Oluyemi Thomas

Oluyemi Thomas is a sage-like reedman hailing from Oakland, California. He will be performing in a duo with Michael Wimberley (New York drummer and percussionist), who he describes as creative-minded and creative-spirited. Thomas’ journey seems to be governed by the spiritual sphere, which is hard to define and impossible to pin down. There has been much discussion about spiritual jazz being a distinct genre. If such a category exists, then Thomas must be one of its most prominent exponents. Baha’i is Thomas’s faith. He views music as an active expression and expression of human nature. Thomas rejects any distinctions between composition and improvisation, time, free form, AACM and Motown. Thomas insists that Asian, Middle Eastern, and African music can be considered ‘other’. Thomas isn’t oblivious of their inherent ‘exoticness’, but he insists on their part in the evolving human continuum that has similarities and differences. Thomas will perform July 2008 at Zebulon and the Brecht Forum on consecutive days. This follows the informal pattern that Thomas visits New York roughly annually. Thomas says that he spoke to Charles Gayle in 1998 to discuss his plans to visit New York for a few performances. He also asked if he could recommend Positive Knowledge a drummer. Michael Wimberley was mentioned to me after I heard him perform with Mr. Gayle in Oakland and San Francisco. Both Mr. Wimberley, and I, feel, think, and live in a creative, similar way. We both believe in the ability to translate life-realities into inventive structure formats. Michael is a friend, a remarkable person and a spiritually conscious artist. His statements are always in the correct order. Even his quiet moments are clear and to the point. Thomas’s goal when performing is to reach towards the ceiling to assess the space’s acoustics as well as its inhabitants. Thomas can be seen moving through many instruments, such as saxophones and flutes, but his main focus is on the bass clarinet. Eric Dolphy is his main spirit guide on the bass clarinet. His tone is sweet, poetic, profound, soulful, and clear. Eric taught me how to make my own vocabulary system. I was initially inspired by Mr. Dolphy’s words to listen to him. Both the saxophone and bass clarinet are my favorites because they can both sing and speak ancient and modern language-tunes. The bass clarinet is my favorite instrument. It has that “floor-of-the ocean” tone that I adore. Thomas’s performance contexts are always different, but the overarching aura is one of invocatory ritual. This is in the tradition of Sun Ra and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Oluyemi listened to jazz in his youth, but he was exposed to a more funkier version of jazz during his early years. This ritual approach can be refined to a sparse duo setting as seen in albums featuring collaborations between bassists Alan Silva (2001’s Eremite disc Transmissions) or Henry Grimes (7th release, The Power Of Light), 2007. “I have been creating new fragments in several compositions. This has brought me great joy as I practice and play, and hearing the pieces grow. These are compositions in the sense that life unfolds in the moment and pre-moment. Our learning is a constant process as we go through the day of managing our business. It doesn’t matter if I’m involved in music, dress selection, dancing or drawing, but it is a collective centering thing that draws my attention. Thomas, although he now lives in Oakland, was born in Detroit in 1974. He migrated to Oakland in 1974. Thomas’s work as a mechanical engineer was the main reason for his move to Oakland. Although Thomas is now fully immersed in music, he doesn’t deny his past days working on technical aspects. He actually appreciates the similarities between mathematics and abstract music-making, believing they are in play. Thomas seems to have been especially active in recent years. Thomas says, “I performed at the International Spring Festival, UC Berkeley, and at the San Francisco Baha’i Center together with the wonderful Ijeoma Thomas.” Thomas considers it his main conduit. It’s the Positive Knowledge band with his wife Ijeoma, who sings ‘poetic voices’. “I have worked with Henry Grimes, Ijeoma, Santa Fe and San Diego. They were positive, insightful, and creatively embracing. It was a total pleasure to be part of the trio in New Mexico. In my Creative Music class at Oakland Public Schools, I led a workshop with Rasaki Aladokun (a talking drums master), and also taught a class. Since the 1970s, I have been studying African music. African music arrives on ‘the one’ from another angle than Western music, so I love it and find the tales that are being told connects with my rewarding and humbling-of-the-heart experiences during my travels in Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, Uganda and Ghana. Thomas says, “I am a global citizen.” This is how I approach my music. Music is a gift from the beyond that I consider a treasured gift to all people and cultures. It allows us to share our collective reality and celebrate life together. Oluyemi played games with his brother Kenn and inventing new ones. Today, they do the same thing on a musical level. This spirit is evident in Thomas’ workshops sessions. “A few days back, I shared some music with a group diverse seniors in Oakland. The eldest person was 98! It was a wonderful experience for me and all of them. I was accompanied by wonderful seniors who listened attentively and wholeheartedly to me. Their eyes are a story in themselves. They are very open and responsive. As with the other sessions, I also shared my world music systems. I am sometimes a bit more patient when it comes to the construction of my pieces but I still enjoy the process of creating the music. It’s all for us learning and growing as human beings. Thomas is also a member of Positive Knowledge and works in various duo, trio, and solo settings. Thomas is also working on material for a new album, which he hopes to release in the early part of next year. “My new exciting disc projects will include solo works, duets, and works with Ijeoma, Wimberley, and Kenn. Music-vocal systems and music will continue to discover and consolidate new tonal pleasures, as well as inner clarity. Allaboutjazz

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