125th Season Artist-in-residence
Hailed by The Wall Street Journal as “perhaps the best young straight-ahead jazz singer of a new generation,” Peoria local Brianna Thomas is poised to join the ranks of legendary jazz artists. With regular performances at Jazz at Lincoln Center, major jazz festivals worldwide, and recently acclaimed album releases, her star is definitely rising. In fact, Downbeat magazine recently gave her latest album, Everybody Knows, a four-star review!
Born and raised in Peoria, Brianna grew up surrounded by music. Her father, Charlie Thomas, not only influenced her with his own unique talents as a vocalist and percussionist, he created an exceptionally well-rounded musical environment that fostered Brianna’s emerging abilities. At the tender age of six, Brianna made her singing debut performing a duet rendition of the jazz classic, “What A Wonderful World,” with her father. At the age of eight, she won her first of 13 trophies from various district and regional talent shows. Between the ages of eight and ten, she had her first gigs performing for a variety of banquets, black tie affairs, and as a guest on local radio stations.
As the PSO celebrates its past, present, and future, we are honored to have Brianna as its 125th Season Artist-in-Residence – and as an important part of the future of music in the world. Brianna will be featured as a soloist during two concerts during the 125th Season. The first will be Too Hot to Handel® – The Gospel Messiah, an innovative twist on Handel’s Messiah, taking place on Saturday, December 10 at the Scottish Rite Theatre with two performance times, 3:00 and 7:30 pm. The second concert is All That Jazz featuring five-time Grammy winner, Victor Wooten on Sunday, January 29 at the Peoria Civic Center Theater at 3:00 pm.
It didn’t take long for people to notice her talent and potential. Just shy of her teens, Brianna’s talents were discovered by distinguished jazz educator Mary Jo Papich. Soon after, Brianna toured Europe with the Peoria Jazz All-Stars, a big band under Ms. Papich’s direction. This was the beginning of Brianna’s career as a jazz vocalist.
Brianna’s singing is deeply enriched by an understanding of the masterful voices of jazz past. Beyond a healthy serving of sass, Sarah Vaughan’s influence contributes to the artist’s savvy needed to communicate a myriad of moods and feelings, as well as a keen instrumental perspective. Add that to a coyness reminiscent of Nacy Wilson, an Ella-esque enthusiasm for scatting, and the stylistic breadth and vocal grandeur evocative of Dianne Reeves. Perhaps Brianna’s greatest asset is the soulfulness of her sound. Captivatingly unique, her sound moves in tones ranging from sweet invitations to assured convictions, establishing a personal and classic quality that leaves listeners swooning.
Brianna’s talents have propelled her to many successes, including performances at the Montreux, North Sea, and Umbria Jazz Festivals and in venues ranging from the Bahamas to Geneva, Switzerland. Brianna was a resident in both the 2001 and 2002 Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Programs, an international artist-in-residence program that assembles a select group of jazz musicians to perform their original compositions at the Kennedy Center. At “Jazz Ahead” she worked with a host of premier jazz educators and performers, including renowned vocalist Carmen Lundy, Winard Harper, and Nathan Davis.
Brianna’s extensive list of stateside performances includes appearances with Fred Anderson, Von Freeman, Houston Person, and the Barber Brothers. She has performed across the country from New Orleans to Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center. In 2001, Thomas was awarded “High School Jazz Vocalist of the Year” by Downbeat magazine. Notably, Brianna Thomas is the youngest person ever to be inducted into Peoria’s African-American Hall of Fame at the age of thirteen in 1996. She has also received a certificate of excellence from the State of Illinois in recognition of her musical accomplishments.
Brianna has blazed a path in the world of jazz and continues a stellar ascent. With dedication, hard work, and a sparkling personality, she is sure to become one of jazz’s most prominent voices. The words of legendary trombonist Curtis Fuller best illustrate Brianna Thomas’ abilities, hailing her as a “marvelous new artist who has all it takes to reach the top of the jazz profession and music in general.”