"I heard the future here and now — in the form of trumpeter Igmar Thomas."
Trumpeter, composer and arranger Igmar Thomas is a visionary artist and linchpin of the modern vanguard. His fluency in swing, and knack for transmuting the genres of the African diaspora make him one of the most sought-after minds in contemporary music. An alumnus of Berklee College of Music and former student of trumpeters Nicholas Payton and Roy Hargrove, Thomas’ role varies from sideman and section leader to bandleader and musical director on international tours for artists like Esperanza Spalding and Kamasi Washington.
Thomas’ most recent position as Musical Director for legendary artists, Nas and Ms. Lauryn Hill earned him the praise of hip-hop icons DJ Kool Herc, Lord Finesse, DJ Premier and Sean “Diddy” Combs, who likened Thomas’ musical directing talents to that of Teddy Riley and DeVante Swing. He proudly serves as an ambassador of black musical culture at the helm of Igmar Thomas & The Cypher and the acclaimed Revive Big Band. Thomas’ boundless creativity enables him to serve as a conduit for the harmonious synthesis of various genres, eras and musical styles. His approach to musicianship has empowered peers and legends to embrace the freedom inherent in rejecting purist notions and making music outside of the box.
Buoyed by the musical diversity of his upbringing in a household of audiophiles, Igmar Thomas began playing the trumpet at age 11 in his native San Diego, California. He continued to foster his passion, studying jazz in high school. Thomas’ talent soon found him rubbing shoulders with the likes of Terrace Martin, Ronald Bruner and Kamasi Washington at gigs on the West Coast. During that time, a chance encounter earned him the mentorship of legendary bandleader and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, who awarded Thomas a full scholarship to the Lionel Hampton School of Music, and the opportunity to perform in his big band.
Thomas would continue his education at the aforementioned Berklee on a full scholarship. There, an immersive undergraduate experience preceded the leap to New York City, upon receipt of his bachelor’s degree. In 2010, he founded the groundbreaking Revive Big Band. Since then, Igmar Thomas has become a fixture in venues across NYC and around the world, where he is renowned for his ability to deconstruct, reimagine and elevate the American canon according to futurist notions and encyclopedic knowledge of musical styles.
Thomas has directed ensembles and played stages at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Radio City Music Hall, Lincoln Center, NBA All Star Weekend, Newport Jazz Festival, Hollywood Bowl, and The Apollo Theater. Some notable international venues include The Royal Albert Hall, North Sea Jazz Festival, and Montreux Jazz Festival, Glastonbury Festival.
A firebrand eschewing the limited tradition of jazz, Igmar Thomas encourages the oneness and continual evolution of Black Music Diaspora, bridging the generational gap between each of its complementary movements with certain distinguished poise. Masterful improvisational skill and crisp writing have found Igmar Thomas producing big band arrangements for a host of artists including Jill Scott, Robert Glasper, Terence Blanchard, Bilal, Gregory Porter, Savion Glover, Ravi Coltrane, Talib Kweli, and Dr. Lonnie Smith. Thomas has recorded or performed with John Legend, Common, Demi Lovato, J. Cole, both Nick & Joe Jonas, Shawn Mendes, The Roots, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Terrance Howard, Wyclef Jean, The Roy Hargrove Big Band, Wallace Roney, Raekwon & U-God (of the Wu-Tang Clan), Tedeschi Trucks Band, Terri Lynn Carrington and many more. Some of his television credits include The Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno as well as current host Jimmy Fallon, Late Show with David Letterman, Good Morning America, Jimmy Kimmel Live, International Jazz Day, Austin City Limits on PBS, The Jools Holland Show, Arte TV throughout Europe and appearances on Comedy Central with Zack Galifianakis, MTV and BET.
Thomas’ original compositions and arrangements have both been favored and acquired by professional and education institutions such as NYO Jazz at Carnegie Hall, University of North Texas, Rutgers University, Sean Jones Ensemble, JazzMN Orchestra, St. Augustine University, as well as Thomas’ own alma mater, Berklee College of Music.
Thomas was also the inaugural recipient of the annual Roy Campbell Jr. Commission in 2014. The prize is awarded to up and coming musicians and band leaders at the Festival of New Trumpet.
A rebel preservationist, Thomas’ approach to upholding tradition typically involves breaking all of the rules. Not content with trading in nostalgia to make purists comfortable, he is given to penning virtuosic compositions that mirror the growling, split-tone statements and transcendent language of his trumpet in performance. Thomas is a living distillation of myriad influences with the chops to to reimagine timeless compositions for present-day audiences, and the fearlessness necessary to shape the sound of the future.
“I think it’s most important for people to take from me the unbounded creativity and the idea that there is another way. There is no wrong or right. There is quality and not quality. Just to be open minded about music. It doesn’t have to be straight ahead jazz or straight hip-hop or just one aspect of any other style. I hope people take from my approach the courage to exercise openness. I feel like I am coming into my own purpose –– I’m living. A lot of the things I was raised with, taught, or experienced, I feel like they’re coming together. I’m into other sounds and styles musically. I’m excited about those things –– rhythmically and in the phrasing –– that I would do differently and experiment with as I move forward. I have to be adamant about how that happens and what it ultimately looks like. I want to be explicit about the music that I create and participate in spreading, which is Black Music. The music comes directly from our lived experience and the rhythm encoded and passed down for millennia in African DNA.“ - Igmar Thomas