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Jazz Legend Joe Thomas Passes Away at 84

Jazzed Magazine • News • August 9, 2017

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Musician Joe Thomas, sometimes known as “The Ebony Godfather,” passed away on July 26.

Thomas was best known for his contributions to the jazz world in his own project and in the Rhonda Scott Trio. He was 84 years old.

Thomas was born on May 31, 1933 in Newark, New Jersey to Frank Thomas and Sarah Pryor Thomas. As a child, he learned how to play alto and soprano saxophone, trombone, flute and piano, and also taught himself how to write music. When Thomas was 15, his older brother Frank helped him to play in local clubs, where he met James Moody, who told him to pursue a career in jazz.

Later in life, Thomas served in the United States Army for three years, but was wounded in combat in the Korean War and received the Purple Heart. 

When he returned home from the war, he formed a group called The Rhonda Scott trio, which featured both Rhonda Scott and drummer Bill Elliott. The band made two albums together over the course of their three-year stint.

After performing with The Rhonda Scott Trio, Thomas formed his own group, which would go on to record nine albums. In the group, Thomas performed on the flute and saxophone. His performances also appear on other albums, including some by Jimmy McGriff.

Since then, he has performed all over the world, including at renown venues like Blue Note, Birdland, The Key Club, Carlos One, The Cave, Count Basie’s, La Détente, and Smalls Paradise.

There are plans for his entire catalog of work to be released for the Joe Thomas Legacy. He will be missed by the jazz community.

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