Don Thompson is one of the very few concert organists who can genuinely claim to be internationally known. He has appeared in over twenty countries in concert and vaudeville and on radio, television and recordings. He is also one of the handful who are equally at home playing the classics as well as theatre organ music.
Dons interest in the theatre organ began when he was very young, when he was taken to hear Reginald Dixon play at the famous Tower Ballroom. He immediately decided, at that tender age, that he wanted to be an organist also. He bought a piano when he was seven and began to teach himself the organ at his local church when he was about 15. He was appointed assistant organist at Kentmere Church in the Lake District when he was sixteen and soon after moved to the large Stricklandgate Methodist Church in Kendal, his home town. At 18 he performed his first few concerts, in Germany, at churches in Bingen, Bonn, Idar Oberstein and Bad Kreutznach. Also at 18 he was appointed organist and director of the choir at his college in Cambridge. At 19 he played several concerts in Sweden. After obtaining his degree at Cambridge he moved on to Oxford, where he also obtained a degree, but the day after he left the University he started work as organist at the Trocadero Ballroom in Derby (to the great disappointment of his parents, who for the next thirty years would ask him "When are you going to get a job?") The Derby job didnt last long because Don was almost immediately invited to be resident organist for the duration of the Brussels Worlds Fair. On his return to England he soon became well known as one of the North of Englands leading entertainers, playing for summer seasons in Morecambe and Blackpool and appearing in ballrooms and nightclubs all over the North. Eventually, tiring of the bleak North Eastern winters and the high rate of income tax in England at the time, he accepted an offer to play at the Byblos Theatre, Beirut, one of the largest theatres in the Middle East. He remained there for a year (spending most of his time on the beach) but, being alarmed at the political situation brewing there, he decided to move on again and finally arrived in Los Angeles. Since then he has enjoyed a continual rise to national prominence as a result of his exciting concert appearances throughout the nation.
In addition to his concert activities, Don Thompson was a pioneer of the pipe-organ-in-the-pizza-parlor concept and was on the staff of the Cap'n's Galley chain in the San Francisco Bay Area, Organ Power in San Diego, Melody Inn in Los Altos, the Organ Grinder chain in Canada and Ye Olde Pizza Joynt in Hayward, playing for the pizza crowds for five nights a week for more than twenty years.
He also made a point of doing as many concerts as he could fit into his schedule during the year, playing mostly on the East coast of the US. In 1987 he made his first appearance down under and enjoyed it so much that he decided he would concentrate on playing his concerts there for the next few years and in fact has concertized almost exclusively in Australia and New Zealand since then.
Among the many places where Don has been honored to appear in concert are:
The Odeon, Leicester Square, London; The Palace, Broadway, New York; Radio City Music Hall, New York; The Paramount, Brooklyn, N.Y.; The Auditorium Theatre, Rochester, N.Y. (many times); The Empire State , Syracuse, N.Y. (several times); The Roberson Center, Binghamton, N.Y.; The Riviera, N. Tonawanda, N.Y. (many times); The Hoosier Auditorium, Whiting, Indiana; The Casa Loma, Toronto, Canada (several times); Pearson Auditorium, Roswell, New Mexico; Thomaston Opera House, Connecticut (several times); Hammond Castle, Gloucester, Mass; The Virginia Theatre, Alexandria, VA; The Mosque Theatre, Richmond, VA; The Avenue Theatre, San Francisco, CA (many times); Old Town Music Hall, El Segundo, CA (many times); The Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles, CA; The Fox Theatre, San Diego, CA; The Civic Auditorium, San Gabriel, CA (several times); The Civic Auditorium, San Jose, CA; he Auditorium, Lackawanna, N.Y.; The War Memorial Auditorium, Trenton, N.J. (several times); The Senate Theatre, Detroit (many times); The Castro Theatre, San Francisco, CA (many times); The Paramount Theatre, Oakland, CA ( a long spell as resident organist);The Hollywood Theatre, Auckland, New Zealand (several times); The Baycourt Theatre, Tauranga, New Zealand; The Southward Theatre, Paraparaumu, Wellington, New Zealand (several times); Moorabbin Town Hall, Melbourne, Australia (several times); Marrickville Town Hall, Sydney, Australia; The Capri Theatre, Adelaide, Australia (several times); The Byblos Theatre, Beirut, Lebanon (resident organist); and other halls in Perth, Cairns, Townsville, Brisbane and Bendigo in Australia; Honolulu, Brussels and Ostende and on many cruise ships.
Don Thompson has recorded many LP albums, cassettes and compact disks, over fifty in all. Many are still available. His most recent recordings include a CD and cassette of dance music, two cassettes of concert programmes recorded on the Capri Theatre Wurlitzer in Adelaide and a cassette of famous French Toccatas recorded on the organs in Paris for which the music was originally written. Don was also resident organist at the beautiful Star of the Sea Chapel on Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay for nine years, and for seven years he was organist and Director of Music at the huge St Roberts church just outside San Francisco. Don now lives in the Palm Springs area.
Dons life has now come full circle. His first exposure to the theatre organ was in Blackpool Tower Ballroom and he spent all his formative years listening to Reginald Dixon there. A recent concert tour took him back to the Tower again and he had the extremely nostalgic experience of playing the Wurlitzer in concert, almost a lifetime after he first heard it.
Don's first concert was performed in the German Rhineland and he returned to the same area 52 years later to perform again in September 2004.
Here's a video of Don playing his signature tune "San Francisco" at the Southward Museum Wurlitzer in New Zealand during a rehearsal for his concert in 1988. What makes this video interesting is that the console not only rises from the pit, it revolves as it does so!