt that Kimberly’s determination has paid off. After first coming into contact with the drums as a youngster, she went on to play locally in church and in school. At the same time she immersed herself in jazz, absorbing the influences of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Kenny Garrett, Elvin Jones, Brian Blade, Jeff Ballard, and Terri Lyne Carrington.
Eventually Kimberly entered the prestigious Manhattan School of Music in New York. While still a student she had her first major professional gig: the 2000 Cuban Jazz Festival with the Kenny Barron Trio. (She was all of nineteen years old.) In 2001 Kimberly was picked to be the drummer in the all-female Sisters In Jazz ensemble—a group assembled by the International Association of Jazz Educators. While with the SIJ Kimberly toured Europe, where she performed at several jazz festivals including the famous North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland.
Kimberly graduated from the Manhattan School in 2003 with a degree in jazz composition. By then she was already immersed in the New York jazz scene, playing with top artists like trumpeter Wallace Roney, pianist Marian McPartland, bassist Rufus Reid, and guitarist Mike Stern (with whom she later earned a Grammy nomination for his 2006 album Who Let The Cats Out?). She also founded and performed with her own quartet. (More about that later.)
In 2006 Kimberly made what might appear to have been a radical career change. That’s when she was hired to play in Beyonce’s all-star (and all-female) touring band, the Suga Mamas. Playing for the world’s leading pop diva in arenas around the world was a far cry from playing jazz in smoky NYC clubs, but Kimberly was more than up for the challenge. Exchanging her jazz chops for a slamming pop groove, Kimberly helped drive the Suga Mamas to ever-more-exciting performances as the tour progressed. Since then she’s worked with other pop artists, including Jay-Z, Kanye West, and George Michael.
Returning to her jazz roots in 2010, Kimberly recorded her first album as a bandleader and composer: Like Clockwork. She continued to perform with her own group and with other artists until 2014, when she took another significant turn: She joined the 8G Band on the NBC television show Late Night With Seth Myers. In that same year she released two CDs: Live At Marian’s and the studio album A Child’s Eyes.
Back in August of 2013 I had the pleasure of meeting Kimberly and hearing her perform. The occasion was a “Gretsch Day” at Rudy’s Music in New York City, and Kimberly was leading her quartet as part of the day’s entertainment. I was there with my grandson Logan, and we both were impressed with Kimberly’s talent as a drummer and composer—as well as her graciousness as an individual. I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to see and hear her, and I’m equally glad that she’s chosen Gretsch drums on which to express her unique musical personality.
Kimberly’s YouTube page offers many video and audio clips, as well as drum transcriptions, and other useful and interesting information.
A very, very live trio performance clip taken from a gig in Kansas City in 2013. Kimberly is on fire.
One excellent performance clip, recorded live with her quartet at the Zinc Bar, Sept 24 2015, “Hills Of Macedonia“.
Her quartet performance live at the 55 Bar, February 25, 2015.