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René Thomas
Information Discography
Instrument(s) Guitar, Composer
Date of birth February 25, 1926
Place of birth Liege
Date of death January 3, 1975
Place of death Santander, Spain
© Michel Herr
Born in Liège on Feb. 25, 1927, René THOMAS was one of the greatest guitarist of Modern Jazz in the sixties. His high quality technique on the guitar allied with forceful inspiration and improvisation in his music made him one of the best. A discreet person, offering none or very few concessions when playing Jazz, he was not well known outside the Jazz circles. THOMAS was highly esteemed by the top American Jazz musicians, he became quickly a "musician's musician".

His too early death deprived Jazz from one of his most prominent guitarists. Sonny ROLLINS said in 1958, when THOMAS joined his orchestra, that there was no other guitarist in the States with more talent !

René THOMAS was born in Liège, Belgium, in 1927. He learned to play the guitar when he was very young. However he was not aiming at a musical career until he discovered Django REINHARDT and Modern Jazz during his teens and WWII.

After the war, he joined the emerging Belgian talented musicians like Bobby JASPAR in the 'BOB SHOTS' orchestra and toured in Europe. DJANGO himself, being in Brussels, heard THOMAS play and was spreading the word that Thomas was one of the most promising guitar talents. The instinct of DJANGO was right, as proved during the next decade of THOMAS' music.

He rapidly settled in Paris, early 1950's, to join the Modern Jazz scene of the time. On his beginning in Modern Jazz he was under the influence of Jimmy RANEY, the formidable American guitarist. But his daring harmonic variations associated to a very clear melody line and bass support, made THOMAS evolve to his original style. He did his first recording under his name as leader in 1954.

The reputation of THOMAS as a fine instrumentalist and inventive musician grew rapidly among the Jazz players. He finally decided in 1956 to emigrate to Canada to stay close to his friend and music partner, tenor sax Bobby JASPAR, working in the US.

THOMAS played with the best of the American musicians : Sonny ROLLINS, Stan GETZ, Miles DAVIS, Jackie Mc LEAN, Chet BAKER...

In New york he participated in a number of recording sessions, with Sonny ROLLINS and others. He also joined in the early 60s the last European tour of Bobby JASPAR during which they cut some high-class recordings together.

After the death of JASPAR, he stayed in Europe where, after a few years with his own group, he mainly played with organists Lou BENNETT and Eddie LOUISS.

He died in 1975 (on Jan. 3) in Spain, having not delivered the totality of his immense creativity in music.

Being a central element of the evolution of the playing of Modern Jazz on guitar, the legacy and influence of THOMAS can be found in the next generation of guitar players, in musicians such as Larry CORYELL, John McLAUGHLIN and Philip CATHERINE.

I would suggest the following recordings :

  • Guitar Groove - Recorded in NY in 1960 with Albert HEATH (drums) and J R MONTEROSE (sax). A great disc with THOMAS at his peak; swinging rhythms and be-bop influences. Re-issued on CD by OJC.

  • Who Cares? - Recorded in 1958 with the Sonny ROLLINS group. THOMAS at home...

  • The Italian Session - A top Jazz recording with Chet BAKER and Bobby JASPAR.

  • T.P.L - Recorded at the end of his life with a very fine Belgian sax player : Jacques PELZER.

    (Text by Etienne Borgers, all rights reserved)

  • If you are interested in René THOMAS, a visit of Colin GUILLARMOU's web site (in French and English) is a must : THOMASIA (bio, disco, rare photos, etc...)


  • See a discography on Pierre Dulieu's site.
  • More infos on René Thomas are available from the MAISON DU JAZZ (Liège Jazz Museum)
  • In the nineties, a Belgian guitar big band formed by Fabien DEGRYSE paid a tribute to René THOMAS, playing his music in concert and on the CD Hommage à René Thomas (Igloo 134).
  • THOMASIA, Colin GUILLARMOU's web site (in French and English), offers a detailed discography.
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