Change like jazz

Omar Thomas ('06)

Think jazz. Do you instantly imagine a sultry saxophone, a winsome trumpet and brushes on skins accompanying a silky voice? Or do you think of an intimate, smoke-filled club with a pianist and the thump of an upright bass? Yep, that’s jazz.

But ask Omar Thomas (’06) about jazz, and you’ll find he has a different take. He thinks big.

Drawn to enroll at JMU after hearing the Marching Royal Dukes, Omar studied music education, thinking initially that he would become a high school band director. Instead, he realized he had a passion for composition. Now the award-winning composer is on the faculty of the department of harmony at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston where he shares his passion for music in a big way. He also is an adjunct faculty member at Harvard. Omar  founded and now leads his own 18-piece jazz orchestra in Boston, the Omar Thomas Large Ensemble. Big jazz. Beyond his scheduled classes, Omar has worked with Composers and Schools in Concert, a nonprofit organization that “supports music education and the creation and performance of contemporary jazz and classical music,” according to the CSIC website. In this capacity, Omar delivers his passion for music to high school musicians. For these young musicians, it has to be cool jazz.
Berklee College of Music logo, circa October 2010

Image via Wikipedia

This week, Omar will be on JMU’s campus to deliver his big brand of jazz to JMU. He will conduct the premiere performance of his arrangement of Radiohead’s Sail to the Moon with the JMU Jazz Ensemble. The performance is Thurs., Feb. 16th, at 8. p.m. in the Concert Hall of the Forbes Center. Omar will also present a master class about “how to have a life in music after JMU.” The class will begin at 1:25 p.m. on Wed., Feb. 15. He will discuss grad school auditions (New England Conservatory), making a living in Boston as a freelance composer, using social media as a marketing tool, working with music publishers and teaching music at the university level.

According to music faculty member Chuck Dotas, one of Omar’s mentors, Omar “was awarded the ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Award and received an Honorable Mention at the Ithaca College Jazz Composition Competition. Dancing, his first big band piece, composed for the JMU Jazz Ensemble, garnered international acclaim at the Jazz Composers Symposium hosted in Tampa, Fl.  Omar was also a member of the exclusive BMI Composer’s  Workshop in New York City, under the direction of Grammy-winning composer, bandleader, and pianist Jim McNeely. Omar is a two-time Boston Music Award’s “Jazz Artist of the Year” nominee.

Not surprisingly, Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts George Sparks thinks Omar would  be a great candidate for Be the Change.

It is a great nomination … notable jazz….  Change like jazz.

Read Tyler McAvoy’s (’12) story about Omar at
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