By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Few jazz keyboardists have excelled at both piano and organ. True, piano giants such as Count Basie and Fats Waller recorded occasionally on organ; Hammond B-3 wizard Jimmy Smith started on piano; and the line did blur a bit in the late '60s and '70s, as both organ players and pianists explored the potential of newly affordable, performance-oriented synthesizers. But occasional experiments aside, the instruments are so different that jazz pianists and organists mostly have remained two different breeds of cat -- which makes the comprehensive skills of the resourceful Reggie Thomas seem all the more impressive.
On piano, Thomas shows off a sensitive touch, a rich sense of harmony and fleet single-note runs; on organ, he delivers grits, gravy and gospel in satisfying portions, then tops it off with occasional forays into the challenging harmonic territory mapped by John Coltrane and first adapted for the organ by the late Larry Young. An associate professor of music at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Thomas leads his own organ trio, OGD, and has served as pianist for many notable touring musicians visiting St. Louis. Closest to home, however, is his ongoing collaboration with wife Mardra, a vocalist and actress whose experience in theater brings an extra dimension to her interpretations of song lyrics.
Over the past several years, the couple's jazz ensemble has proven to be a fruitful musical marriage, as evidenced by an enjoyable CD and performances at the Sheldon, the St. Louis and Whitaker Jazz Festivals, and elsewhere. It seems appropriate that they're returning to Jazz at the Bistro for Valentine's Day weekend, for this is one couple that actually does make beautiful music together.