Ed Thigpen, a jazz drummer whose subtle use of brushes made him a legend while playing with the likes of Oscar Peterson, has died at age 79.

According to a statement posted by his son Michel on Thigpen's website, the musician "passed away very peacefully" on Wednesday at a hospital in Copenhagen, where he had been living since 1972.

Thigpen went to hospital just before Christmas with heart and lung problems. He had also been battling Parkinson's disease.

Known as "Mr. Taste" for his ability to smoothly adapt to any style or group, Thigpen was in high demand with many instrumentalists and singers, including Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Lennie Tristano, Pat Boone, k.d. Lang and Peggy Lee.

He is perhaps best known for his time with the Oscar Peterson Trio from 1959 to 1965.

"He had a great deal of ability on the drum set," friend and fellow drummer Ed Shaughnessy told the Los Angeles Times.

"He wasn't a dogmatic player. He could be as perfect as he was with Oscar Peterson, and then he could be completely different in another context."

Jamming with Miles Davis

Born in Chicago Dec. 28, 1930, Thigpen moved as an infant when his parents, Ben and Mary, relocated to St. Louis. When they separated, his mother took him to Los Angeles.

After attending Los Angeles City College, he moved back with his father, who was a drummer with the Andy Kirk Orchestra in St. Louis. Thigpen was able to jam occasionally with Miles Davis while living there.


Ed Thigpen, pictured here performing in Denmark, likened the role of a drummer to that of a "chariot driver who has to hold all those horses in rein." ((Courtesy Trae Hancock/Facebook) )

In 1951, he moved to New York City but was soon drafted into the U.S. army, serving in the Korean War from 1951 to 1953. Upon returning to the Big Apple, he began to establish himself as a quality jazz drummer.

"The role of a drummer is like that of a chariot driver who has to hold all those horses in rein," Thigpen told the International Herald Tribune in 2000.

During the 1950s, he performed with Dinah Washington as well as saxophonists Johnny Hodges and Paul Quinichette. By the end of the decade, he joined bassist Ray Brown to form the Oscar Peterson Trio.

They recorded 50 albums, including Porgy and Bess (1959), The Trio (1961), Live at the London House and Night Train (both 1962).

Taught professional players

In 1960, Peterson found The Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto, offering instruction by leading professional players. The trio all acted as teachers, and Thigpen loved the work, even deciding to live in Toronto for a while.

In 1965, he joined with Ella Fitzgerald, moving back to Los Angeles and performing off and on with the singer until 1972, when he headed to Denmark.

Living in Copenhagen, he became a regular drumming recruit for touring American jazz bands. He also taught at conservatories in Europe and occasionally headed seminars at U.S. universities.

Thigpen also produced solo efforts including The Element of Swing, Mr. Taste and It's Entertainment.

Not one to stop educating, he wrote five books about aspects of jazz drumming, including Talking Drums and Rhythm Brought to Life. He also created the DVD, The Essence Of Brushes.

Among his many honours were accolades handed to him by the Percussive Arts Society, the Danish Jazz Awards, the Kennedy Center and other international organizations.