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Take Five With Michele Thomas

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Michele Thomas:
Messenger, the highly anticipated release by jazz vocalist Michele Thomas features bright new arrangements of Stevie Wonder's most spiritually intimate and socially provocative songs.

Album includes: "If It's Magic," "Higher Ground," "Jesus People Of America," "They Won't Go When I Go," and much more.

Moved by the current relevance of these timeless pieces, Michele gives a new voice to one of our most well-loved and prolific American songwriters.

Messenger sheds light on the introspective mind and spirit of Stevie Wonder—through the contemplative soul-tinged and energized vocals of Michele Thomas.

Instrument(s):
Vocals.

Teachers and/or influences?
Sheila Jordan, Dianne Reeves, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, Kurt Elling, Ella Fitzgerald.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
Watching an episode of Mister Rogers when I was six years old.

Your sound and approach to music:
I guess I have been compared to anyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Oleta Adams at times. Not so sure about the sound, but my approach to music encompasses my excitement to express myself along with the neurosis of striving for the high standards of artistry of those greats that have come before me. A little love and neurosis goes a long way in creating music.

Your teaching approach:
My personal mission is to meet each student where he or she is in terms of his or her artistic development. I provide a challenging but safe atmosphere for the discovery of the voice, while guiding the student with technical and artistic advice to develop his or her own voice and style. I get down to basics and clean up my student's technical problems—starting my students on breathing exercises and then moving on to focus, support, relaxing tensions, then applying these techniques to song interpretation.

Your dream band:
Musicians I would love to work with in the future are Kurt Elling and Danilo Perez.

Road story: Your best or worst experience: I'd have to say my worst experience to date is having my hair catch on fire at a wedding gig. Candelabras and afros don't mix! The worst part was I wasn't even hurt enough to go home and I had to perform the entire gig with cinged hair. Mortifying!

Favorite venue:
The Green Mill in Chicago to date.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
Can't answer that. I have too many.

The first Jazz album I bought was:
It was a gospel album but I can't remember what right now.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
Personally, I strive to connect with my audience in an emotional and authentic way. I think people need to feel like your music comes through you.

Did you know...
I never had a middle name until I got married. I decided to make my maiden name my middle name. Thomas is technically my middle name now.

CDs you are listening to now:
Nikka Costa, Everybody Got Their Something (Virgin Records).

Desert Island picks:
Esperanza Spaulding, Esperanza (Concord Records).

How would you describe the state of jazz today?
Finding a way to remain relevant and progressive. Today's jazz has had to find a new purpose much like civil rights and the Republican Party.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? New ideas are fine, but we need new and effective music for the jazz movement of today. Effective in music means far-reaching and connecting to all types of people.

What is in the near future?
My new project called Messenger. A tribute to Stevie Wonder, with specific arrangements that showed his spiritual/activist side.

By Day:
Voice Teacher.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
Sociologist/Anti-Racism Advocate.

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