News

Remembering jazz great Willie Thomas

February 23, 2019

Epilogue by Diane Craig for the Island Sounder on 2.23.2019

Death has silenced the brass trumpet of island resident Willie Thomas. The internationally recognized jazz artist, educator and preacher of the gospel of bebop, died in his cabin in Olga on Saturday, Feb. 16, three days after his birthday.
He was 88.
“Dad was exactly where he wanted to be and pleased with himself for reaching 88,” said Wendy Thomas, his daughter and owner of the restaurant Wild Island in Eastsound. “We had a few friends over to celebrate his birthday, enjoyed some Key Lime Pie – his favorite – told stories and shared laughs. Friday night, I stayed with him, and Saturday morning, he left about 11 a.m.”
Wendy says her dad was ready.

“His pace had slowed for the last several months, and we had arranged for hospice care. But I think it was when we rolled the bedside commode into his room that he figured it was time to go. Wille T out!” she said.

Willie, who grew to become an internationally recognized jazz performer and instructor, began life in New York on Feb. 13, 1931. Following the tragic motorcycle death of his father when the boy was a mere 18 months old, the family landed in Florida. There, under the Orlando sun, Willie started playing trumpet at 10 years old and quickly warmed to the sounds of jazz and all things bebop. Known as the “Harry James” of Orlando High School, he won the Horace Heidt Talent Show in 1947 with his arrangement of “Blue Skies.” After high school, Willie played with the Third Army Band, where he met and became friends with pianist Wynton Kelly. It was a friendship that propelled him into the hot New York jazz scene of the 1950s.
“He lived an interesting and robust life,” Wendy recalled. “It was a life that occasionally clashed with the prevailing norms of the day.”
After a decade in the Big Apple, Willie returned to Florida in the 1960s, where he continued to perfect his bebop style. He recorded under the Mark, Vee-Jay and Atlantic Record labels, and blew horn with the likes of the Woody Herman Orchestra, MJT+3 with Frank Strozier and Bob Cranshaw, the Slide Hampton Octet with Freddie Hubbard and George Coleman and singer Peggy Lee.

Willie’s love of playing jazz was matched only by his love of teaching the art form, a passion that brought him across the country to Washington state in the early 1990s. He spent the next several years traveling, teaching and writing work that presented jazz as a language, accessible to anyone with the slightest interest. “Jazz Anyone …? Play and Learn Blues and More, Book 2 B Flat Edition,” Alfred Music Publishing 1996 and “Jazz Anyone…?”Alfred Music Publishing 1998 and accompanying CDs provide the curious and the impassioned student with “lessons and concepts, licks and mini-charts … that can help any student acquire invaluable improvisation skills.”

His students on Orcas remember a man with patience, wit and an uncontainable enthusiasm. Accomplished violinist Paris Wilson, a student of Willie’s while she was in elementary school, learned much from the bebop preacher.
“Willie introduced us to jazz and the art of improvisation. We learned the scales and the melodies and then how to pick and choose the notes to play. I will miss his sense of humor and his musical wisdom,” she said.

Cierra Lutz also studied with Willie and, like Paris, was an early member of the group “Fiddle in 4.” She remembers his spunk and a philosophy “that one could be a musician without being forced into a particular style.”

A fierce advocate of the genre, Willie was often available for island fundraisers and musical showcases. During a fundraiser in 2010 for the Funhouse Commons and a performance by 32 members of the Funtime Blues Band, Willie’s joy for his art was evident.

“I’ll have to say, that when I hear those young voices singing the ‘Hello Blues’ for the first time, this 79-year-old heart still leaps for joy,” he said at the time.

Wendy believes her dad will be remembered for his tenacity, his woodpecker-like determination, his creativity and a love of jazz that led him to write his books of instruction and create videos with Andrew Youngren, both of which culminated in the website www.JazzEveryone.com.
“His ability to translate that passion into an online presence that is accessible by anyone, anywhere speaks volume to the man and his legacy,” Wendy said. “He was a brilliant jazz trumpet man who lived for music and preached the gospel of bebop.”

Willie leaves behind three former wives, Jerri Winters, Barbara Meyer and Valerie Sanson; children Mary Rainer of Ft. Pierce, Florida, and Wendy Thomas and son-in-law Oliver Groenewald of Olga.


A fresh new look

January 10, 2018

We are so pleased to have our re-designed logo and website up and running!

We started the process going back to the core of "what is bebop about" and how have we, as a culture, seen it evolve and from where. How do you bring these feelings onto the page? Classic jazz albums were pulled up from the 50’s to inspire the feel of bepop through textures, colors and images and well, it took off from there.

And “from there” became another design feat in working to organize the pages so our members would have the most educational, rewarding experience possible with hopefully zero frustrations (at least from our side!). We needed to lose the long drop down menus and fine-tune the navigation to make it as user-friendly as possible. We are pleased to announce we have caught up with the modern tech world and the site is now friendly on all devices. Yeah!

With the design in hand, our programmers spent countless hours translating it to the language of the world wide web and now we all get to experience it. We are very happy with the results and think you will be too.

We did our best to catch any and all quirks in the re-design but we would love to hear from you if you have questions, feedback or come across something that could use a little more tweaking. Or check out the FAQ page for frequently asked questions.

Please refer to our Beat blog for a place to also ask questions and engage with us and other members.

Jam on peeps!

Wendy & Ollie

VISIT METRIC MEDIA

Under new management

March 13, 2017

Hey jazz lovers! I’m Wendy Thomas and a lot of you already have met Oliver Groenewald, my husband. As you may have gathered over the last year we have transitioned into the management of Jazz Everyone. Don’t worry, Willie is still gracing us with his humor, wisdom and trumpet playing on a daily basis. He’s happy to see his son-in-law, Ollie, taking the JE reigns and they are still jamming on a very regular basis. He’s also very excited to see the new website rolling out and hopes to see even more folks getting bit by the be-bop bug. Spread the word!

Ollie has gotten to know this material and website inside and out and is available for questions concerning the music, lessons and technical support like passwords. I will be working with you on the billing side and filling in the cracks and of course being the moral support that wives of musicians get pretty good at!


Jazz Education Network Conference

January 21, 2017

We had an outstanding five days in New Orleans this January at the JEN conference. Nothing compares to waking up and going to bed with jazz music. The hotel was huge yet the rooms were located around the edges like a centrifuge with an open 35 floor ceiling if you can imagine.

So the music just floated through the entire hotel. It was like the Starship Enterprise hosting a massive jazz workshop. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be a guest not attending the conference but the hotel could have charged extra just to have the opportunity to fill your heart and soul to the brim with music. And as much as I did love the music, I was particularly taken with the young men and women from as young as 14 who participated in open rehearsals at 7am, late night concerts and jam sessions along with the chance to be in an audience full of musicians of all ages. So often Jazz is behind closed doors available only if you are over 21. This is an amazing venue for ALL AGES!

Personally, it was a joy to meet the cats who knew my Dad back in the day. His reputation on the horn, and off were great. He was always the life of the party cracking people up with his humor and them blowing them away with his sound.

learn more about JEN