Lee Thomson is a Cape Town based trumpet player who is well known for his cross-genre ventures and performances in bands like Hog Hoggidy Hog, Golliwog, Mix n Blend, We Set Sail, Kesivan and The Lights, Closet Snare, Rumswinger and The Restless Natives. He also sessions for Goodluck, Toya Delazy, Grassy Spark and many more.
Lee holds a degree in Jazz Performance from the University of Cape Town, and was a member of the Standard Bank National Youth Jazz Band. He regularly tours the world with his various projects, having played to audiences across Germany, Austria, Switzerland, London, India, Holland, Slovenia, Mexico, Reunion Island and South Africa.
His influences range from Miles Davis to Mars Volta to Thunder Cat to Radiohead. Lee also has a strong interest in electronic music and often performs with some of the country’s top session musicians.
We caught up with Lee to ask him a few questions in the lead up to his performance at the First Thursdays Sessions.
Let’s start at the beginning. Where did your love for music begin and what lead you to pursue the trumpet? I was always drawn to music as far back as I can remember, obsessed with choirs and the drums. My love for the trumpet started when I was lucky enough to see Hugh Masakela for the first time at Kippies in Joburg with my dad and my stepmom. That coupled with an opening trumpet slot when I was 14. My first teacher was Trumpet legend Ian Smith. He really inspired me to practice and take the instrument seriously.
You have a degree in Jazz Performance from UCT, but you’re also well known for performing in bands that fall outside of the jazz genre? How did the one lead to the other? For me music is music. If it moves me I aim to explore it. Jazz is definitely home base and has given me the tools to dive into all sorts of genres. I really do enjoy the variety both musically and culturally. From Jazz to Punk to Electronic music. I find being able to contribute across genres extremely satisfying.
What is your experience of being a musician in South Africa right now? I love being a musician in South Africa. I get to play with world-class musicians on a weekly basis. I also get to play a lot of varied gigs which keeps things interesting. The jazz scene is thriving in Cape Town and there’s a real sense of community happening. You can see great jazz at least five times a week. I am a full-time musician and don’t do anything else to make a living.
You recently came back from Europe where you performed at a bunch of shows and festivals? How would you compare playing abroad to playing locally? Going to Europe is as much about gigging as it is checking out new music and meeting new people. I look at it as an inspiration top-up. It’s different in the sense that there’s just more of everything. More festivals, more venues, more artists and more audience. Being there affords me the opportunity to check out my musical hero and to collab with my peers. It also reaffirms that we have a world-class scene here in South Africa.
What advice would you give to young jazz-influenced musicians looking to break into the local and international jazz scene? Travel a lot, stay humble, practice and always be open to new things!
Who’s doing interesting stuff on the local scene that you’d recommend checking out? I’m really enjoying the Unity Band and really love what Mandisi Dynatyis is doing. If you haven’t checked them out please do! Really exciting stuff!
Top 5 desert island albums (of any genre)?
Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Felix Laband – Deaf Safari
Pat Metheny – One Quiet Night
Dave Douglas – Poses
Bonobo – The North Borders
Where can people follow your musical movements and find more of your music?
Lee Thomson will be taking the stage at the fifth edition of the First Thursdays Sessions on Thursday 3 October 2019. The performance starts at 9pm followed with a vinyl set by DJ Mighty from 10pm. Upstairs at the Gin Bar, 64a Wale Street. The First Thursdays Sessions are presented by Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky and produced by Thursdays Projects. Event staging provided by LEVO Staging & Audio