“The album is rife with catchy melodies and invigorating grooves, but it’s Thomas’ warm, inviting tone that is the “driving” force behind the proceedings, lending every track its verve and buoyancy…Thomas, who is also a skilled vocalist, plays with a singer’s sense of rhythm and time. ”
In a year as crazy and uncertain as 2020, it may not always be easy to accentuate the positive, but #1 Billboard recording artist Michael J Thomas has made it a bit easier, encouraging us to groove gently along to his latest smash single, the infectious and soulful “Sippin’ the Yak.” The follow-up single to the multi-talented saxophonist’s second #1 hit, an explosive re-imagining of Lady Gaga’s “I’ll Never Love Again,” the track reached #2 on three major charts - - the Billboard Smooth Jazz Airplay/Smooth Jazz Songs chart (where it stayed in the Top 5 for nine weeks), the Smooth Jazz Network Top 20 and the Mediabase Smooth Jazz chart.
The second lead single from Thomas’ recently released EP Stream’n Love, the soprano-driven “Sippin’ the Yak” was written by Thomas and keyboardist Trammell Starks, a multi-hyphenate (composer, producer, arranger, engineer) who has worked with everyone from Peabo Bryson and Jennifer Holliday to Patti Labelle and the London Symphony Orchestra (at Abbey Road Studios). It was produced by Thomas, Starks, and Carl Griffin, a three-time Grammy winning producer and onetime Motown exec who was Senior VP of A&R for legendary jazz label GRP Records for 15 years, N-coded Music, and N2K.
Two years before dominating the airwaves 2019 with “I’ll Never Love Again,” Thomas paved the way for his current success with his first #1 single “Baby Coffee,” from his Sony Music distributed full-length album Driven. The track reached the pole position on three national radio charts, including Billboard (where it stayed at the top for 4 consecutive weeks), USA Today, and Smooth Jazz Top 20 with Allen Kepler.
Longtime urban jazz fans may detect the slight influence of the late George Howard – and with good reason. Just before recording the track in Atlanta, Griffin – who as an exec with GRP Records worked with the R&B/jazz soprano sax legend in the 90s – played Thomas some classic Howard tracks. Another cool connection is Sam Sims, the bassist on “Sippin’ the Yak,” who played with Howard back in the day. As for the quirky title, “Yak” is an urban euphemism for “Cognac.” When Starks received Thomas’ initial tracks for the project which became Stream’N Love, he eased into the mindset to develop them by sipping on Courvoisier – a great moment which has given way to some of the tastiest tunes of Thomas’ career.
In addition to receiving terrestrial radio airplay across the globe, Thomas’ music has been featured on Sirius XM’s Watercolors, The Weather Channel, and in the Warner Bros. film “Contagion” starring Matt Damon and Laurence Fishburne. Thomas has built a solid regional following via performances at local venues, private shows, festivals and concerts, in addition to numerous performances at the Seabreeze Jazz Festival in Panama City Beach. He has also performed at the prestigious Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival in California.
With widespread critical acclaim and high impact airplay and sales stats, his debut album City Beat put Thomas on the map and became one of the genre’s hottest independent releases of 2010. The title track hit #1 on Canadian based Smooth Jazz Now’s singles chart and hit the Billboard Smooth Jazz Airplay chart. Expanding his artistic scope significantly, the saxophonist released his vocal debut in 2011 with a single titled “I Think About Amy,” which was released on Woodward Avenue Records and hit #16 on the Billboard Smooth Jazz Airplay chart. That same year, he teamed up with two-time Grammy winning producer Paul Brown (George Benson, Luther Vandross, Al Jarreau) to produce “Without You,” featuring R&B vocalist Wendy Moten (who has sung duets with, among others, Michael McDonald and Peabo Bryson).
Though surrounded by country music while growing up in the small town of Cecilia, Kentucky, Michael J. Thomas’ parents thankfully filled his childhood with a steady stream of legendary R&B/pop artists who would later become muses – Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson, and Prince. Thomas studied piano at the age of seven and switched to saxophone in seventh grade—shortly after discovering contemporary jazz artists like Yellowjackets and Dave Grusin on a Technics demo disc that came with a stereo his dad purchased. It was in his high school jazz band rehearsal one late evening when all of his ear training and emulation of other saxophonists finally came together. The band was performing a run-through of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” that had a transcribed alto sax solo that Thomas deviated from. He says, “For some reason it all came together in an instant while taking the solo lead. It finally clicked and I could improvise. The band and the Director were so impressed that they stopped playing the song and clapped for me. It was really at that moment, that my musical journey began.”
By his senior year in high school, he was performing in the All-State Jazz Band and was honored with a John Philip Sousa Award. He earned a music scholarship to the University of Kentucky but left school early to pursue his professional career. Thomas was 19 when he joined the Jive Rockets, which opened for the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and Bill Haley’s Original Comets. While gaining a foothold in contemporary urban jazz since moving to Destin, Thomas’ busy gig schedule allows him to both play sax and sing in a wide array of genres.