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Ben Thomas leads a tango party in the KNKX studios

Ben Thomas’ passion for music has led him down many different paths. He's studied percussion, improvisation, and, most recently, tango music. With the tango’s signature instrument, the bandoneon, he has infused those influences into enchanting modern compositions.

Thomas picked up the instrument after taking dance lessons. He became enthralled with the tango's romantic rhythms and dynamic compositions. The discovery of the style overhauled what Thomas had learned about music previously. He said he’s been writing almost exclusively in the style over the last five to six years.

“It's made me a very different musician, as a percussionist and a composer. As a percussionist, you don't have to worry about breathing…with a bandoneon the bellows get so wide, and then you run out of lung. And so, it's made me write different phrases and play differently than when I'm playing drums and vibes,” he said.

The concertina, an accordion-like instrument, traveled with German and Italian immigrants to Argentina in the early 1900s. It inspired the bandoneon, which became a key instrument in ensembles playing music for tango dancing.

Thomas and his ensemble visited KNKX’s Seattle Studios to preview some new compositions that he’ll be showcasing with the Ben Thomas Tango Project at the Royal Room in Seattle on May 9.

They started with the “El Choclo," aka “Kiss of Fire,” a traditional tango often covered by jazz artists. The band closed with one of Thomas’ modern tangos that infuses jazz harmonies and room for improvisation called “An Unapologetic Shift of Perspective.”

Enjoy this modern perspective of celebrated tango music in this exclusive KNKX Studio Session performance.


  • Ben Thomas - bandoneon
  • Gabe Hall - Rodriguez - piano
  • Steve Shermer - bass
  • Libby Phelps - violin


  1. El Choclo (Ángel Villoldo)
  2. An Unapologetic Shift of Perspective (Ben Thomas)
Justus arrived from KBEM FM Jazz 88.5 in Minneapolis, and the Association of Minnesota Public Educational Radio Stations (AMPERS), in the fall of 2023. For nine years he held many roles including Jazz Host and Production Director, producing a variety of programming highlighting new jazz artists, indigenous voices, veterans, history and beyond.
Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.
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