BEST JAZZ ARTIST - 2003
The jazz community's usual veneration of its elders is all topsy-turvy in the Twin Cities--here it's the whippersnappers that garner the national press. Still, veteran pianist Carei Thomas got a nice taste of the spotlight when his CD debut Mining Our Bid'ness (Roaratorio) drew praise from specialist journals like The Wire and Cadence. With Bid'ness's warm but complex mix of modern composition and jazz stylings, Thomas (with collaborators William R. Lang, George Cartwright, Aldon Ikeda, Tim DuRoche, et al.) created a place where both Satie and Sam Rivers could sit and chat comfortably. But Bid'ness is just part of the story. With his broad-ranging interests in spoken word, fine art, and good music of all genres, Thomas creates new situations to indulge his creative whims and encourage others to indulge theirs. One night you might see him playing elegant miniatures on a concert hall program with a pair of classically trained pianists, while on another occasion he'll perform on an electronic keyboard alongside a theremin and a treated banjo in a bowling alley. Maybe he'll conduct a large group to commemorate Martin Luther King Day, or the AACM's 35th anniversary (Thomas is a longtime member of the Chicago collective). Sometimes you'll hear his big, husky voice in the crowd at a show, bantering with the onstage performers: His peanut gallery comments have drawn big smiles from even the shy Andrew Hill. Perhaps the best summary for Thomas's career is the title of his occasional performance series: "Unusual Designs/Atypical Settings." With Thomas both are in plentiful supply.