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Getting to know jazz vocalist Brianna Thomas

Matt Baker
courtesy of the artist
Vocalist Brianna Thomas

Vocalist Brianna Thomas' latest album focuses on songs and universal truths that "Everybody Knows."

Showcasing a uniquely soulful and captivating voice, Brianna Thomas presents a book of songs that encapsulates common human experiences.

This collection of reimagined classics as well as some exquisite originals is brought to fruition by The Brianna Thomas Band, featuring the Peoria, Illinois, native alongside pianist Conun Pappas (New Orleans), guitarist Marvin Sewell (Chicago), bassist Ryan Berg (Minneapolis), percussionist Fernando Saci (Sao Paulo, Brazil) and drummer Kyle Poole (Los Angeles).

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarist Steve Miller considers himself Thomas' mentor.

The soulful expression and masterful instrumentation exemplified by Thomas' ensemble here resembles that of her father’s band, with whom the vocalist first exhibited her blossoming talents at the tender age of 6.

A follow up to her 2014 debut, "You Must Believe in Love," "Everybody Knows" serves to remind listeners of the virtues and ideals that, although sometimes difficult to practice, are known by everyone.

Everybody knows “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” everybody understands the need to forgive (“How Much Forgiveness”). Many are familiar with both the pain (“Since I Fell For You”) and joys (“The More I See You”) of love. Nina Simone’s civil rights anthem “Mississippi Goddamn” is a story everybody still knows today.

Thomas' singing is deeply enriched by an understanding of masterful voices. Sarah Vaughan’s influence contributes to Thomas' artistic savvy, as well as a keen instrumental perspective, while her stylistic breadth and vocal grandeur is evocative of Dianne Reeves. Her performance carries a coyness reminiscent of Nancy Wilson alongside an Ella Fitzgerald-inspired skill and enthusiasm for scatting.

Perhaps Thomas' greatest asset is the soulfulness of her sound.

In the U.S. heartland on the Illinois River, Thomas' hometown of Peoria served as a well-rounded musical environment that fostered the singer's emerging abilities.

Thomas' first music teacher and biggest influence was her father, CJ Thomas, a vocalist, drummer and creative powerhouse, and it was with his band Dave & The Dynamics that she took her first stage.

Dave & The Dynamics played a gamut of music so wide that it gave freedom of thought and expression and surpassed the boundaries of separatism and judgment. This group played virtually anything soulful that moved them — from James Brown, The Temptations, Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder to Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Bonnie Raitt, Prince and Earth, Wind & Fire.

Thomas recalls, “My father always told me, 'It doesn’t matter what you sing, but whatever you sing, sing it with conviction!' ”

She “hopes people can find common ground in the diversity of this music and freedom in any truth they hear.”

Listen for Brianna Thomas on KNKX's Midday and Evening Jazz.

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.