Leading up to this weekend’s farewell performances by Reggie & Mardra Thomas at the Bistro, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting. When I step back and consider the influence certain people have had on me, at the top of that list is Reggie Thomas.
From the time I was in high school, Reggie was someone I’ve looked up to. I’d see him at the SIUE jazz festival and summer jazz camp, and when I decided to study at SIUE, he became an integral part of my development as a musician, and a hugely influential person in my life. By pushing me to go outside of my “comfort zone” as a player, I discovered new music and learned to appreciate things much more than I ever had before. Reggie opened my eyes to so many different things that have now become such a part of my musical life that I can’t imagine what I’d do without them.
A deep appreciation of the work of Nat King Cole’s trio came straight from Reggie Thomas. When I listen to old recordings of the King Cole Trio, I smile because the music gives me such an enormously positive feeling and I often think back to Reggie hipping me to “Solid Potato Salad” and “Little Joe from Chicago.” When I started working in radio at WSIE, Reggie & Rick Haydon were my first live guests in the studio and kept me constantly supplied with great music to play on the air. If I remember correctly, Reggie was getting back in town late on a Sunday afternoon and rushed to SIUE to grab some King Cole Trio discs so I’d have them in time for a feature I was doing on Nat.
As brilliant a performer as Reggie is, he is just as brilliant an educator. Reggie has a way of inspiring students and getting the very best out of them. If you look at the most in-demand and respected young musicians in St. Louis, many of them have been students of Reggie Thomas and the SIUE program at one time or another. Many of the younger faculty members at colleges and universities in the area have also come by way of SIUE. Alongside Brett Stamps & Rick Haydon, Reggie Thomas helped build a world class program that is widely respected in the jazz community.
Upon leaving SIUE and coming to work for Jazz St. Louis, Reggie continued to be a source of advice and inspiration for me. As our education programs expanded, so did the involvement of Reggie Thomas. He has worked with our students since the first incarnation of the Jazz St. Louis All-Stars seven years ago and continues to work with them today. He’s worked with our adopted schools and residency programs and students always look forward to an opportunity to learn from him.
Of course, since coming to work for Jazz St. Louis, I have had countless opportunities to listen to Reggie’s playing in a variety of contexts. No matter what the situation, the groove is always killer and the show always swings. Really, words cannot due justice to the talent Reggie Thomas posseses as a performer AND an entertainer. I dstinguish between the two because not all performers are great entertainers. Reggie has a way of communicating with an audience that brings the show to that next level, where everyone feels as if they’re all in his living room amongst old friends. As a performer, he simply excels at a level that is rarely heard and does so with versatility that I can honestly say I’ve never experienced in another musician. Name another musician who is known for being an incredible pianist AND organist. Usually you get one or the other, but never both. And for those that don’t know, the man is pretty killer on trumpet, bass and guitar as well.
To say that Reggie Thomas has been influential would be a vast understatement. Everywhere you look, there’s someone he’s touched…someone he’s made a better musician, a better person. I feel truly fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn and work alongside Reggie for so many years. I expect to continue to do so no matter where the future may take him.
Michigan State University has some new “magic” coming their way. I wish both Reggie and Mardra the very best in this new chapter in their lives.
Director of Operations & Artistic Administration
Jazz St. Louis