“As I Sing”: Radha Thomas Triumphs in Lockdown with Innovative Jazz Album

When the world came to a standstill during the lockdown, Bengaluru-based jazz singer Radha Thomas found herself in uncharted territory. With live performances halted and recording studios closed, Thomas faced a silence that was unfamiliar to a musician accustomed to the rhythm and collaboration of live jazz. It was within this quiet that she discovered iReal Pro, an app designed to simulate a virtual band for practicing musicians. Given her previous aversion to technology, this marked a significant turning point. “Till then, technology and I hated each other. But I realized the benefits of this app, as I could create and program jazz standards the way I wanted,” Thomas reflected on her newfound digital ally.

The iReal Pro app paved the way for an innovative approach to music production for Thomas. Emulating the enigmatic duets of iconic jazz figures like Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass which had mesmerized her back in the 1970s, she set out to collaborate with guitarists from various locations. Radiating with enthusiasm, Thomas noted, “Soon I was in touch with guitarists from different regions. Thanks to the app, my compositions were in place. That’s how my latest album ‘As I Sing’ came about.”

Set for a worldwide release on March 15, ‘As I Sing’ is a testament to Thomas’s determination and the collaborative spirit of jazz. The album showcases an impressive lineup of guitarists, including Canadian Reg Schwager, known for his work with Diana Krall, Pete McCann of the Manhattan Transfer fame, and renowned virtuosos Tom Dempsey and Paul Meyers. Despite being continents apart, these musicians contributed their expertise from their respective studios, breathing life into Thomas’s venture.

The album’s journey to completion was fraught with challenges, especially for Yura Romaniv, the sound engineer based in Ukraine. Thomas conveyed the difficulties he faced with a somber undertone, “He mixed and mastered under the worst circumstances. Since his country is in a war situation, it was difficult to seize moments of quiet. But working in bits and places, from a safe place, he completed his job.”

Spanning ten tracks, ‘As I Sing’ is an eclectic mix of beloved standards and personal favorites. “Whichever song I chose, I wanted to do it in my way, and not as rendered before. With the app, I could make that happen,” said Thomas, giving a nod to the classics like ‘Autumn Leaves’ and Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’, alongside gems such as Benny Golson’s ‘I Remember Clifford’, Artie Shaw’s ‘Moon Ray’, and Fats Waller’s ‘The Jitterbug Waltz’.

This album follows her previous work ‘Bangalore Blues’, a collaboration with pianist Aman Mahajan released just before the onset of the lockdown. Despite disruptions to their planned performances, the album garnered favorable reviews. Reflecting on their decade-long partnership, Thomas recalled, “We had worked for 10 years before that, and he was part of ‘UNK: The Radha Thomas Ensemble’. We shared a comfort level while working as a duo.”

Beyond her musical accomplishments, Thomas has authored books titled ‘Men On My Mind’, ‘More Men On My Mind’, and ‘The Cauliflower Diet’. Her musical roots are firmly planted in jazz, but Thomas has also trained in Indian classical music under renowned figures like Pt. Kumar Gandharva and Zia Fariduddin Dagar. Her early days were marked by performances with the band ‘The Human Bondage’ before spending two decades in New York collaborating with legends such as Michael Brecker and John Scofield. Upon returning to India, Thomas re-engaged with the local jazz scene.

Today, Thomas embraces technology with a newfound appreciation, using it as a tool to record fleeting melodies. “As a singer, I am constantly thinking of new songs. Earlier, I would forget many, but today I diligently record tunes the moment I think of something. I don’t have any formal practice schedule but this humming and recording keeps my voice in shape,” she confessed, her voice imbued with the joy of her artistic evolution.

‘As I Sing’ not only stands as a triumph over the challenges posed by the pandemic but also marks a fresh and pioneering chapter in Thomas’s illustrious career. Eager listeners and jazz aficionados alike can look forward to the magic that Thomas and her ensemble of virtuoso guitarists have captured in this unique and highly anticipated album.

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