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Walter Thompson

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Walter Thompson (born May 31, 1952 in West Palm Beach, Florida) is a composer, saxophonist, percussionist, and educator. He created the multidisciplinary live composing sign language, Soundpainting.

In 1974, after attending 3 years at Berklee College of Music, Thompson moved to his family’s summer home in Woodstock, New York. There he received a grant from the National Endowment on the Arts to study composition and woodwinds. During this period, he also studied dance.

Thompson formed his first large orchestra in Woodstock, during the summer of 1974, comprising 20 musicians and 7 dancers. The focus of the orchestra was on jazz-based and contemporary music-based improvisation – the dancers improvising in relation to the compositions. During this time, Thompson began experimenting with signing improvisation. He created very basic gestures, asking for a long tone or improvisation in a pointillist style, for example.
Thompson moved to New York City in 1980 and formed The Walter Thompson Orchestra (then known as the Walter Thompson Big Band) in 1984. During the first year with his orchestra, while conducting a performance in Brooklyn, New York, Thompson needed to communicate with the orchestra in the middle of one of his compositions. They were performing a section of improvisation where trumpet 2 was soloing. During the solo Thompson wanted to have one of the other trumpet players create a background. Not wanting to emulate bandleaders who would yell or speak out loud to their orchestra, Thompson used some of the signs he had experimented with during his Woodstock days.

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