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A Sound of Its Own: Leon Foster Thomas Brings Caribbean Jazz to Miami Beach

Leon Foster Thomas is an international jazz musician and steel pan virtuoso who blends his Caribbean roots with the harmonic and improvisational complexities of jazz, creating a captivating sound all his own. Thomas’ unique manipulation of the steel pan has helped its sound transcend beyond the instrument’s early marginalized labels to being featured on prominent stages around the world.

“The instrument has never been credited for being as universal as it is,” said Thomas. “A lot of people put it in a little box, and that's as good as it should be. However, it's capable of doing so many things, I want it to be my own voice utilizing this instrument.”

The Trinidadian native started playing the steel pan at the age of 13 and credits his style to his upbringing. “As a young urban musician growing up in Trinidad and living in Miami for quite a long time, my influences of pop, rock, hip hop and jazz, and not to forget my own background, has really helped me to utilize this instrument in a way that maybe not many people actually get to hear,” said Thomas.

“When I'm on the stage, I'm pretty fierce,” Thomas shared on his performance style. “I am a serious introvert most times, but when you get on the stage, I think the music takes over.” Thomas acknowledges that the show is anchored by his talented band, all musicians from the South Florida area. “When you have a really good band behind you and with this show, we have a really great band with the likes of Tal Cohen and Devin Shaw, Michael Piolet, Michael Ramos, Troy Roberts, Jesus Mato Jr., and Magela Herrera, It's just amazing,” says Thomas. “There's just a sound, how we play in Miami, it’s something that I'm very, very proud of, to be of that community.”

The West African Beats concert, presented by Dranoff2 Piano Foundation, was an invitation into the familiar, yet otherworldly, sound of Caribbean jazz accompanied by the dance company of fellow Trinidadian, choreographer Peter London. The annual concert celebrates the soul of high art and music that was brought to the Americas along with the steel drum. During the concert, Thomas performed music from his third solo album Calasantius, named after his mother. Coming out in 2023, Calasantius is a thoughtful display of his talent for musicianship and musical storytelling.

Familiar with breaking barriers, Thomas has received some resistance in previous years in certain places that believe the steel pan doesn’t fit into their idea of jazz. However, throughout Thomas’ career, he’s been changing the minds of all who’ve heard his captivating finesse of the steel pan instrument, winning several awards and accolades along with recording and performing with notable talents all over the world.

Thomas' music tells the stories of the Caribbean. "The music is very emotional, very well connected, and even though I wrote the record for my mother, they are going to connect to everything else, everyone else and every situation," said Thomas.


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