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Arkansas Jazz Hall of Fame
1994 Candidates

Charles Thomas, 1935 -

Charles Thomas An outstanding pianist and example of the great talent here in Arkansas. Thomas was born in 1935 in Memphis, TN where he grew up playing piano and organ in local churches. As a classmate of Phineas Newborn, Charles was known to skip lunch and go to the band room to listen to Phineas practice. He listened to the radio and learned the playing style of George Shearing. As an adult he studied and mastered the playing styles of Bud Powell, Thelonius Monk, and the compositional rhetoric of Duke Ellington. His mastery of the Oscar Peterson style has earned him acclaim from jazz guitarist Herb Ellis. Thomas was a mentor to the new guard pianists James Williams, Mulgrew Miller, Harold Maburn and Donald Brown, all from Memphis. He continues to be an influence on the careers of young Arkansas jazz musicians.

Thomas began playing in Arkansas in 1955 with the Ralph Porter Band at the Westwood Club in Little Rock. Through the years he has worked with Kenny Burrell, Yusef Lateef, Eddie Harris, Johnny Griffin, Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Frank Foster, Charlie Rouse, George Coleman, Lee Konitz, Frank Strozier, Charles Loyd, Pharoah Sanders, Herb Ellis, Jay Thomas, and was featured in the road tour of Duke Ellington's 'Sophisticated Lady'. Thomas has led his own group, Artistry, for a number of years. As recently as December, 1993, Thomas was featured in a trio with Alan Dawson and Ray Drummand at Bradley's in New York City. While in the Mecca of Jazz, he taped a show with Marion McPartland for NPR's McPartland's Jazz Piano.

Thomas has recorded several albums in recent years with Arkansas players Billy Scarlet, Buck Powell, Dave Rogers, Kenny Walker, Tom Richeson, and others. A national release is in the works featuring the Memphis pianists James Williams, Harold Maburn, Mulgrew Miller and others in tribute to pianist Phineas Newborn. Thomas was chosen Jazz Person of the Year in 1992/93 by the Arkansas Jazz and Heritage Foundation. He presently plays piano eight days of the week at the Holiday Inn West, Little Rock.

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