The ‘Jazz Man’ moves to the music

Rob Thompson has toted his boombox on the bus for the last four years. He says jazz brings people together.

Voices drop, feet stop tapping and an unusual silence cuts the air inside Campus Connector bus No. 657.

Driver Rob Thompson is changing CDs – this time, he’s putting in the Horace Silver Quartet. The bus is soon filled with the sound of a mellow keyboard and lazy saxophone, and riders resume their chatter.

Thompson, better known as the “Jazz Man,” has driven University buses for about five years, he said. He has played jazz on the bus for the last four.

Many riders said they have become well acquainted with the high-spirited driver during that time and look forward to riding with him. Thompson said he tries to break the monotony of bus driving with music and communication.

“I look forward to hollerin’ at them and they look forward to hollerin’ at me,” he said.

Every day Thompson carries onto his bus a boombox, approximately 30 jazz CDs and a painting of a saxophone blowing his moniker.

He said he began playing music on the bus for his own entertainment. After dabbling in rhythm and blues music for a while, Thompson said he decided to play jazz because it is something everyone can get into.

“The ballpark of people who ride the bus have really gotten into jazz,” he said. “I think jazz has a way of bringing people together.”

Thompson said he has been passionate about jazz since he was young.

“Ever since I was probably 6 years old – Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday – these are the cats I heard,” he said. “As I got older I really took a liking to it.”

Though most of the music Thompson plays on the bus is classic jazz, including artists such as Miles Davis and Duke Ellington, he said he plays new jazz, too.

“I’ve got an arsenal of jazz,” he said. “Some real strong stuff.”

Thompson said he tries to switch up his music selection each day. The jazz he plays often correlates with the weather or time of day. In the winter, for instance, he might play music with a warmer feel.

“I’ll throw in some tropical music to break that coldness and bring some warmth into the bus.”

In the afternoon, Thompson said he often plays upbeat jazz and slows it down in the evening.

“I’m DJing the entire day,” he said.

Thompson said most students who ride his bus seem to enjoy the atmosphere.

Bill Stahlmann, University transit manager, said he sometimes receives complaints about loud music on University buses, but he said it is not a major problem.

First-year student Amber Hanson said she often catches the Jazz Man’s bus.

“I know that he’ll be waiting because he waits for everyone,” she said. “He greets me and makes me feel like his friend.”

Mike Alfveby, a former University student who created the painting that hangs above Thompson’s bus door, said he still rides the bus just to hang out with Thompson.

“He’s such an inspiration to students and everyday people on that bus,” Alfveby said.

Thompson is the Jazz Man off the bus, too, hanging out with Alfveby and listening to jazz or banging drums.

“Every time I go (to Thompson’s) I have to break his windows so he knows I’m there, the music’s so loud,” Alfveby said.

Thompson said he attends jazz concerts at local clubs when he gets the chance. He said he also plays flute and percussion in his spare time.

“I’m sort of a homebody but I do go out to listen to jazz,” he said.

Though Thompson might be one of the most popular bus drivers, he is not the only one who plays music on the bus.

John “Zing,” a campus shuttle driver for six years, plays jazz, blues and some rock ‘n’ roll on his bus.

“(Bus driving) pays my bills and house payments,” said “Zing,” who plays guitar in an instrumental rock band. “Music feeds the soul.”

Thompson said he wants to retire in a couple years and move to Jamaica to start his own jazz radio station to share jazz with others.

“We don’t live in a world by ourselves,” Thompson said. “We gotta open up and share; sometimes through music we can open up doors.”