Theater And Jazz Are One With Mardra And Reggie Thomas | WGLT

Theater And Jazz Are One With Mardra And Reggie Thomas

Aug 19, 2016

Marda Thomas behind the microphone. She and her husband Reggie play the Front Street Music Festival in Bloomington Aug 20.
Credit A. BANKS/MRTJAZZ.COM

Mardra and Reggie Thomas are a husband-wife jazz team from DeKalb, Illinois.  Mardra is a vocalist with a theatrical background.  Reggie is a pianist and coordinator of the jazz program at Northern Illinois University.  They'll play the Front Street Music Fest in downtown Bloomington August 20, where they'll feature music from their new album "Matters of the Heart."  Reggie Thomas said he appreciates when fans refer to their recordings as "albums."

"That was the approach to the album.  Our listening habits as a society have changed" said Reggie Thomas.  And it's kind of reverted to how music used to be released.  Early on there were not albums, things were released as 'sides.'  You had the 78 with an 'A' side and 'B' side. When albums came along, you had the opportunity to create themes."

Thomas cited Stevie Wonder's "Songs in the Key of Life" as an example of an album with a theme.  Reggie Thomas said he and Mardra try to create an album where people will listen from beginning to end to get a sense of the overall theme of the album. 

Mardra Thomas has a background in acting and theater as well as jazz.  She said with the decline of jazz in recent decades, incorporating theater into their music makes sense.  She  said one way she incorporates theater into their music by writing historical stage plays that incorporates figures like Billie Holiday.

"Something like 'Lady Day at Emerson Bar & Grille' or 'Lady Day at the Boston Bistro.'  Stage plays that include jazz music.  That's a great way to introduce and educate people and let them be touched by this music" said Mardra Thomas. Reggie Thomas added "jazz singing is theater.  It is the art of bringing a story to life so the listener can visualize it. Think about Nancy Wilson singing 'Guess Who I Saw Today' and the picture that paints."