Michael J Thomas
Michael J Thomas
On its day of release, the widespread anticipation for City Beat led to its peak position of #4 on the Amazon smooth jazz chart. The infectious, upbeat title track hit #1 on Canadian based Smooth Jazz Now’s singles chart (www.smoothjazznow.com); debuted at #45 on the smooth jazz.com airplay list; debuted at #24 on Billboard’s smooth jazz Indicator Chart; and is receiving airplay on terrestrial and internet stations around the world. Millions watching The Weather Channel are also getting hip to Thomas’ melodic mix of upbeat grooves and sensual ballads. A total of five songs from City Beat are receiving regular spins there, including “City Beat,” “Amante Del Vino,” “Back Home”, “30-A Degrees” and “Wedding Song (Forever Always).” These breakthrough achievements for the small town Kentucky native (Cecilia, outside of Elizabethtown) are all the more incredible when you realize that he’s a purely DIY artist with no formal label backing. Prior to his national breakthrough as a recording artist, Thomas had built a strong and regional following performing at local venues, private shows, festivals, and concerts.
He has performed several times at Seabreeze, on bills featuring some of the biggest stars in smooth jazz: Dave Koz, Richard Elliot, Boney James, Brian Culbertson, Kirk Whalum, Peter White, Rick Braun, Joyce Cooling, Steve Cole, Euge Groove, Mindi Abair, and Nick Colionne. In 2006, the saxman was named Best of the Emerald Coast in the “Best Musician/Vocalist/Band” category. A few snippets from reviews of City Beat illuminate its widespread appeal. Smooth Jazz Therapy calls it “a tremendously accomplished piece of work and, given that Thomas writes or co-writes all but one of ten choice tracks, proves also to be a wonderful showcase for his art…a tremendously commercial collection…” Soul Tracks adds: “His globe-trotting and love of the soul greats are what fed into the delectably-diversified mix found on his Harbor Street Records debut, City Beat, rich with mesmerizing melodies, pulsating beats and even a pinch of hip-hop.” The Smooth Jazz Ride says: “Thomas delivers on City Beat the kind of self-confidence and stand-up solid material that has ushered in so many of our smooth jazz greats today…Thomas obviously knows home when he sees it, as he’s honed right in on smooth jazz like an old neighbor…the hooks throughout are full, catchy, and attractive.” And Smooth Jazz Daily hopes they will “certainly hear more of this blessed artist.” Raised on sumptuous helpings of R&B, funk and soul by icons such as Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder and Prince, Thomas studied piano at the age of seven and switched to saxophone in seventh grade—shortly after discovering contemporary jazz artists like Yellowjackets and Dave Grusin on a Technics demo disc that came with a stereo his dad purchased.
By his senior year in high school, he was performing in the All-State Jazz Band and was honored with a John Philip Sousa Award. He earned a music scholarship to the University of Kentucky, but left school early to pursue his professional career. Thomas was 19 when he joined the Jive Rockets, which opened for the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Big Bad Voo Doo Daddy and Bill Haley’s Original Comets. His innate ability to write infectious hooks in urban settings emerges on City Beat, for which he wrote or co-wrote nine of the ten tracks. He created a live in the studio vibe with co-producer Shannon Wallace.
The instrumental R&B-pop collection chronicles Thomas’ joyful discovery, eager exploration and adventurous wanderings in sprawling metropolises such as New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Bangkok, Thailand. Sophisticatedly cool and cosmopolitan, “Midtown Manhattan” opens the album with Thomas employing his full arsenal of horns--tenor, alto and soprano sax. A gorgeous melody laid over the pitter-patter of a gentle brushed drum beat, “Wedding Song (Forever Always)” poignantly pledges eternal love. Thomas is backed on the record by a tight rhythm section comprised of bassist Eric Lampley and drummer Jonathan Davis, who laid down the funk on “30-A Degrees.” A huge Michael Jackson fan, Thomas decided to cover the gloved one’s most famous song, “Billie Jean” a year ago.
Aside from adding a haunting ambient intro, the track is faithful to the original version. Thomas’ lustful soprano sax then seduces on the sensual “Pretty Skin.” On “Mind Your Step” (inspired by the “caution” signs he would see everywhere in Thailand), Wallace’s electric guitar riffs combine with the rhythm section to create a deep-pocketed groove that is ignited further by the gritty urban sound of turntable pyrotechnics. After indulging his newfound love for wine on “Amante Del Vino,” Thomas receives a welcome “Back Home” from keyboardist Diki Ross, who helps the sax man fashion a warm, cozy ballad. City Beat wraps with “Cali Trippin’,” with Wallace’s wailing electric guitar and Paul Scurto’s classy trumpet solos sparking a journey piloted by Thomas’ tenor. “After growing up in a small town in Kentucky,” says Thomas, “I’ve fallen in love with visiting some of the world’s largest cities, which is what inspired City Beat.
My hope is that the music will travel the world-over enabling me to travel the world performing my songs. As an artist, I think what makes me unique is my songwriting. Although the sax is the lead instrument on the tracks, it’s more about the songs and melodies as opposed to prolonged solos. Shannon (Wallace) and I kept the production organic in the studio, which resulted in a true live sound.” Read more on Last.fm.
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