Bruce Thomas

Professor

"My father was a jazz player—he played piano. He never really taught me hands-on because he didn't read music that much. He would always say, 'I don't know anything,' but he had incredible ears. It wasn't until later in life that I realized the gift he gave me: he played everything right. I had a standard to know whether things were right or wrong based on what I'd grown up hearing. In turn, I encourage my students to do a lot of listening."

"I've always thought of myself as a composer who plays rather than a player who writes. So my approach to improvising—both doing it and teaching it—is more like composing on the fly, instead of learning a lot of licks and trying to string them together. That never worked for me. Whenever I learned licks I would always spend more time trying to figure out how to cram them in where they didn't really work rather than paying attention to what improvisation is all about: trying to create the best melodies you can."

"I concentrate a lot on touch. In fact, some students come to me because they like the way I 'touch the piano' and want to sound that way. I try to teach students how to think, rather than what to play, so they can supervise their own learning curve. Conceptual learning needs to start at the ground level; if you do it correctly, other things fall into place more easily. I also try to relate what I teach to what my students are learning in harmony and ear training—not having that big view can be confusing."

"I like to watch as my students go about understanding, from the inside out, how they fit into the musical picture. They come from all different backgrounds and ages, but what really unifies them is kind of the musical version of the universal consciousness. If you can tap into that, then the better tuned in you are and the more you're able to get out of your own way. By that I mean internalizing what you've learned, then learning to trust yourself, which means trying not to think too much. That's probably the hardest kind of trust there is to develop, but if you can get out of the way, it's amazing what comes through."

Career Highlights

 

  • B.M.Ed., University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  • Composer, arranger, and pianist for Chet Baker, Ornette Coleman, and New York Studios
  • Performances with Mike and Pat Metheny, Ernestine Anderson, Tim Hagans, Stevie Wonder, Jerry Butler, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and others
  • Compositions for Chet Baker, Berklee Jazz Composition Faculty Orchestra, Berklee World String Orchestra, Eastman Jazz Ensemble, Art Garfunkel, and Major Records
  • Composer of production music and video scores for American Express
  • Private studies with Bill Dobbins, Chuck Mangione, and Michael Gibbs