When Rep. Bennie Thompson first heard Jackson State University music education professor Dr. Russell Thomas play with his jazz band at a campus event, he told the musician he wanted him to perform in the nation’s capital.
“He said, ‘I want you to come to Washington some time to play,’” said Thomas, who is also director of jazz education at JSU.
Since that meeting, Thomas and his band, the Russell Thomas Musical Experience, have performed each year at a reception during the annual Congressional Black Caucus Conference in Washington, D.C.
The band recently returned from its latest performance on Sept. 20.
“It’s a great experience. You get a chance to meet a lot of influential people,” Thomas said. “One year, President Obama showed up.”
Thomas’ 10-piece rhythm and blues band includes mostly JSU graduates who are working musicians. WJSU station engineer Dale Morris plays bass guitar, and JSU staff member Doug Stringfellow is the band’s sound technician.
Thomas has toured Central America with the East Lansing (Michigan) Music and Dance Troop, Europe with the American Youth Symphony and Chorus, Italy with the Virginia Nine Steppers and Guyana, South America with the Jackson State University Jazz Quintet representing the United States for the celebration of Guyana’s “150th Anniversary of Freedom and Emancipation.”
He is a member of the African American Jazz Caucus, Music Educator National Conference and the North America Saxophone Alliance. Thomas also serves as Chairman of The International Association For Jazz Education/African American Jazz Caucus Historically Black Colleges and Universities Jazz Education Committee.
“We were invited to go back next year,” Thomas said. “I guess they like what we’re doing.”