The Jazz Artistry of Ron Thomas: Interfacing Jazz and Classical Music
AAJ: I reviewed a book entitled Jazz Modernism. The author shows the interplay between jazz and modern art. Some modern artists such as Matisse and Alexander Calder collected jazz recordings and referenced them in their paintings and sculptures. Maybe there's a book waiting to be written about the connection- even deeper- between classical and jazz music. I think of Stravinsky, Bernstein'
RT: And Darius Milhaud. Exactly right.
AAJ: It's interesting that both jazz and classical music began as forms of entertainment. (Classical music a la Haydn and Mozart derived in part from music that was played between the acts of theatrical dramas.) Duke Ellington was certainly one of the greatest modern composers. Dave Liebman explores new territories of modern music.
RT: Absolutely. You have a feel for this kind of sensibility and connection.
AAJ: I think jazz comes across so much as 'entertainment' that we miss this connection. And we don't respect jazz musicians the way we should. We think of them as showmen. In Clint Eastwood's movie, 'Bird,' there's a scene where Charlie Parker needs to earn some bread and plays popular tunes at a bar mitzvah in Brooklyn! But sophisticated musical artists like yourself have deep admiration and respect for jazz musicians as great innovators.
RT: Europeans were quick to see that jazz is an art form. That's because they didn't have the baggage we have.
AAJ: You know Uri Caine. What are your thoughts about his music that's based on classical composers like Mahler? 'Urlicht': First Light.
RT: Uri is a wonderful musician. I don't know if Mahler would have liked it, but Bach would have had no problem with it. Bach often takes one piece and transforms it into something else, adapting one thing into another. I like that- it's very interesting to mix genres and mediums that way. There shouldn't be any boundaries on projects like that.
AAJ: Let's talk about your personal life a bit. You've lived in Coatesville, PA for quite a while. You're married. Any kids?
RT: Two stepsons, my wife Mary Ann's sons, Jim and Tony McAnany, grown up now. I have five grandchildren, Michael, Nicholas, Timothy, Alyssa, and Dominic. We have very warm family relationships which are very rewarding and on which I put a very high value.
AAJ: I know that you have a spiritual/religious interest. Have you thought of composing some religious music?
RT: I have done some sacred works. They help me to express my beliefs and values.
AAJ: What do you have in mind for the near future?
RT: There was a period when I wanted to be famous and have a lot of money. But, like many artists, I don't like all that hustling and competition and I quickly retreated from the fied of battle in order to protect my vision as an artist. I'm an artist because I want to work at my art more than having a 'career.' I'm secure in my work and with my life. My jazz playing is always growing and changing. I experiment together with other players. I'm always composing a few notes of music, writing essays, keeping my website together, and teaching a great deal. I teach jazz, composition, and piano. I want to do more performing with the other musicians. I'd like to do a documentary based on my writings and music, make a film that exemplifies my philosophy. There's an essay on my website explaining the liner notes (entitled 'A Meditation') for The House of Counted Days. It's dedicated to Bill Karlins, who asked me to do it. Your readers may be interested in reading it.
AAJ: Of your own recordings, what are your own favorites?
RT: The Tom Cohen Trio album (1996 Cadence Jazz Records) is an extremely good example of my work as a jazz musician. The 1972 Erik Kloss album, One, Two Free ; the Pat Martino Live album; my own, as composer and leader, Scenes from a Voyage to Arcturus ; and The House of Counted Days - the latter two are both 'slam-dunks' as far as I'm concerned.
AAJ: Thanks, Ron. It was a great interview with loads of insight.
RT: I enjoyed it.