Although he hasn't recorded with any country artists, Chester <has> been in the studio with most of the area's other artists, including Michael McDonald, Steve Winwood, Neil Diamond, and several contemporary Christian artists. Thomson was also music director for Take Six on a couple of short tours, and he toured with contemporary Christian act Anointed. "They're pretty amazing," he says. "But I definitely learned from that experience that I hate buses. Aside from three days on a bus with Zappa once, I never did them during all my years on the road. I've been pretty spoiled."
Thompson has certainly done his share of leaving the Nasville area for work. For instance, he performed with George Duke at the Montreux Jazz Festival on a project he says he just loved. "It was a jazz symphony that George wrote called <The Muir Woods Suite>," Chester says. "We tracked it with Stanley Clarke and Paulinho DaCosta the summer I moved to Nashville, in '93, and it's a sweet, sweet piece of music. We got to do it in the States for the first time several months ago with the Cincinnati Symphony. Stanley couldn't make it, so Christian McBride played bass, and Paulinho couldn't do it, so Airto ended up doing it-amazing!"
Last year Chester also taught jazz ensemble and drum set at Nashville's premier music school, Belmont University. It was during this period when he drove to Phil Collins' nearby big band concert in Birmingham, Alabama, where Collins asked him if he'd be interested in resuming his role as a member of Phil's band. "The time was right," Thompson explains. "I'd been away from it long enough to really appreciate it. And Phil seemed more relaxed. He'd been pretty tense the last time with everything he had going on, and it wasn't a lot of fun. Now it's really great working with him again. I hadn't done much here in Nashville where I could really play loud. My concept of loud and the concept here is pretty different," he says with a laugh. "After six years away from Phil, it feels right to be back. I had worked with him from 1976 to 1992, and it was a big part of me." Phil Chester, and band haven't hit the road yet, but in March they played for some of the industry appearances supporting the Disney feature Phil scored, <Tarzan>. A full-blown tour is starting shortly, and on it Chester will be using Ayotte drums, the company he recently switched to. "I won't play a brand of drums just because they're given to me," he says. "But I played these Ayotte drums and they completely blew me away." Chester recently finished building his own studio, where he enjoys playing with his son Akil. "He's a monster on the drums, but he's also a good bass player and really strong songwriter," Thompson says with pride. "His biggest influence is Genesis. He used to go on tours with me, sit backstage and watch the shows, and then in a couple of weeks I would hear him playing my licks! At this point he can do some things with the drums that I <can't>."
© Modern Drummer, by Robyn Flans