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Thollem McDonas

Alcalde, NM   

Thollem McDonas is a perpetually traveling pianist, keyboardist, composer, improviser, singer-songwriter, activist, author and teacher. He’s spent most of his life living on the road throughout North America and Europe. His work is ever-changing, evolving and responding to the times and his experiences, both as a soloist of original compositions in the new music vein and in collaboration with hundreds of artists across idioms and disciplines. Thollem’s known internationally as an acoustic piano player in the free jazz and post-classical worlds, as the lead vocalist for the Italian agit-punk band Tsigoti and as an electronic keyboardist through a multitude of projects.

Thollem was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, studying the standard classical piano repertoire, composing and improvising since he was a young child and absorbing the myriad of sounds of his culturally diverse upbringing.  After dedicating his 20s and 30s to grassroots political activism, he’s refocused his attention these last 15 years on a breadth of musics that incorporate his myriad experiences and curiosities. In this last decade alone, he has played well over 1,000 concerts throughout N. America and Europe as a soloist and in collaboration with hundreds of musicians, dancers, and filmmakers. As leader or co-leader, he has released over 60 albums in that span on 21 different vanguard labels to international critical acclaim.

“Thollem is an astounding pianist who understands the huge scope of the instrument” (Terry Riley) and who continues to delve into the furthest reaches and sub-genres of Post-Classical, Free Jazz, Noise, Punk, dance and film. A brief cross section of his many recent collaborators include William Parker, Pauline Oliveros, Stefano Scodanibbio, Nels Cline, Mike Watt, Rob Mazurek. He is the founding director of Estamos Ensemble, a Mexican-American cross border ensemble for musical exchange as well as a published author about art, politics and his travels in The Anthology of Essays On Deep Listening, Full Moon Magazine (Prague) and First American Art Magazine.

Thollem McDonas: Recording “Meeting At The Parting Place” (overture excerpt)

This is a sample from what is essentially the overture to my solo piano album, “Meeting At The Parting Place”. Within this excerpt, there are many little clues to what will eventually be revealed and developed throughout the performance. I love to swirl ideas together, foreshadow what will come later and recall what has come before. I see this pre-determined material as seeds that develop uniquely each time or as characters that intermingle and effect each other in many surprising ways.

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Thollem McDonas: The Probability of Now (excerpt)

Thollem McDonas at Jazzores Festival at Teatro Micaelense, Ponta Delgado, The Azores, Portugal

The Probability Of Now is a relentlessly ecstatic torrent of sound.
Energizing the piano, the wood, the metal, the strings, the floor, the room with pulsating resonance; pushing the player and the instrument to their physical limits; revealing a swirl of diverse microscopic worlds.

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Solo Piano Concert at Kuumbwa Jazz Center

From Thollem’s solo piano concert at Kuumbwa Jazz Center July 26th, 2019
Footage by ACVilla

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NewMusicBox Articles

NewMusicBox May 19 2021 | By Thollem McDonas
Native Experimentalists

It’s crucial that the perspective of Native America be witnessed through the work of artistic practices.