Vocalist, Composer and Educator. Lizzie Thomas is an inventive jazz singer, gifted with an inviting voice and a swinging style. Duo Encounters, cements Thomas’ stature as one of New York’s top jazz singers. As she is known to do, Thomas digs deep into the lyrics and uplifts each song, but these performances also convey a sense of happiness and joy at finally having the opportunity to interact with other musicians after the worst days of the pandemic. The album teams Thomas with a dozen major instrumentalists on one duet apiece. Rather than sing a conventional set in front of an accompanying pianist or guitarist, the interpretations are adventurous, filled with close interplay between the artists, and contain plenty of variety in instrumentation, mood, and tempos.
Lizzie studied Commercial Vocal Jazz Performance at Belmont in Nashville, TN and was graduated with a BA where she continued graduate studies in Music Education with an emphasis on piano pedagogy. Lizzie studied with Sandra Dudley who taught her how to convey emotion through jazz and the Great American Songbook. “These songs are timeless and their lyrics are still relevant today. I love that the songs allow for endless interpretation. And like Billie, I can make each song tell a story.”
The Pittsburgh-born jazz vocalist paid her dues in Nashville where she played gigs, ran a piano studio and deepened her jazz vocal skills. From there, Thomas moved to New York City where she quickly became regarded as a preeminent vocalist. Thomas is well known for her monthly residency at 90 Thompson St in Soho which lasted a decade, as well as her sold out performances at iconic jazz venues Birdland, Cotton Club, Triad Theatre, Blues Alley, and Chelsea table & Stage. The 2020 release of New Sounds From The Jazz Age was a major step forward for Thomas. The critically-acclaimed album, which featured Thomas alongside pianist-arranger John Colianni, guitarist Russell Malone and bassist Jay Leonhart, demonstrates Thomas’ attractive musical personality and stunning vocal facility whether scatting at fast tempos or caressing a tender ballad.
Ms Thomas made her recording debut as a leader in 2010 with More Than You Know, a quartet set with clarinetist Attilio Troiano, pianist Michael Kanan, bassist Pat O’Leary, and drummer Frank Levatino; she met all of the musicians while sitting in at Arturo’s. Her song choices were influenced by Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday. Although she would evolve and grow from this early starting point, she already displayed a beautiful voice and a strong connection to the material which included such classics as “You Better Go Now,” “You Call It Madness,” “More Than You Know,” and “I’m A Fool To Want You.”
Lizzie’s second recording, 2013’s Easy To Love, has her joined by an all-star group that includes pianist and arranger Xavier Davis. “He wrote these complex yet simple sounding arrangements for the nine-piece band and brought the songs to life. These are truly some of my favorite songs to sing.” Highlights include such standards as “You Do Something To Me,” “Close Your Eyes, ” an uptempo and often-wild version of “One Note Samba,” and a soulful “Easy To Love.” During the same sessions she also recorded Santa Baby, her heartfelt renditions of some of her favorite Christmas songs with “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” being a particular favorite.
The 2020 release of New Sounds From The Jazz Age was a major step forward for Lizzie. “I wanted to throw myself in, be daring, and really challenge everything that I had learned thus far as a vocalist, musician, and band leader.” Singing in a septet that included pianist-arranger John Colianni, guitarist Russell Malone, and bassist Jay Leonhart, she uplifts such songs as “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” and “I Didn’t Know About You.” Whether scat-singing at fast tempos or caressing a ballad, or telling a charming story about the song, Lizzie displays her own attractive musical personality and shows that she had developed into one of New York’s top jazz singers.
Duo Encounters features twelve thoughtful, innovative performances of timeless jazz standards, arranged for a duo context, pairing Thomas with a ‘who’s who’ of jazz’s front-line. The album begins with a sultry rendition of “Love For Sale”, featuring pianist Helio Alves which exemplifies, from the very first downbeat, Thomas’ warm vocal tone and the intentionality and soul that the vocalist packs behind every note. Next, Thomas communes with Mr. Ron Carter for a spirited performance of “Willow Weep For Me”. This piece is one of the finest examples of the stellar interplay Thomas employs throughout the release with her duo partners.
Another highlight from the release is Thomas’ heart-rending rendition of “My Foolish Heart” alongside guitarist Russell Malone. Malone provides a perfect sonic backdrop over which Thomas’ vocals soar. A stunning and unique offering is Thomas’ take on the classic “Lush Life” alongside saxophonist Wayne Escoffery - Thomas’ vocal quality and story-telling harken back to the classic sounds of Nancy Wilson and Billie Holiday. Escoffery provides counter-melody lines that reflect the harmonic under-pinnings of the composition while perfectly complementing Thomas’ melodic refrains. Thomas demonstrates her complex rhythmic acuity on “Everytime We Say Goodbye”, delivering blues-tinged phrasing, circumlocuting the beat in a masterful way alongside bassist Noriko Ueda. The album concludes with a truly special rendition of “Round Midnight” featuring cellist Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf. The vocalist’s dulcet tones can be heard a capella for a section prior to Dorman-Phaneuf’s contrapuntal accompaniment enters. The piece builds tremendously as vocals and cello weave around each other and ultimately fall into a stunning, descending unison line closing out the arrangement and this inventive release as a whole.
The vocalist notes “This album was birthed coming out of covid lockdown when I could finally enter the same room and create musically with one other musician. The intimacy of communication within the duo setting is thrilling. There is something so satisfying with simply two instruments. For DUO Encounters, I invited uniquely great instrumentalists each with their own style to engage in musical conversations with my voice. This album is about creating, and revealing the deep parts of the musical journey.”
During the pandemic, Lizzie introduced the Jazz Diva Collection. An homage to the women in Jazz. It is comprised of T-shirts (with handmade line drawings of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Lizzie), drawstring bags (featuring drawings of the three), and candles (titled Evening Jazz, Jazz This, and Morning Jazz), all of which are available on her website.
When asked what qualities a song needs to have for her to want to perform it, Lizzie replied, “I'm a lover of melody and lyrics. I love uncovering tunes that are unknown, but I also love reimagining standards with a great arrangement. Within my live show, surprising my audience with folk and nontraditional jazz selections is a must, and I have a special love for Brazilian music. If I have someone come up after my set and say, “I was transformed- it was as if I was in another space and time,” then, I know I did it right.”