Drummer, Composer, Author
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 [bandcamp.com/kennethomas].
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,
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.