Michele Thomas Press Kit
The Release Of Messenger...
"(She) has her own vocal sound, which is beautiful by the Grace of God."
~Yusef Lateef, legendary jazz artist, Grammy award winner
Jazz vocalist Michele Thomas prepares for the CD release of her sophomore album, "MESSENGER" this coming summer ~ a release which features bright new arrangements of Stevie Wonder's most spiritually pensive and socially provocative songs.
From this daughter of a minister and progeny of Chicago’s gospel saturated Church of God In Christ (C.O.G.I.C.) denomination, it's no surprise that conscientious, message-filled music would be at the heart of her aesthetic milieu.
After years of working to establish her name in the Chicago jazz scene with her 1999 debut album, "I'LL TAKE ROMANCE", Michele has emerged with a new outlook on the state of jazz music...one that has lead her to blend a mixture of gospel, soul, and jazz, by which she strives to expand her appeal to a more diverse audience. Having already performed in some of Chicago's legendary music rooms, such as The Green Mill and Green Dolphin Street, she's already started out on solid ground.
“Message music” is a musical genre with a political, religious, or social message, the likes of which have always been a mainstay in Stevie Wonderʼs repertoire, and still ring true today. Considering the countless covers of Stevie Wonder's songs to date, "MESSENGER" seeks to promote the significance of his socially conscious music, despite an ever-changing society.
Although many critics and record execs held the opinion that "message songs" couldn't be popular, Wonder made songs with political, religious, and social topics which became hits. As Michele says, "...Stevie just clobbered the notion that a message song doesn't have mass appeal - and he did it by writing hit after hit of conscious-centric songs."
Thomas's unique mixture of musical influences comes through in this newest CD, which takes on some of Stevie Wonder’s finest pieces— songs that were carefully hand-picked to highlight the transcendent as well as politically charged subject matters which encompass such a great portion of Wonder’s body of work.
"MESSENGER" delves into the introspective mind and spirit of Stevie Wonder's compositions with reinterpreted pieces that are transported through the contemplative and soul-tinged vocals of Michele Thomas.
For this project, Thomas re-enlisted her most trusted and long-time collaborators: arranger Neal Alger - noted jazz guitarist and member of The Patricia Barber Quartet; and prominent drummer/ percussionist (as well as her husband) Darren Scorza, who also debuts his role as producer on this album.
Also coming together on this project are some of Chicago’s finest, such as bassist Bob Lovecchio, pianist Chris Mahieu, saxophonist Matt Shevitz, and trumpeter Joe Lill. Classics such as "Higher Ground" are given an "Isaac Hayes" treatment with funky guitars and gritty horn riffs, while more obscure tracks like “They Won’t Go When I Go” and “Big Brother” explore the most contemporary sounds of the Afropop movement.
But, fasten your seatbelts, because the exploration does not stop there. Michele also showcases the works of two other jazz composers, Hal Galper and Enrico Pieranunzi. Here she lends her lyrical supplementation to their instrumental works, “Triple Play," along with the lovely bossa, “Dee Song."
Thomas, who is very much an interpretive vocalist in the style of Dianne Reeves and Cassandra Wilson, has a clearly visible love affair with the improvisational spirit in music; the spirit that drives not only jazz, but all its multiple infusions of gospel, R&B, blues, and rock. All of these, of course, have been at the bedrock of true American classical music, but this also speaks to Michele’s many musical influences. These influences range from contemporary gospel greats such as Richard Smallwood (who, coincidentally, she shared a stage with at Pick-Staiger Auditorium in fall of 2006), to singer songwriters such as James Taylor, on to the soulsters like Donny Hathaway, and all the way to the definitive jazz singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, just to name a few.
For an artist with a uniquely patch-worked background, having come from the rich heritage of gospel music and being an ambassador of the idiom through leading and founding her college gospel choir, to traveling to Europe to perform and teach gospel to Scandinavian audiences to her current burgeoning onto the Chicago jazz scene in which she's carved out her place in the city's music community, Thomas brings every part of her distinctive background into each performance she gives.
For Michele, creating and recording "MESSENGER" was truly a labor of love. She shares of her song choices that, “I’ve always appreciated that Stevie Wonder challenged the status quo when it came to social justice and religion as it relates to spirituality. I was both amazed and unsettled with how directly relevant the messages in his music are, even in our current times. Seems to me those messages bear repeating…”
Introducing Michele Thomas...
Michele has been performing jazz in Chicago for over the last decade. In that time she has managed to perform at such legendary venues as Chicago's own Green Mill, and worked with such well-known musicians as bassists Kelly Sill and Michael Arnopol, and pianist Ryan Cohen. Recognized for her "Ella-esque" tone and the musical coloring of "Sarah", Michele Thomas brings a vibrant spirit to the voice of jazz. With her warm, heartfelt delivery and mean scat solos, she has won over the hearts of her fans and the jazz community!
She, like many of the great singers, grew up singing gospel music in the church. But for the last few years, Michele Thomas has zealously pursued finding her voice in the jazz idiom; so much so that she has already caught the attention of such distinguished jazz vocalists as Kevin Mahogany and Sheila Jordan.
The daughter of a minister and the progeny of Chicago's gospel saturated Church of God In Christ (C.O.G.I.C.) denomination; Michele's musicality was nurtured and developed in significant ways. From the time she was a small child she sang in her school choir, nurturing her passion for harmonies and improvisation. By the time she entered junior high, Michele was a member of the Chicago All-City choir and in her junior year of high school, she won a scholarship to study voice at the Sherwood Music Conservatory of Music. It was that same year that Michele joined her high school jazz band and discovered her passion for jazz.
When Michele went to college she continued her music studies, fervently striving to bring all the types of music she loved into her learning experience. From her dedication towards her classical training, to her participation in the university's jazz band--where she brought home an award for "Most Outstanding Individual Performance" from the Elmhurst College Jazz Festival--Michele gave herself to many musical genres. Throughout this time, Michele kept strong ties to her gospel heritage, and as a college freshman, Michele founded and conducted North Park University's very first gospel choir. Her tremendous success with this group was evident in the rapid growth of the choir that sprouted from a small ensemble of 12 to a massive assembly of over 100 members in just the four years that Michele was a student. Her charisma in gospel singing as well as conducting not only won the praise of her immediate campus community, but also caught the interest of international gospel musicians. So in both 1996 and 1998, Michele was invited to tour in Sweden performing and teaching gospel music to Scandinavian audiences.
Even as Michele has inherited the riches of a great gospel music heritage, her transition (while yet not at all a departure) into the jazz idiom has been met with fast and noteworthy success. Michele has a bachelor's degree in music from North Park University and has studied at both the Bloom School of Jazz and The Music Institute of Chicago. Michele has also studied with the likes of jazz vocalist, Spider Saloff and Sheila Jordan, pianist and jazz educator, Dan Haerle and B-3 Hammond organist extraordinaire, Hank Marr, Dr. Billy Taylor and drummer, Winard Harper.
Michele is currently performing with a quartet of talented up and coming musicians featuring Ted Hogarth on saxophones, Darren Scorza on drums, Neal Alger on guitar and Bob Lovecchio on bass. Michele has also performed at such Chicago venues as The Green Mill, Green Dolphin Street, Pete Miller’s, Blue Water Grill, Katerina’s, and The Gateway Bar And Grill. Her debut CD, “I’ll Take Romance” has also received airplay on some of Chicago’s prominent jazz radio stations such as WBEZ 91.5 and WDCB College of Dupage Radio 90.5.