Walter “foots” Thomas

Walter “Foots”, a Reed specialist and arranger, was also a bandleader. He retired in 1948 from full-time playing, and then became a professional manager, whose speciality could have been to coach players on how to build discographies that could be used to encircle Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza. Thomas was originally from Muskogee in Oklahoma. This is a connection to Merle Haggard’s famous line, “We don’t smoke marijuana here in Muskogee.” However, Thomas was a Muskogee native who had a famous sideman association with Cab Calloway (of “Reefer Man”) fame. This is Joe Thomas’ brother, a well-known classic jazz reed player. He eventually took over the Jimmie Lunceford group. Walter Thomas, who was one year older than his brother, began playing in local bands while he was a college student. In 1927, he moved to New York City and started working with Jelly Roll Morton a little over a year later. After brief stints with Joe Steele and Luis Russell, Thomas joined The Missourians in 1929. The Missourians were able to contact Calloway who eventually took over the band. Thomas was involved in this outfit from 1943 to 1945, both with and without Calloway. Calloway sidemen received some of jazz’s highest salaries, which may have been one reason for their loyalty. Thomas began his playing career with Don Redman in 1944. He then managed his own band for just over a decade, before moving into management. Thomas was strongly associated with swing styles and recorded one of his best recordings at the end of his playing career with Coleman Hawkins, a rootsy but forward-looking tenor jazz saxophonist. Jackie McLean, a great jazz and bebop alto saxophonist, received saxophone lessons from Thomas. Allmusic

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