On 'Tide,' Pianist Micah Thomas Proves Himself As A Standout New Jazz Player A recent graduate of Juilliard, pianist Micah Thomas has made some serious waves this season with his debut album, Tide, and several prominent sideman gigs.



Micah Thomas Is A Jazz Pianist With A Lot Of Runway

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/900582409/900766760" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Every now and then, a young jazz musician turns up out of nowhere and is so good that everyone's like, where did they come from? Nate Chinen from NPR's Jazz Night In America says that's what's going on with a young musician named Micah Thomas.


NATE CHINEN, BYLINE: Pianist Micah Thomas is having the jazz equivalent of a standout rookie season. Just within the last several weeks, he finished his undergraduate studies at Juilliard and released a terrifically assured debut album called "Tide." It introduces an artist of superb technical facility, along with something even more striking - a deep understanding of the sprawling lineage of modern jazz piano and a youthful determination not to get caught retracing anybody's steps.


CHINEN: Another sign that Micah Thomas is a hot name right now - he keeps showing up as a sideman. Take the new album by saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, just out on Blue Note Records. All you need is a taste of this music to understand what a catalyst Thomas is within the band and how explosive he can be as a soloist.


CHINEN: While Thomas is a dynamo at the piano, he has an introvert's demeanor. His is a quiet, centered self-confidence. Some of this may have to do with his upbringing far from the bustle of any major jazz scene. He hails from Columbus, Ohio. And when we talked over video chat, he was there in his parents' house, where he's been since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

MICAH THOMAS: I think because I grew up in Ohio and because the way I approached music wasn't very social, I kind of developed a lot of my stuff relatively by myself compared to other people. Like, by the time I'd gotten to New York, I kind of had some pretty concrete ideas of what I wanted to do. And for that reason, I think Juilliard was great for me.

CHINEN: There, Thomas had access to teachers like pianist Frank Kimbrough, who quickly recognized his talent. He's also been mentored by the likes of Sullivan Fortner - artists who were pretty recently hailed as young phenoms themselves. On a sharp recent release called "In Common 2," Thomas is the featured young blood alongside players like guitarist Matthew Stevens, saxophonist Walter Smith III and bassist Linda May Han Oh.


CHINEN: In many ways, he's still developing his sound. But there's already a core principle in place - a spirit of surprise.

THOMAS: One of the things I want to do in my playing is create the idea that anything could happen. I've worked a lot on trying to implement many different types of textures while I'm playing and working on approaching moments in different ways with the rest of the band.

CHINEN: And you can hear that interaction with his trio on his debut album "Tide." But it's also clearly a snapshot of a musician with a lot of runway ahead. That's a really exciting prospect as well as a reassurance that jazz is still in good hands.


CHINEN: For NPR News, I'm Nate Chinen.


Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.