8 bars with: greg thomas

Our guest is author and CEO of the Jazz Leadership Project, Greg Thomas


8 bars with is a series on educated guesses where we offer up 8 questions to a special guest for them to ponder and freestyle on.  The questions aren't necessarily questions as much as they are prompts or linguistic ink blots meant to stimulate thought.  The responses can be short and pithy, long and loquacious or somewhere in between. 


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Greg Thomas, CEO of the Jazz Leadership Project, is a writer, intellectual, and entrepreneur. Greg was instrumental in developing programs such as the National Jazz Museum in Harlem’s flagship interview series, Harlem Speaks. He has written about culture, race, and democratic life in publications ranging from the Village Voice, Integral+Life, New Republic, Salon, UPTOWN, The Root, the Guardian Observer, and the New York Daily News—as jazz columnist. Greg has lectured on American cultural history and jazz at Columbia, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Hamilton College, and Harvard. His blog is Tune In To Leadership.


1. Staten Island?

For some, “the forgotten borough.” For me, the place my mom moved our family to in the mid-70s. There I fell in love with jazz and began playing alto sax in high school. Fortunately, Staten Island had a nurturing jazz community, from formal and informal teachers and mentors to fellow jazz heads. My daughter Kaya grew up there, so Staten Island, to me, is “unforgettable.”

2. Jazz and Democracy?

Jazz is what real democracy looks, sounds, and feels like. As Rev. Otis Moss III from Chicago recently said, “. . . jazz is about the beloved community and democracy.”

3.  Hamilton College?

A great liberal arts institution that honed my writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills from 1981-1985. Played “Squeeze Me, But Just Don’t Tease Me” with Clark Terry there, in the college chapel, with the college big band: a transformative, life-changing experience.

4. Albert Murray?

20th century genius, grandmaster theorist of American life and culture, with emphasis on blues idiom wisdom and jazz. Honored to call him a mentor.

5. Stanley Crouch?

A fellow GT—Greg Tate—once told me Stanley was the most complex brutha he knew. To riff on Walt Whitman, Stanley contained multitudes. He was a friend and encourager of my work, and through his own, I came to know and appreciate the thought of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray. For that alone, I’ll be forever grateful to him. 

6. Antagonistic Cooperation?

The attitude and orientation to challenge and conflict that says: “Bring it on, I’ll learn and grow from this, and you can too.”

7. Teaching Jazz History and Culture?

Fun, necessary, and vital to tell the story of Black America, America, and the blues idiom with feeling and soul for current and future generations.

8. Pete Christlieb/Warne Marsh?

Their 1978 Apogee date, part of the soundtrack of my college years at Hamilton, rewards repeat listening and belongs in the canon of two-tenor showdown throwdowns performed with love and mutual appreciation. To this day, his felicitous mix of phenomenal technique and massive emotional rendering of feeling in form makes Pete Christlieb my favorite West Coast-based tenor saxophonist.


Bonus Bar:

9. Teaching Jazz Principles in a Business Setting? 

Another example of the power jazz as a metaphor and model in multiple domains. The Jazz Leadership Project, which I run with my wife Jewel, has been embraced by folks in corporate America as well as leadership devotees for our energy, insights, and demonstration of how jazz applies to not only business, but to living a better life.


Greg’s social media links are:

Twitter: @gregthomas22

Facebook: gregthomas22

LinkedIn: gregthomasjazz

Greg also is the creator and teacher of the course "Cultural Intelligence: Transcending Race, Embracing Cosmos."