Driven: Michael J Thomas powers through musical return

By SAVANNAH EVANOFF

Michael J Thomas first came to Destin for vacation — “a long time ago” — with only two weeks’ worth of clothes and two saxophones.

The sax-vocalist never left and developed a following while performing at local venues and releasing his debut album, “City Beat,” and, later, the popular track “I Think About Amy.” It’s been seven years since that record, and Thomas knew it was time for a follow-up.

“When you don’t do something for so long, it’s almost like starting over again,” Thomas said. “People forget about you.”

Thomas re-introduced himself to listeners with his 2017 album “Driven” and the single “Baby Coffee.” The album started off strong, scoring Thomas a distribution deal with Sony and his musical debut on Sirius XM.

“Driven” is available digitally on iTunes and most other digital music sources, on CD at cdbaby.com and michaeljthomas.net and for pre-order on vinyl at michaeljthomas.net.

Within the first minute, Thomas shows how different “Driven” is from his first album. Unlike in “City Beat,” his vocals are featured on many of the songs including the opening track, “My Love.”

“I’m getting a lot of great responses from people on that one,” Thomas said. “They hear the Michael Jackson comparison a lot. I find it a compliment when they say that.”

Thomas isn’t surprised when people hear this influence, as Michael Jackson was one of many artists he grew up listening to. Although he was raised in Kentucky, Thomas’ parents instilled him with a different musical taste than what was popular there.

“We had one of those old time stereo systems that look like a piece of furniture,” Thomas said. “You pop up the lid and you’d have the turntable. They would spin vinyl all the time. We listened to all kinds of stuff — Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder ... and, of course, Prince.”

Thomas recently had a flashback when Teena Marie’s “Lover Girl” played on Sirius XM, he said. When Thomas laid down the tracks for “Driven,” he wanted listeners to feel his musical experiences.

“Our approach to the whole album was giving it that old-school vibe, yet modern,” Thomas said. “I hope people hear that in the music and they really like that.”

Although it features Thomas’ vocals, fans won’t be shorted in the musical aspect. It features many horn arrangements with the saxophone and trumpet, he said.

“There’s a lot of stuff on there that’s got a more Tower of Power type of feel to it ... ” Thomas said. “Which is musicians’ music, I call it.”

The record will also feature synth sounds, Thomas said. The title track will reveal its modern appeal.

“It’s the most pop-sounding song on the record,” Thomas said. “It’s totally out of the box from what I normally do.”

The song is an appropriate album title. It expresses how Thomas felt driven to return to his music career, he said.

“There’s a whole lot of racing references in there,” Thomas said. “It’s about life and trying to compete with others. Sometimes you can burn yourself out because you’re working so hard to try to compete.”

Venturing into music again wasn’t an easy feat for Thomas. Three days before Christmas in 2015, Thomas’ ex-girlfriend died.

Although they weren’t together, Thomas struggled with depression, he said.

“All of 2016 was miserable for me, coming out of that,” Thomas said. “The music sometimes is how you work through things. It helps. Kind of a coping mechanism.”

Thomas hopes the record will inspire others to push forward.

“I’ve always been ambitious and driven to succeed,” Thomas said.

Michael J Thomas — Driven

 

July 29, 2017

This latest release from saxophonist Michael J Thomas, entitled Driven (release date: Aug. 18), opens with a vocal track, “My Love’” that echoes the late Michael Jackson. Thomas’ vocal is the nearest thing to MJ that I have heard in a long while. The track itself is a gorgeous piece of mid-tempo, soulful pop music punctuated with some delightfully breezy horn playing. In contrast, the next track, “Baby Coffee,” is a sultry funk-infused number that features Thomas’ velvet tenor sax playing around a bouncy chorus. That breaks down in true old-school style to roll on out of here.

At times, this album seems to be a real step back in time with chugging funky back beats and synth and drum breaks that really nail that old-school vibe that permeates this very contemporary album. “You Know You Got This,” for example, has a bright and breezy smooth jazz head that breaks into a wickedly bare, deeply funky centre. “Girls Got Moves” returns to that MJ-inspired vocal style of Thomas and has a brilliant funk feel flowing from start to finish.

“Never Gonna Leave You” drops back to a nice soulful two-step jazzy instrumental that will have you grabbing and swaying with your significant other. The only thing wrong with this delightful slab of keening smooth is that it finishes! A real gem of a track, but then I like those old two-step numbers.

The title track is another one of those excellent eighties-style pop-soul tunes that Thomas seems so adept at creating. Guitarist Mark Jaimes really chops this one up, and bassist Eric Lampley ensures that the bounce is in every ounce from start to finish.

For an album with such an old-school vibe, it is amazing how contemporary its creation was. The album features contributions from musicians based both in the UK and the States who contributed via “Cyber Tracking” — a process where the artists send digital tracks to one another for their input. In the UK, keyboardist Oli Silk and ex-Simply Red guitarist Jaimes contributed in this way. While in the States, Gino Rosario and Trammel Starks provided keyboard and piano parts from Mobile AL, and Atlanta, GA, respectively. “It was fun sending tracks back and forth, letting all these amazing musicians do their thing,” Thomas says. “It was pretty amazing sending guys like Oli and Mark some basic tracks to work with and receiving tracks back that took tunes even beyond what I could have conceived. “

This is a great album of old-school-inspired, funk-driven, soulful smooth jazz tunes that never feels dated but pays homage to what’s gone before in a fresh and satisfying way. – Steve Giachardi

June 2016 - Destin Magazine

June 2016 - Destin Magazine

September 01, 2011
Teresa Gettelfinger - On The Coast Magazine

September 01, 2011 Teresa Gettelfinger - On The Coast Magazine

March 01, 2013
Thomas Erdmann - Saxophone Journal

March 01, 2013 Thomas Erdmann - Saxophone Journal

"This is a great album (DRIVEN) of old-school-inspired, funk-driven, soulful smooth jazz tunes that never feels dated but pays homage to what's gone before in a fresh and satisfying way." - Steve Giachardi, TheSmoothJazzRide.com

“Michael J. Thomas is an excellent and dedicated musician. He is a very fine and intuitive player and has one of the best soprano sax sounds I've ever recorded. I think he's a rising star with a great career in front of him."- Paul Brown, Legendary GRAMMY® Winning Music Producer

“Michael J Thomas is one of those rare artists that only show up every 5-10 years that instantly shows that ‘it’ factor.  The playing is world class and the tunes quickly become delicious standards.  Get used to his name!” John Beaudin, SmoothJazzNow.com

"Refreshing with a great sound...the sax style and horn licks hook you the second you hear it."-Mark Carter, Owner of WSBZ 106.3 The Seabreeze

"His fully alive, 3-dimensional stage presence leaves as much of an impression on fans as his tunes, “…his variety of style and songs along with his audience interaction should assure a bright future for this young entertainer,” - Dee Dee Ritche, Pensacola News Journal

“Back in February of 2010 I described sax player Michael J Thomas as being possibly the smooth jazz find of that year. His debut CD, ‘City Beat’, was a tremendously accomplished piece of work and now, with the emphasis switched firmly to the radio single, he has released the hugely accessible ‘I Think About Amy’. Available as a ‘maxi-single’ with both vocal and instrumental versions, it is a tune that blends the best elements of contemporary jazz and R&B with more pop orientated flavorings. Not only that, given Michael writes, plays alto and (on the vocal version) sings throughout this memorable recording is a wonderful showcase for his undoubted versatility. It is certain to be in my top twenty for 2011.”- Denis Poole, SmoothJazzTherapy.com

 

May 13, 2013
Lena King - VIP Destin Magazine

May 13, 2013 Lena King - VIP Destin Magazine

December 18, 2014 Lauren Delgado - Northwest Florida Daily News

December 18, 2014 Lauren Delgado - Northwest Florida Daily News

 
 

Michael J. Thomas — the Emerald Coast’s soulful soloist

Michael J. Thomas is a class solo act that is right at home at fine dining establishments such as Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Destin.
Imagine yourself seated at dinner. Surrounded by great friends, food and cocktails. It seems pretty perfect, right? Not yet. Add music and you have yourself the makings of a wonderful dining experience. Luckily for you, that experience is located right here on the Emerald Coast. Nightly at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Destin you can find nationally known, chart topping, and “Best of the Emerald Coast” winning saxophonist/vocalist/songwriter Michael J. Thomas.

He adds an ambiance to the Ruth’s Chris’ main dining room that may just be why this steakhouse was voted Best Romantic Restaurant by EC Magazine readers. While known for his smooth and jazzy sax solos, he is not your typical saxophonist. By adding tracks and vocals, he is able to put on a full show solo. Something many don’t know about him is that he is also an accomplished vocalist and songwriter, too. His national debut album “City Beat,” released in 2010, has hit numerous charts, including Billboard’s Smooth Jazz chart.

General Manager Mike Sable says, “Michael J. Thomas is infectious. We are so lucky to have him perform in-house regularly. I really believe that it adds that extra spark to our guests’ dining experience. He makes our Ruth’s Chris special, and the music brings people back and encourages people to stay longer and enjoy themselves. We offer true dining and dancing, and I encourage people to come in and see him because he truly is a talent and local gem.”

Thomas is a staple musician here on the Emerald Coast. Ask almost anyone in the area and they can tell you about him. You can find him performing nightly at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Destin.

Saxophonist Michael J. Thomas brings the beat of the city with his new
CD release by Eunice Moseley
Even though he was raised around country music – growing up in Kentucky –
and heard R&B music from his parents that consisted of Stevie Wonder and
Earth, Wind and Fire, Michael J. Thomas was drawn towards the saxophone
and Jazz. On March 2, 2010 Thomas releases a new CD project, “City Beat,”
on Harbor Breeze Music.
“I’m from the country originally…and any opportunity to go to the city I took, “
laughs Michael about the title of the project. “It’s something about the city that
I love…the hustle and bustle…I like it.”...

Thomas tops Bublé
A Cecilia native’s CD has toppled Michael Bublé on the Jazz charts.
“City Beat” from jazz instrumentalist Michael J .Thomas was released March 2 and
already is rising on the charts. The CD rested comfortably at No. 3 on the Smooth
Jazz Now charts the week of March 13 and rose to No. 1 the week of March 20,
passing Bublé’s “Hold On.”
“I was excited when ‘City Beat’ hit No. 3, Michael Bublé was number one and
Corrine Bailey Ray was number two,” Thomas said. “Both are vocalists and I never
expected to go any higher and was happy being the top instrumentalist.”
When the programming director alerted him that it was going to No. 1 he couldn't
believe it.
“Here I am an unsigned artist competing with signed artists from Sony, Blue Note,
NuGroove, etc,” Thomas said. “Unbelievable.”
His music also can be heard on The Weather Channel’s “Local On the 8’s.”
“City Beat” is available on www.amazon.com, iTunes, www.michaeljthomas.net and
locally at Best Buy.

 

SMOOTH JAZZ THERAPY
www.smoothjazztherapy.com
FEBRUARY 02, 2010
Michael J Thomas - City Beat
Raised in Cecilia, Kentucky and now domiciled in Destin, Florida, sax player Michael J
Thomas may yet turn out to be the smooth jazz find of 2010. His debut CD, ‘City Beat’,
which hits the streets on March 2, is a tremendously accomplished piece of work and,
given that Thomas writes or co-writes all but one of ten choice tracks, proves also to be
a wonderful showcase for his art. Thomas’s writing partner is guitarist Shannon Wallace
who co- produces and performs with him throughout. Together, with a tight group of
backing musicians, they deliver a tremendously commercial collection that has every
prospect of doing very well.
The album opens with the sophisticatedly cool ‘Midtown Manhattan’. With an enticing
mid tempo groove it is an early indication of the accessibility that Thomas routinely
builds into his music and more of the delicious same comes in the form of ‘Cali Trippin’
which has a brassy, easy paced swagger and features moody trumpet from Paul Scurto.
In fact whether the pace be relaxed or intense the smooth jazz essentials of rhythm and
melody are never too far away. This is demonstrated by the urban tinged ‘Mind Your
Step’ which balances Thomas’s cool playing with an underlying horn infused urgency and
when he cranks up the tempo even further for the feel good title cut the result has
‘radio ready’ written all over it. ‘Wedding Song’ shows off a more sensitive side to Thomas’s musical persona and in
similar vein is the contemplative ‘Back Home’ that benefits from the enchanting
synthesised strings of Diki Ross and excellent soprano sax from Thomas. Elsewhere
Jonathan Davies on drums and Eric Lampley on bass lay a funky foundation for Thomas’s
restrained yet compelling rendition of ‘30-A Degrees’ while in terms of personal
favourites there is much to commend the Michael J Thomas - Shannon Wallace
arrangement of Michael Jackson’s seminal ‘Billie Jean’. Starting out slowly and quickly
hitting a familiar beat this could well be one of the best covers of the year whilst just as
good is the original composition ‘Amante Del Vino’. This easy paced gem checks every
contemporary jazz box imaginable but just shading it as Smooth Jazz Therapy top track
is the tranquil ‘Pretty Skin’. With Ross sublime on keys and Thomas at his delightfully
melodic best this is one that will play and play.
For more on Michael J Thomas go to www.michaeljthomas.net
February 02, 2010 in CD Reviews | Permalink