Jazz guitarist John Thomas emerged professionally during the early '70s as part of the scene revolving around pianist and composer Muhal Richard Abrams' AACM Big Band. While avant-garde jazz stereotyping might result from such an association, the guitarist's discography includes much fine hard bop recorded while Thomas served in sideman capacity for leaders such as the terrific tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and the outstanding organist Jimmy McGriff. On his own leading bands such as Lifeforce, Thomas creates a fine blend of modern jazz and samba styles.
Biographical facts top up a level of respect already brimming from the sheer sound and energy of his playing. Thomas was still a teenager when he gigged with the aforementioned jazz stars. He moved to Europe in 1977 and from that base toured exotic areas such as the Middle East, Africa, and the Far East, expanding his list of employers to include manic trumpeter Charles Tolliver, articulate drummer Art Taylor, and bebop lionhearts Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Stitt. Thomas started several groups of his own during the '80s: Lifeforce, Serious Business, the John Thomas Quartet, and Extremely Serious Business. The latter outfit traveled to sub-Saharan Africa as part of a State Department program.
In 1991 Thomas came back to the United States, where he may have been overwhelmed by the crew of rock & roll guitarists with the same name as his, some of whom are actually British and none of whom should be confused with the jazz veteran. Organist Charles Earland collaborated with Thomas in this decade as the acid jazz and hip-hop scenesters began frantically licking up the sweaty funk of bygone eras. Since 1994 Thomas has been based out of Boston, working with his own combos and in 2002 joining up with the drummer Kenwood Dennard in the Real Thing group. An associate professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Thomas is also an active clinician and teacher.