Pianist Butch Thompson is happy. He’s so sanguine that, in the course of an hourlong telephone conversation, he said “happy,” “glad” or “lucky” so many times that he almost sounded giddy.

The mustachioed Minnesota jazz institution is happy because he made his return to the concert stage last weekend for the first time since February. He’s glad because he’s celebrating a new album with the Southside Aces. He’s lucky (his word) and grateful (his wife’s word) because he still gets to play piano for people even though he’s dealing with two debilitating challenges: memory loss that he’s been experiencing for four years and a hand disease, Dupuytren’s contracture, that he’s been fighting for 40 years.

“I’m managing to still play reasonably well,” said Thompson, who turns 77 next month. “I’ve worked on it. I practice all the time. My brain isn’t what it used to be. But when I
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