Before relocating to Baltimore, John Thomas was the Director of Jazz Studies at Casper College, and is currently the Director of Jazz Ensembles at the Baltimore School of the Arts while maintaining an active private saxophone studio. He holds a double Masters of Music in Jazz Studies and Saxophone Performance from East Carolina University.
Tell us about your program.
John Thomas: I have a private studio in Baltimore, MD that encompasses mostly highly engaged high school students as well as some avid adults. I'm an adjunct saxophone teacher teacher at Johns Hopkins University, and I teach saxophone and jazz studies at the Baltimore School for the Arts.
What's your teaching philosophy with your students?
JT: With my saxophone students, whatever the level, I really emphasize that to have a deeper understanding of the instrument. It is helpful to have one foot in both the classical and jazz worlds. They can seem like worlds apart, but ultimately the strengths you develop, studying one will enhance the way you play the other. We spend a lot of time developing tone concepts that work artistically for different musical situations, as well as developing the technique to be ready for anything.
What's your philosophy on equipment?
JT: Good equipment is really important. I've seen people struggle to make music on gear that doesn't work, and it is a miserable experience for the student. Kids trying to play jazz on a classical mouthpiece and vice versa is a great example of this. The needs of the two styles are just so different, that it can be really difficult to get the desired effect. You have to have the right tools in your toolbox to get the job done. If the tool is broken, or simply doesn't fit the task at hand, it's time to make a change. I try not to make equipment into something that people think is the "magic pill," but it does make a difference. Nothing can replace dedicated practice and study, but the right setup turns an uphill slog into a level field where you can undertake that serious study without impediment.
What products do you recommend for your students?
JT: I recommend Vandoren Optimum mouthpieces for classical work, and the V16 series for jazz. These mouthpieces are so consistently good that I can guarantee an improvement in play-ability. On the reed front, I have always leaned on the Vandoren Traditional for classical and band music, but the new V21s are amazing. They are the first reed that I can play on my classical setup and then move directly to my jazz setup, and work perfectly.