Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

January/February 2013: Sean Sam

Dwayne “MonoNeon” Thomas Jr

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Dwayne “MonoNeon” Thomas Jr is one of the most creative and talked-about young electric bassists on the scene today. Only 22 years old, the Tennessee native has brought his killer chops and original concept to a wide variety of settings, playing with jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette, microtonal guitarist Dave Fiuczynski, and gospel star Tye Tribbett. His YouTube channel, which has nearly 400 videos, showcases him in a variety of musical settings, including live performances, cover songs and experimental compositions. They all feature the striking visual imagery of his bright fluorescent clothing and his upside-down “Ready-made Bass” (a right-handed bass played left-handed), inspired by the art of Marcel Duchamp.

One of his most interesting concepts is the fusion of southern soul/blues with his love for 20th-century avant-garde art movements such as Dadaism, surrealism, pop art, and minimalism. In an interview, Thomas states, “One of my primary goals is…to combine the sounds of John Cage and Mavis Staples, Iannis Xenakis and Bobby Womak, and Stockhausen and Albert King, etc. in my bass playing and compositions.” The Cage influence is particularly evident in his experimental works, which include bass/radio improvisations and the idea of indeterminacy in performance. His 2012 release Down-to-Earth Art documents his avant-garde approach.

Thomas’s playing style reflects his deep pool of influences. His fingerstyle technique channels the funky, muted sound of 70s soul recordings. On a whim, he can unleash a jaw-dropping, over-the-barline fill that is a testament to his mastery of the rhythmically intricate sound of modern gospel. His style is also characterized by heavy string bending and the use of Gamakas—inflections used by singers and string players in Indian classical music. This influence is particularly evident in his microtonal improvisations and compositions, for which he uses a fretless bass.

One aspect of Thomas’s approach which I have adopted is the creation of an art manifesto, or mission statement—his art manifesto can be read on his YouTube page. Amongst other things, he discusses the importance of writing such a statement and reading it daily. He covers several points, including defining/identifying influences, accepting that other people will like/dislike one’s music, and rejecting the worldly idea of becoming a great musician—in his words, “just live music.”

For more information on Dwayne Thomas Jr, check out his YouTube page under the name Dwayne MonoNeon Thomas Jr. His cover of James Fortune & FIYA’s “Never Again” is an excellent place to start.

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