William A Thompson IV or "WATIV" is a pianist, improvisor, composer, programmer, sound designer and educator of many traditions. However, there is little about his musical career that could be called traditional. This unique music has attracted the attention of much of the mainstream as well as alternative media to include NPR's "All Things Considered" and the BBC to name a few. His work has been profoundly impacted by his one year tour of duty spent in Baghdad during the Iraq War in 2004 as a Counter- intelligence Agent and created the very first album released from a combat theater. Given this truly unique experience in combination with Thompson's southern musical upbringing, it’s not uncommon to hear him kicking bass in a funky organ trio one night and playing free jazz or singing and playing orignal folk music the next. There is little to compare to his music which has made it's way from the Mississippi Delta, to New Orleans, to Baghdad, and the world.
Born in the Mississippi delta town of Clarksdale, it's not surprising that Thompson would set out to become a jazz musician. His Grandfather George Kramer was a traditional jazz band leader and reed player along the Mississippi gulf coast and New Orleans during the nineteen thirties and forties. Though Thompson was introduced early to this music, it was not until he was about ten years old that he discovered his fondness and gift for piano and improvised music. From this point he learned mostly on his own and from what little he could gleam from classical piano lessons. While in High School Thompson moved to a small Cajun town in Southern Louisiana called Opelousas. It is here that though his then musical mentor David Egan, Thompson’s love affair with New Orleans greats such as Professor Longhair, James Booker, Fats Domino and Huey Smith took hold and eventually lead him to study on full scholarship at the then prestigious jazz school, the University of New Orleans, founded by Ellis Marlasis, where he would later receive the honorable Basin Street Award. There Thompson absorbed much information from masters such as Edward Petersen and Steve Masakowski. In this environment Thompson was able to take his piano playing to another level, learning the styles of greats like Bill Evans, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk. As Thompson playing developed so did his abilities as a composer. It was in this field that he gained much in the was of reputation, performing his own works along with the works of the great jazz composers. Several of Thompson's pieces are still performed in New Orleans today by professional musicians.
Soon however, one event during College would change everything. Having enlisted in the La Army National guard while still in high school, Thompson was trained as a counter intelligence agent. In exchange for his service, he received the GI Bill and was able to survive as a working musician and college student. Little did he know that he would be sent to Baghdad to server as an interrogator and Counter Intel Agent before finishing school with an amended army contract known as "stop loss". In spite of this horrific event, Thompson began to draw from his experiences as a soldier to record, produce and release the first record of all time released from a combat theater.
This record became known as Baghdad Music Journal. Here Thompson's intent from the beginning was to present an unbiased view through music of one soldier's experience in war. It is the first music composed by a soldier to be released while that soldier was still in the combat zone. It is a musical personification of one soldier’s experience in war and includes "sampled" found sounds like Arabic dialogue and other "war sounds", which were transcribed and arranged in a modern compositional method not unlike that found in classical music. The result is a record unlike any other. Thompson began composing as soon as his boots his ground in Iraq. Night after night Thompson could be found alone in his room, when not doing interrogations, pouring over musical ideas, meshing found sounds, synthetic computer sounds, and prerecorded tracks from his pre-war days. In approximately four months Thompson had composed most of the major works that would later become Baghdad Music Journal. Because this project concerned itself so much with communicating these musical "experiences" to an audience, Thompson found it necessary to make these compositions available for download from his website wativ.com. Learning html from a book, Thompson was successful in communicating his music to an American audience from a combat theater very early in his deployment. It was not until the end of his tour that Thompson was able to release the music in actual CD form with the help of Santa Fe based record label, High Mayhem. Of course Thompson's music could not help but be affected by his duties as an interrogator. National Public Radio's Howard Mandel observed, "Kind of freaky is the way many people might describe Thompson's music. He uses static as a rhythm instrument and incorporates eerie ambiances, like the whirring of an air conditioner, overheard conversation or random bits of shortwave radio that he records on his iPod. He says he adapted quickly to this new technology, but Thompson is less about the medium than about he moods he tries to capture, which he says come spontaneously." Upon his return Thompson was greeted with the combined problems of reintegration to civilian life, a budding music career, and a home town and music scene destroyed.
Shortly after his return to New Orleans Thompson found himself back in Mississippi living in it's capital city and performing again as a jazz pianist. The focus of most of Thompson's musical energies has been a traditional jazz piano trio that specializes in the music of the great jazz composer Thelonious monk. Together the Doctrine trio is composed of the legendary drummer Alvin Fielder and bassist Dr. London Branch. Both forty-three years Thompson's senior, the Doctrine trio draws it's name from the jazz tradition of passing downs customs, beliefs and ideas from one generation to another.
Today, William Thompson lives and works as a professional musician and PhD candidate in New Orleans, La. In addition to working as a sideman on a multitude of projects Thompson leads several groups which have gained international attention such as WATIV, Trapper Keaper, The Red Organ Trio, and The Betty Shirley band to name a few.