Wooten: La Lección Tres
Thomas: Bernstein, West Side Story Overture
Thomas: Styne & Burns, Don’t Rain on My Parade
Thomas: Ellington, arr. Tom Marko, Sophisticated Lady
Thomas: Gershwin, Summertime
Thomas: Dorsey, arr. Derel Monteith, Precious Lord
Thomas: Thomas, How Much Forgiveness
Thomas: Ellington, arr. Tom Marko, Drop Me Off in Harlem
Thomas: George/Ira Gershwin, Lady Be Good
Thomas: Porter, arr. Tom Marko, Just One of Those Things
Warm up your January with the hottest Jazz concert in town, featuring five-time Grammy winner Victor Wooten on bass and vocals by Peoria’s very own Brianna Thomas!
For the opening half of the program, we welcome Peoria local and rising jazz star, Brianna Thomas for an exciting set of Broadway show tunes, jazz standards, a well-known Gospel song, and a new song by Thomas herself. We then welcome renowned bassist and five-time Grammy winner, Victor Wooten, who plays his La Lección Tres, a concerto for electric bass and orchestra written in 2020.
All That Jazz will take place on Sunday, January 29, 2023, at 3 pm at the Peoria Civic Center Theater.
“I like to talk and I like to play.”
So said Victor Wooten as he began his commencement address to the Class of 2016 at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School. This was his way of explaining why he wasn’t going to recite the speech he had written out for the occasion. Instead, for 24 minutes he shared his thoughts with them about life, about success and challenge and meaning, all while accompanying his words on the bass guitar strapped across his shoulder. He played and spoke freely, gently, and eloquently. He took his audience back to a bit of wisdom he and his brothers had received from their mother, back when they were just beginning to demonstrate the phenomenal talent that would culminate years later in worldwide recognition as the Wooten Brothers.
“What does the world need with just another good musician? We have plenty. What the world needs is good people.”
As he improvised a four-string soundtrack to frame and channel his ideas, Wooten expanded on the lessons she had imparted: “We’re already born special. … In the history of humankind, your fingerprint has never been here and will never be here again. … No one can take that away from you. Your job is to improve on that specialness and present it to the world … “ These moments, whether witnessed that night in Burlington or later on YouTube, surely changed lives. They also capture what Victor Wooten really does best. Better even than his revolutionary technique is his conceptual redefinition of the bass guitar’s role.
How can this be? What Wooten did with bass has almost no parallel in modern music. From Coleman Hawkins to and beyond John Coltrane, the great saxophonists approached their instruments more or less the same way. Same thing with Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis, Ray Brown and Esperanza Spalding: Styles progress, harmonic and melodic languages expand but essentially fundamental concepts remain the same.
Not so with Wooten. After him, every bassist in the world began to think differently, much as guitarists did after Hendrix. Young bassists now start from a different set of assumptions than their predecessors did a generation ago. Wooten’s blazing, percussive chops lit a fire for many of them, as did his explorations of melody, nuance, and phrasing.
So, yes, this is what Victor Wooten’s forte and calling, whether speaking in Burlington, working with kids at his Center for Music and Nature at the 147-acre Wooten Woods retreat in Tennessee, or outlining his philosophy of music in a novel, The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth through Music, now a part of the curriculum at The Berklee College of Music, Stanford University, and other prestigious institutions.
And of course, he continues to inspire through his work. On his latest album, Trypnotyx, scheduled for release in September on his own Vix Records imprint, he recruits world-renowned musicians Dennis Chambers on drums, saxophonist BobFranceschini, singer Varijashree Venugopal, and comedian/voicetrumentalist Michael Winslow, gained fame in the Police Academy movies.
Not surprisingly, themes from his life thread through Tryptonyx, tie virtuoso performance and life experience together. Winslow’s voice and sound effects à la conjure James Brown and pop throughout the sizzling “Funky D Mix” and recall the night that a kindergarten-aged Wooten saw the Godfather of Soul on stage for the first time. And in “Cupid,” through bucolic textures, a sylvan flute, and spoken exchanges involving Wooten and his children, the horrors of war give way to the promise of redemption through love and music.
“Music is a great way — and a safe way — to teach just about any life principle,” Wooten insists, one afternoon at a table outside of a Nashville cafe. “To be in a band, you have to listen to each other. Bands are at their best when every instrument is different, not the same. Everyone takes turns talking. Everyone speaks their voice. A lot of times musicians might ask, ‘What would you like me to play?’ I say, ‘Listen to the music. The music will tell you exactly what it needs.”
Listening was always essential to Wooten. As the youngest of five brilliantly talented brothers, he listened to the music they loved and to the instruction his brothers offered as he began exploring the bass. He didn’t know it at the time but this sibling input helped free him from preconceptions.
“I learned to speak music the same way we learned to speak English,” he says. “No one sits you down and says, ‘Here’s the role of your voice. Learn these words. Go and practice.’ No, you just talk, and your parents allow you to talk even though you might speak ‘incorrectly.’ You do that for years before you learn about grammar. I learned music the exact same way.”
With liberated imagination, Wooten saw no reason why he couldn’t apply what his brothers were doing on other instruments to his bass. “I saw my brothers’ instruments on my instrument,” he says. “For example, I started learning Roy’s drum licks and solos on the bass. I heard bass lines in his drumming. Later, when I learned what we now call slapping — we called it thumping then because that’s what [Sly Stone’s bassist] Larry Graham called it — that gave me the power but not the speed to play a Billy Cobham drum fill. So my brother Regi showed me how to use my thump to pick up and down. That opened a portal in my brain. Then when you add multiple plucks and left-hand hammers, all of a sudden you’re using ten fingers, man!”
Victor was just two years old when he played his first gigs with the Wooten Brothers Band — Regi on guitar, Roy a.k.a. “Futureman” on drums, Rudy on sax, and Joseph on keyboards. They opened West Coast shows for Curtis Mayfield, War, and other headliners nearly scored a major label deal until someone there was room for only one five-brother act. The other act just happened to be The Jackson 5. But that didn’t stop the five Wootens from pushing against convention.
Settling eventually in Nashville, where connected with a like-minded banjoist and composer Béla Fleck, Wooten has earned five Grammy Awards, been honored three times by Bass Player magazine as Player of the Year, and is included in the Rolling Stone selection for “Top 10 Bassists of All Time.”
What really matters, though, is the example Wooten sets in his dedication to music as a means to enhance the human condition even for those who may never master an instrument. “Music shouldn’t be just about music,” he emphasizes. “Music should be about something greater. If all you do is music, what is your music about? You’ve got to have a life. You’ve got to have experience. You’ve got to fall in and out of love. Getting away from your instrument and out into the world, you can see how the little bird gets up and sings — not to get paid but just because the sun is rising. You go outside to get more inside who you really are.”
Learn More About Victor Wooten
Born and raised in Peoria Illinois, 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 thirteen trophies, all first place and overall, 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. 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 Vaughn’s influence contributes to Brianna’s style the artistic savvy needed to communicate myriad moods and feelings as well as a keen instrumental perspective. Add to that a coyness reminiscent of Nancy Wilson, Ella-Esque skill and 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 after her performances.
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, D.C.’s Kennedy Center. In 2001, Thomas was awarded “High School Jazz Vocalist of the Year” by Down Beat 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, Brianna 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.”
Learn More About Brianna Thomas
This program is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.