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Kenne Thomas

Drummer, Composer, Author

About Me

Drummer, composer, and author, Kenne Thomas is the son of Chicago bebop saxophonist, Jimmy “Bouncy” Whitehead. Influenced by family friends, Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt he began his musical career in his hometown of Chicago performing with notable musicians, Jodie Christian, Ari Brown, Adam Rudolph the Charles Walton Big Band, and the Black Artists Group.

In the early 70’s Kenne moved to Minnesota where he performed with pianist, Jimmy Bowman Trio. Attending Moorhead State University, he played around the region with the R & B horn band, AIRTIGHT. After graduating with a degree in Music Education, he joined the Jerry Lakes Memories of Elvis Supershow which toured throughout the US and in Europe.

Kenne went to Japan, in 1979 to perform, with the Pullman-West Band, out of Detroit. In the early 80’s he toured with King Records artist, jazz organist, Toshihiko Kankawa, featuring guitarist, Kiyoshi Sugimoto, renown Tokyo bassist, Yoshio Ikeda group and Japanese rock band, MAYA. Kenne later joined the house band at the Jazz Club, DIARY, in Osaka, where he worked with pianist, Hideyuki Naruse and bassist Kazuo Setoyama. They collectively formed The Osaka Trio and became the nucleus of the jazz fusion group, AIRTIGHT, renewing the name from the 70’s band.

Kenne recorded the song, White Christmas, for the TEICHIKU label, in the mid 80’s and later recorded his composition, Graduation Day [Sotsugyo no Hi], released on 45 RPM (Y Recordes), in Japan. The trio of Naruse, Setoyama and Thomas performed regularly on radio and SUN Television shows. An EP of the trio was rereleased, THE DIARY, on Kenzongs Music label [].

Returning to the US for graduate studies Kenne played with the Fargo Moorhead Symphony, St. Paul Civic Symphony, Roseville Big Band, River City Jazz Orchestra and LeValle Jazz Cats. In recent years Kenne has performed in clubs and concerts around the Midwest. During this time Kenne recorded three albums with guitarist, Pat Surface.

Kenne leads and composes for the contemporary jazz group, “Kenne Thomas' Lifeforce,” a horn driven band in the mold of The Jazz Crusaders and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. They perform in venues to energetic audiences. January of 2020 they released their CD, WOODLAWN, on illicit Productions Records label. It is garnering airplay around the country, with the hit song, “Roy's Thing”, a tribute to the great trumpeter and “Santiago Bay”, a song Kenne composed for the great modern pianist, Javier Santiago who plays with the group, delighting crowds with his mastery of the keyboard. Kenne Thomas plans to be on the road with his group as soon as it is viable. For now you can look for the album WOODLAWN on digital CD outlets and streaming services.

My Jazz Story

Published on: 2017-08-27

I was first exposed to jazz through my parents and their friends. My father, James S. Whitehead played alto saxophone in Chicago in the late 1940s and early 50s. His record collection exposed me to the great sounds of Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt and others. I carry on that hard edge, but progressive sound in jazz with my playing, in my own group and recordings.

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