The trumpeter Joe Thomas would have celebrated his birthday yesterday, but since he left us in 1984, I will do it in another fashion here.
Throughout his career, Thomas was surrounded by more assertive, even aggressive trumpeters, who could play louder, faster, higher. And thus he did not always get the attention he deserved for his lyrical balanced style, which shone. But he is a great poet of shadings, tone, and beautifully placed phrases. At first, his playing might seem simple: ascending arpeggios that woo the ear. But his singing tone, the darks and lights of his sound, are permanently memorable. I saw him a few times in the early Seventies, and solos I heard still ring in my memory. That, to me, is the highest art.
POCATELLO is an improvisation over the harmonies of the then-famous IDAHO, recorded in 1946 by Thomas and friends for his great champion Harry Lim of Keynote Records. (Thomas had other musical friends who recognized him as special: he recorded with Lil Hardin Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, Vic Dickenson, Claude Hopkins — so his beautiful sound and phrasing was heard, as we say.)
The other players on this brief poetic interlude — a swinging one! — are Tyree Glenn, trombone; Hilton Jefferson, alto saxophone; Jerry Jerome, tenor saxophone; Bernie Leighton, piano; Hy White, guitar; Billy Taylor, Sr., string bass; Lee Abrams, drums.
The YouTube video has a verbal introduction by “Leif Smoke Rings Anderson,” which initially startles but is clearly affectionate. I encourage you to hear and re-hear Joe’s opening chorus and the way he rides out over the band. Although this was his session, he so graciously makes room for everyone else:
Joe Thomas, a true poet of the idiom. His work never fades. I wrote at greater length about his quiet majesty here in 2009. Happily, much more of his work is available on CD and on YouTube, so he can be heard and loved in this century.
May your happiness increase!