Remembering René Thomas (2-CD)
  • Innovation ILP2
    Innovation ILP2
  • Robert Jeanne, Thomas & Pelzer
    Robert Jeanne, Thomas & Pelzer
  • Jaspar, Bourguignon & René Thomas
    Jaspar, Bourguignon & René Thomas
  • Bobby Jaspar
    Bobby Jaspar
  • René Thomas
    René Thomas

René Thomas

Remembering René Thomas (2-CD)

Fresh Sound Records

René Thomas (g), Herman Sandy (tp), Jacques Pelzer (as), Bobby Jaspar (ts, fl), Jean Fanis, Jack Diéval, Amedeo Tommasi, Joël Vandroogenbroeck (p), Jimmy Smith (org), Paul Dubois, Bob Roach, Jacques Hess, Benoit Quersin (b), George Braxton, Daniel Humair, Jose Bourguignon, Franco Manzecchi, Donald Bailey (d)

Reference: FSRCD 993

Bar code: 8427328609937

Rare and unreleased performances by the legendary jazz guitarist

René Thomas (1927-1975) was considered the best European jazz guitarist of his generation by fellow musicians and critics, but his career was marred by the pervasive skepticism of jazz fans. Despite trying hard to carve his own space, he never obtained the recognition he deserved for his immense talent, perhaps because of his introverted character and prolonged withdrawals from the scene.

Shy and taciturn by nature —always entrenched behind a pair of thick portho— Thomas became authoritative and convincing as soon as he picked his guitar. That’s when this unique jazzman truly shined. With a deep, rich sound and absolute control of his instrument, he was always at ease, delicately distilling the most difficult passages in a simple, straight-forward manner. In the 45 years that have gone by since his death, René Thomas has become a legend, and although today he enjoys worldwide respect and admiration, he is still often underrated in comparison with other great guitarists. This album is a humble homage to this guitar genius.

—Jordi Pujol

CD 1
01. Motion (Jimmy Raney) 3:46
02. There'll Never Be Another You (Warren-Gordon) 4:01
03. Lover Man (Davis-Sherman-Ramirez) 3:54
04. Stella by Starlight (Victor Young) 2:33
05. Whose Blues (Lennie Niehaus) 2:56
06. Au Privave (Charlie Parker) 11:09
07. Blue Train (John Coltrane) 11:36
08. Milestones (Miles Davis) 6:33
09. Motion (Jimmy Raney) 7:00
10. All Mornin' Long (Red Garland) 10:02
11. It Could Happen to You (Burke-Van Heusen) 5:04
12. Never Morning (René Thomas) 3:51

CD 2
01. Milestones (Miles Davis) 7:17
02. It Could Happen to You (Burke-Van Heusen) 9:17
03. Oleo (Sonny Rollins) 3:56
04. Ballata in forma di blues (Amedeo Tommasi) 5:53
05. It Could Happen to You (Burke-Van Heusen) 5:03
06. I Remember Sonny (René Thomas) 5:09
07. Au Privave (Charlie Parker) 5:40
08. Easy Living (Rainger-Robin) 5:10
09. Our Delight (Tadd Dameron) 4:57
10. Moonlight in Vermont (Vernon Duke) 3:52
11. Well You Needn't (Thelonious Monk) 5:23
12. Blues (P.D.) 7:48
13. Stardust (Carmichael-Parish) 5:18

Album details

Tracks #1-5 on CD1 from “Jacques Pelzer Modern Jazz Sextet” (Innovation ILP2)
Tracks #6-10 on CD1 and #3-6 on CD2 live recordings and broadcasts
Tracks #11 & 12 on CD1 and #1, 2 & 7-13 on CD2 © INA (Institut National d’Audiovisuel, Paris, France)

Personnel on CD 1:

Jacques Pelzer, alto sax; René Thomas, guitar; Jean Fanis, piano; Paul Dubois, bass; Rudy Frankel, drums; Herman Sandy, trumpet (#2 & 5).
Recorded in Brussels, Belgium, May 18, 1955

René Thomas, guitar; Bob Roach, bass; George Braxton, drums.
Recorded at Café Lutece, Montreal, Canada, February, 1960

René Thomas, guitar; Benoît Quersin, bass; José Bourguignon, drums.
Recorded at Comblain-la-Tour Jazz Festival, July 30, 1961

Bobby Jaspar, flute; René Thomas, guitar; Jacques Hess, bass; Franco Manzecchi, drums.
Studio session for the show “Jazz aux Champs-Élysées”, Paris, November 6, 1961

Personnel on CD 2:

Bobby Jaspar, tenor sax & flute; René Thomas, guitar; Jack Diéval, piano; Jacques Hess, bass; Franco Manzecchi, drums.
Recorded live from the show “Jazz aux Champs-Élysées”, Paris, Fall 1961

Bobby Jaspar, tenor sax & flute; René Thomas, guitar; Amedeo Tommasi, piano; Benoît Quersin, bass; Daniel Humair, drums.
Recorded live at Radio-TV, RTBF, Brussels, January 16, 1962

René, guitar; Joël Vandroogenbroeck, piano; Benoît Quersin, bass; Daniel Humair, drums.
Recorded at Festival d’Antibes Juan-les-Pins, July 20, 1962

René Thomas, guitar; Jimmy Smith, organ; Donald Bailey, drums.
Recorded at Festival d’Antibes Juan-les-Pins, July 22, 1962

René Thomas, acoustic guitar; Jack Diéval, piano; Jacques Hess, bass; Franco Manzecchi, drums.
Studio session for the show “Jazz aux Champs-Élysées”, Paris, late summer 1962

This compilation produced for CD release by Jordi Pujol
Mastered by Pieter De Wagter
Liner notes written by Jordi Pujol
© 2020 by Fresh Sound Records

Mono · 24-Bit Digitally Remastered
Blue Moon Producciones Discograficas, S.L.
Special thanks to Christiane Lemire & Pascal Rozat (INA), Jean-Pol Schroeder
(Maison du Jazz de Liège), Christian Dangleterre, and Sébastien Joulie

Press reviews

"If true character is expressed through the unruffled acceptance of the lack of fame, René Thomas was number one with a bullet. Critically acclaimed in his heyday, the guitarist from Liège, Belgium features rarely in the jazz literature, and his death by overdose wasn’t announced on the Wallonian 9 o’clock news in 1974. There have been plenty of efforts to raise his profile. The definite high point of this appraisal is the brand new double CD on Fresh Sound, Remembering René Thomas, a revealing collection of (mostly) previously unreleased studio and live recordings from the years 1955-62.

The career of the introvert but self-assured Belgian with the distinctive pothole glasses reads like the typical classic jazz odyssey: the antithesis of 9 to 5. After years in the frontline of the European bop scene, the gifted Thomas, whose style was a mixture of Jimmy Raney and Django Reinhardt, ended up in New York City (and Canada) in 1956. He notably cooperated with Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, who abundantly praised the guitarist and reportedly said: “You are playing with me now, you’ll be famous.” Rollins probably overlooked the fact that Europeans rarely if ever gained fame in the American jazz realm. After five prolific years, Thomas returned to Europe, where his well-disposed audience enjoyed notorious associations with Kenny Clarke and Stan Getz.

Thomas’s performance at the 1962 jazz festival of Juan-Les-Pins in Antibes is the radiant centre of attention of Remembering René Thomas, which not only boasts extraordinary guitar playing but extensive and detailed liner notes as well by Jordi Pujol, obviously a man with a mission. All exceptional traits of Thomas are illuminated by a long version of Charlie Parker’s Au Privave. His mid-career harmonic ideas still mostly stem from Jimmy Raney, but Thomas is a less discreet and more emotional player, absorbed in a merry-go-round of inexhaustible combinations of riffs and blues motives and sure-shot clusters of double time. Risky intervallic leaps are integral to his style and a high sense of urgency is palpable from note to note. Regardless of tempo, he lets his long notes ring with a wistful gypsy feel. At the end of his story of the Parker blues, I was all smiles, having traversed from astonishment, euphoria to serenity, and back.

The endearing ballad treatment of Easy Living and spicy interpretations of Tadd Dameron’s Our Delight and Thelonious Monk’s Well, You Needn’t completed the Juan-Les-Pins performance, a last-minute affair that turned out to be a charged, belated “homecoming” concert. Two days later Thomas sat in with the thoroughly impressed organ star Jimmy Smith. The resulting greasy Blues is included in this set as well.

Jimmy Raney’s Motion, Miles Davis’s Milestones (the challenging bop tune, not the famous modal composition) and It Could Happen To You double as late 50s and early 60s versions and offer a sample of the remarkable development of Thomas, who polishes his sentences like a veritable Ernest Hemingway. The ultra-fast Oleo and Thomas’s catchy stop-time blues I Remember Sonny, both performed for RTBF radio in Brussels, seal the Sonny Rollins connection. All performances excluding Jimmy Smith feature the erstwhile cream of the European crop: tenor saxophonist and flautist Bobby Jaspar, tenor saxophonist Jacques Pelzer (also a practising pharmacist and supplier of “cough syrup” to a disproportionately large percentage of the Benelux jazz community) and drummers Daniel Humair and Franco Manzecchi, whose performances are on par with their contemporaries in the United States.

Furthermore, I genuinely feel that René Thomas was not only equal to “les Americains”, but plainly one of the all-time greats of jazz guitar. On the strength of the sterling release of Remembering René Thomas, this statement seems rather difficult to refute."

—François van de Linde (October 4, 2020)

"Voici donc grâce à Jordi Pujol, qui réactive chez Fresh Sound la mémoire enregistrée du jazz avec une persévérance digne de tous les éloges (restitution sonore, livrets très bien documentés, illustrés), un double album qui honore le talent exceptionnel du grand René Thomas –après Django également belge de naissance– le guitariste fondateur de cette grande aventure de la six cordes en Belgique où elle est d’une certaine manière l’instrument roi, car la descendance a été généreuse, autant quantitativement que qualitativement. Et cette dynastie se prolonge, bien que ce centre de l’Europe compte également d’autres excellents musiciens de jazz sur tous les instruments.

Il faut redécouvrir René Thomas par le son ici, et par le texte et l’image en vous reportant notamment aux articles de Jean-Pol Schroeder et Jean-Marie Hacquier dans le Jazz Hot n°530 avec beaucoup de témoignages de ses collègues musiciens évoquant le génie du guitariste. Il y a par ailleurs les Jazz Hot n°208, n°283 et n°313. Comme le dit l’article, René Thomas a effectué sa synthèse à partir de différentes influences, d’abord Django Reinhardt dont il possède l’apprentissage non académique et l’esprit de virtuosité, et, parce qu’il appartient à la génération d’après la Seconde Guerre qui a vu naître le bebop, à partir des innovations de Charlie Christian, Billy Bauer, Jimmy Raney et de sa rencontre avec Jimmy Gourley à Paris où René Thomas a gravé une partie de son histoire. Il y a dans le livret une photo réunissant Jimmy Gourley, René Thomas, Sacha Distel et Jimmy Raney à Paris en 1954. Une partie de la documentation vient de Robert Jeanne (cf. Jazz Hot n°679), l’un des survivants de cette grande histoire…

Sur le plan discographique, ce double album reprend le disque de Jacques Pelzer (as) avec son Modern Jazz Sextet, Innovation in jazz-Vol.2, de 1955, des enregistrements live et radios de 1960-61-62, au Canada, au festival de Comblain-la-Tour, à Paris (émission Jazz aux Champs-Elysées en 1961 et 1962), pour la radio-télévision belge, au Festival de Juan-les-Pins. Le producteur a donc utilisé plusieurs sources, dont l’INA en France, pour nous proposer une sélection rare de titres par René Thomas. La bonne discographie parue dans le n°530 vous donnera une vue d’ensemble de son parcours.

Ces enregistrements se situent en amont et en en aval de sa rencontre et du disque avec Sonny Rollins, en 1958, et de son magnifique Guitar Groove en leader pour Jazzland (Original Jazz Classics) de 1960 qui installèrent René Thomas au sommet d’un art où il côtoya par la suite Chet Baker, John Lewis, Sonny Criss, Lou Bennett, Lucky Thompson, Stan Getz, Kenny Clarke, sans oublier ses amis belges, Jacques Pelzer, Bobby Jaspar, etc. Dans ce Remembering René Thomas, on note encore sa rencontre avec l’organiste Jimmy Smith à Juan-les-Pins. Sur le plan stylistique, René Thomas c’est la clarté des phrases, l’aisance, cette curiosité qui lui fait citer Ornette Coleman dans «Never Morning», l’une de ses compositions. C’est aussi un swing toujours présent dans un répertoire mêlant les standards, les compositeurs du jazz, surtout de sa génération, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Tadd Dameron.

Dans tous les registres, il est René Thomas, c’est à dire une profusion de notes bien détachées, un des plus beaux sons de l’histoire de la guitare jazz, une vraie poésie qui se transmettra à l’âme belge des guitaristes, une adhésion sans réserve au langage de son époque, avec un souci presque classique de la mise en place. C’est aussi une imagination originale dans ses chorus portée par un phrasé guitaristique plein d’accents. Il remplit l’espace comme on pourrait le dire d’un pianiste bebop, comme Bud Powell dans de longues phrases. La belle version de «It Could Happen to You» avec Bobby Jaspar et Jack Diéval (Paris 1961) est un régal comme le brillant «Oleo», un échange avec Jaspar. René Thomas est aussi capable de faire chanter sa guitare («Moonlight in Vermont», «Stardust») avec beaucoup d’expression, de sonner de tous ses éclats («Well, You Needn’t») ou de jouer le blues le plus bleu («All Morning Long» de Red Garland à Comblain-la-Tour) ou avec Jimmy Smith à Antibes… Le titre de ce disque est bien choisi: Remembering René Thomas est une nécessité!"

—Yves Sportis
© Jazz Hot 2021

"Well known in France, guitarist René Thomas’s reputation didn’t get much traction in the US, but his playing is on a par with the likes of Herb Ellis and Kenny Burrell. There’s even a dash of Grant Green on some of these obscure sessions ranging from 1955-1962, and while the recording sound quality sometimes varies, the music stays consistently hot on this two disc set.

Thomas displays his bop chops and loyalty from the get go, here, with a Brussels outing in ’55 showing clean lines on mid tempo pieces like “Motion” and a melodic “There Will Never Be Another You” while alto saxist Jacques Pelzer gives some Bird calls on “Lover Man”. Thomas sounds most comfortable on some trio sessions from concerts in 1960-1961, stretching out on an ultra hip “Blue Train” and giving more uptemp reads of “Motion” while the original “Milestones” is cool and suave. Thomas dos some Grant Greenish rolls on a relaxed “All Mornin’ Long” and teams with Bobby Jaspar On Flute an dJacques Hess/b with Franco Manzechi/dr for asubli me read of “It Could Happen To You”.

The second disc has Jasper on flute and tenor as he co-leads a quintet with Thomas on another take of “Milestones” featuring warm tenor tones. For a 1962 radio-TV broadcast, the twon lead a bopping team on “Oleo” and nifty Thomas original “I Remember Sonny”. Thomas leads a quartet at an Antibes Jazz festival in 1962 and bops to a rapid runner in “Our Delight” and sizzles on “Au Privave”. At the same festival, Hammond B3er Jimmy Smith comes in with his drummer Donald Bailey for an impromptu “Blues” that is as good as any vintage Blue Note Session, with the guitarist shows his acoustic tone on an intimate “Stardust.”

The liner notes give an excellent perspective on Thomas’ career, and the session listing must have been done by Sherlock Holmes. Don’t overlook this guy!"

George W. Harris (September 7, 2020)


14,95 €  (tax incl.)

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Customer reviews


remembering rene thomas

A wonderful collection. I only wish I could have seen him in concert. A second volume is neede featuring work with Eddy Louis and Stan Getz .

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