“I love being at KCSM,” says Vern Thompson, “it’s the best fun I’ve had in a long time.”
Known to Jazz 91 listeners as Lee Thomas, his laid back delivery and excellent musical taste make listening to this KJAZ veteran a pleasure. The Berkeley High School graduate is blessed with numerous talents and aside from being a great deejay, he is also a gifted jazz composer.
His jazz flash point came when his father brought home with an album from a car show he attended. “Chrysler put out this anthology record that had Lambert, Hendricks and Ross on it along with Sir Charles Thompson, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck and others. The more I listened to it, the more I liked it. Soon a friend and I started going up to Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley and searching for jazz albums in the used record stores.”
Growing up in the East Bay, he heard KJAZ as a teen. As his love of jazz deepened, he aspired to one day be a broadcaster at the station. He was eighteen years old when he first auditioned for Pat Henry. Just starting his studies in broadcasting at San Francisco State, he says the experience was “kind of frightening.”
“He first asked me to pull a bunch of records and then came over to see what I pulled. His wife Cathy helped me by telling me what his tastes were and we found out that my tastes were not totally out of line with his. Then I went on-air early in the morning one day and that was it.”
Thompson stayed with KJAZ for 12 years until his day gig made it hard to fit it into his schedule. For many years he worked at KNBR as the audio engineer for “The Frank & Mike Show” as well as traveling around setting up remote sports broadcasts of the SF Giants, Oakland A’s and Golden State Warriors. Later on he went to work for NBC News in Burbank, CA.
Vern had also picked up a trumpet in his late teens and aspired to someday be a professional musician. He studied with John Coppola, Warren Gale Jr., Eddie Henderson, Woody Shaw and Joe Henderson but unfortunately had to set the horn aside after being diagnosed with Focal Dystonia, a nerve and muscle disorder that causes cramping and locking of the fingers.
“But music was something I had to do,” he adds. “I continued writing, studying and thinking how I could come back with something musical. Eventually I got to record some of the things I had written.”
Vern’s two albums, “Sea of Dreams” & “Passions of the Heart”, are still available on his website www.vthom.com and showcase imaginative themes with superb solos by musicians like Billy Childs, Tony Dumas, Akira Tana, Pete Escovedo and others.
You can find Lee every Tuesday and Thursday on Mid-Day Jazz between 10am-2pm.