Austin Thomas’ hands dance across ivory piano keys in a chaotic whirlwind, but the music they create is clear and harmonious.
Thomas, a jazz performance junior, is the pianist for UT’s highest esteemed jazz ensemble, the Jazz Orchestra. His upcoming performances at the North Sea Jazz Festival and Montreaux Jazz Festival are only the most recent achievements in his career that began in the sixth grade.
Even when piano was just a nonchalant pastime, Thomas said playing was always a pursuit for him.
“I definitely wanted to play all the time,” Thomas said. “Whenever I was bored, I just did it instead of doing nothing.”
Though he started playing at an age when most young musicians grow tired of arduous practice schedules, Thomas said he was always motivated to play, especially when he competed against his friends.
“I had this friend who played piano — his mom had him taking lessons — and then next thing, my mom signed me up for the same lessons,” Thomas said. “He obviously was better than me when we started, but I remember thinking, ‘Okay, I need to be better than him,’ so I made it happen pretty fast.”
Will Levine, advertising junior and childhood friend of Thomas, said he always respected Thomas’ dedication. Even though Thomas played at the piano for hours when they were together, Levine said he always admired his devotion.
“Every time I slept over at his house, whenever I woke up in the morning, he’d be at the piano,” Levine said.
Levine said he is still in awe of Thomas’ raw talent and learned skill.
“Piano gave him the best shot to excel, and here he is, excelling,” Levine said.
During Thomas’ senior year of high school, he was selected through an audition process by the Grammy Foundation as one of a few high school aged students to perform for honorees during Grammy week. The jazz band, comprised of a handful of teens, played for many high profile audiences, including guests from the nominee party and several after parties hosted by the
“I remember thinking, ‘Whoa, all these other high school kids can really play. I need to really practice,’” Thomas said.
Thomas said he and the other musicians still trade one other’s music, and push one other to excel. Fellow jazz performance senior Chase Goldman said Thomas’ drive to improve has carried into his career as a musician in college as well.
“He really is someone who enjoys spending time at the piano and working at his craft,” Goldman said.
Goldman, the bass player in the Jazz Orchestra that will be performing in Europe this summer, said he appreciates Thomas for not only his skill as a band mate but also for his shared knowledge.
“When we started playing together he was really knowledgeable and great at showing me things that I didn’t know,” Goldman said. “For me, playing with him when I was just coming into school was very helpful because he was teaching me all these new things.”
Thomas said he feels the same way as Goldman about learning from his peer musicians.
“The UT jazz community is very tight because there’s not that many of us,” Thomas said. “They’re all really great players, so I’m just learning a lot getting to play with them.”
Thomas said he really values the way fellow UT musicians have affected his life, and hopes to return that favor by passing his knowledge on to other players.
“The ultimate goal is to keep doing music as long as I can,” Thomas said. “And to teach it, maybe not to teach it, but I like to spread my knowledge to other people.”