Award-winning saxophonist, composer, and arranger Michael Thomas has been an active member of the New York City jazz community since arriving in 2011. Studying music from an early age, Thomas’ focus shifted to jazz in high school, and during his senior year, he was awarded a full scholarship to the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music as a Studio Music and Jazz Major. While at UM, Michael had the opportunity to study with Gary Keller, Gary Lindsay, Whit Sidener, and Ron Miller, as well as numerous guest artists. Michael played lead alto in the DownBeat Award-winning Concert Jazz Band and Studio Jazz Band, as well as being a member of the Frost Jazz Sextet. He was also given the opportunity to study classical flute and clarinet full time in addition to saxophone, which led to his appointment as co-principal clarinetist of the Wind Ensemble, conducted by Gary Green. Thomas is featured as the clarinet soloist on the Wind Ensemble’s 2010 Albany Records release Wolf Rounds, performing the solo part on Michael Daugherty’s “Ladder to the Moon”.
Upon earning his B.M. in 2008, Thomas moved to Boston to pursue a Master’s Degree in Jazz Performance at New England Conservatory, where he received the jazz department’s only Presidential Scholarship. His time at NEC included studies with Jerry Bergonzi, George Garzone, Miguel Zenón, Fred Hersch, Dave Holland, and Ken Schaphorst. In 2010, Michael was recognized by DownBeat Magazine in the 33rd Annual Student Music Awards as the graduate student winner of “Best Original Song” for his composition Refract.
While living in Boston, Thomas performed weekly from 2009-2011 at Wally’s Jazz Café with trumpeter Jason Palmer, and he is featured on Jason’s SteepleChase debut, Nothing to Hide. Michael also used his time in Boston to become a more active composer and bandleader, ultimately releasing his debut album The Long Way in April 2011. This recording features eight of Thomas’ original compositions, and he is joined by Greg Duncan (guitar), Pascal le Boeuf (piano), Ben Street (bass), and Lee Fish (drums).
Shortly after his album release, Michael moved to New York City to participate in The Juilliard School’s Artist Diploma program, as a member of the school’s flagship jazz ensemble. While in this ensemble, he had the privilege of working and studying with some of the finest of today’s musicians, including Carl Allen, Kenny Barron, Steve Wilson, Ron Blake, and Wycliffe Gordon. This program emphasized teaching as well as performing, and during his two years as a member of this ensemble, Thomas gave concerts and masterclasses throughout the United States, Europe, South and Central America, and Australia. Michael’s time at Juilliard also gave him the opportunity to participate in numerous classical performances on saxophone, clarinet, and bass clarinet, as a member of The Juilliard Orchestra, The New Juilliard Ensemble, and AXIOM.
Currently, Thomas remains busy as a performer and teacher in New York City and the surrounding areas. In addition to performing with his own quartet and septet, he is currently working on a duo recording with pianist Chris Ziemba as well as co-leading a new quintet with trumpeter David Neves. Thomas is also a member of drummer and MacArthur Fellow Dafnis Prieto's big band, with a recording scheduled for release in Spring 2018. Michael has more than twenty sideman recording credits to his name, including saxophonist Miguel Zenón’s 2014 big band release Identities are Changeable (nominated for a Grammy Award for “Best Latin Jazz Album”).
As a composer and arranger, Michael has been commissioned by school and professional ensembles throughout the United States (including a 2016 First Music commission by the New York Youth Symphony Jazz Ensemble). Along with bassist and composer Edward Perez, Michael also co-leads and writes for the Terraza Big Band based in Queens, NY. He is also actively expanding the original repertoire of his smaller ensembles, with a new recording planned in 2018, and as of September 2017, Michael was chosen to participate in the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop in New York City.
Michael’s career has taken him throughout the United States and abroad, and his performance credits include appearances with Maria Schneider, Dave Liebman, Wayne Shorter, Nicholas Payton, Ryan Truesdell, Randy Brecker, John Hollenbeck, Brian Blade, Gunther Schuller, John Patitucci, and Jason Moran. Additionally, Michael has given masterclasses on saxophone, woodwinds, composition, arranging, theory, and music business at schools throughout the United States, including New England Conservatory, Snow College, Florida State College (Jacksonville), Slippery Rock University, New World School of the Arts, and New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
Michael plays exclusively on mouthpieces handcrafted by John Thomas of Thomas Woodwinds.