A huge hunk of cornbread would not have been more welcome during the potato famine than it is as a nickname in the career of New Orleans jazz reed player and vocalist Joe "Cornbread" Thomas. Thanks to the appetizing moniker this superior player -- who kept busy with trad jazz up through his senior years -- has more than a tasty chance of being told apart from the Joe Thomas that played trumpet, the Kansas City jazz saxophonist who took over the Jimmie Lunceford band, or the funky flute player whose recording named Plato's Retreat was a hit.
The New Orleans Thomas is the elder statesman of all these name-alikes, having a bit less than a decade of a head's start over either the trumpeter or the Kansas City jazz Thomas, both of whom were born in 1909. Jelly Roll Morton was among the earliest of bandleaders to put the cornbread in the musical oven, so to speak; at any rate, the Morton discography represents a body of work involving Thomas that has managed to remain in print for listener perusal. Early Thomas can also be sampled on a New Orleans jazz compilation titled Prelude to the Revival, Vol. 1.
Thomas did extremely well through the '60s and '70s in various New Orleans revival outfits, some of them fronted by European and Scandinavian players. Teaming up with the entertaining Kid Sheik Cola, the reedman was also billed as Brother Cornbread during this period, a name that sounds something like a movie that would star Bill Cosby and Harry Belafonte, nonetheless effectively documented on a series of live recordings released by the dedicated Jazz Crusade imprint. Thomas was a superb soloist in his later years, often given special billing as in Barry Martyn's Living Legends Band Featuring Joe "Cornbread" Thomas. He also performed and recorded with Peter Nissen's New Orleans Jazz Band.