Jesse “JTJazz” Thompson

The Artist
Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, known in music circles as the land of funk, Jesse Thompson couldn’t help but be influenced by the city’s great R&B pioneers – including Slave, Ohio Players, Lakeside and Zapp featuring Roger Troutman. For the past 20 years, the multi-talented composer, pianist and keyboardist manifested these inspirations – and helped bring the legacies of these legendary bands forward – as a former member of the popular and prolific, constantly gigging Columbus-based R&B/jazz ensemble NexLevel.

In addition to releasing two full length albums and multiple singles, the band has performed and shared stages with everyone from Boys II Men, Fourplay and Spyro Gyra to Mindi Abair, Warren Hill, Tim Bowman and late greats Jeff Golub and Wayman Tisdale. Thompson’s success with NexLevel has led to a multitude of opportunities to perform and tour regularly with genre greats Eric Darius, Adam Hawley, Althea Rene, Paul Taylor and the late Nick Colionne. He also appears on saxophonist Jeanette Harris’ latest album Saxathrone.

Unlike many longtime band members and sidemen who work towards someday expressing themselves as solo artists, Thompson was content with his existing whirlwind of activity playing with others. But when the pandemic hit, he instinctively used his down time to, as he says, “sow a seed of happiness” to create “Weekend Groove” – an irrepressible Next-Gen disco vibin’ house beat driven track featuring flutist Althea Rene and a horn section by Kelly O’Donohue that ultimately became the lead single to his uniquely titled debut album The Inauguration of Jtjazz (Jesse Thompson the Man Behind the Keys). 

“The origin of ‘Weekend Groove’ was a response to the Covid moment,” Thompson says. “I wanted to create something positive and full of energy to make people forget their problems and tap their feet, even for a few minutes. Everyone can relate to looking forward to the weekend and just letting loose. My vision was simply to do something to make people happy. I had been on the road with Althea and knew immediately that she could elevate it with her amazing playing. It’s a very cathartic track and I was determined to throw it out there because it was needed at a time when so many people were depressed and crazy!”  

While “Weekend Groove” was an instant success on Music Choice and numerous terrestrial and online radio stations, listeners new to Thompson’s solo artistry will be pleased at the dynamic stylistic diversity he brings to his seven-track debut album – which reflects his unique array of musical passions. While he continues with NexLevel and performing with some of the greatest artists in smooth jazz, as the title indicates, the album marks a promising new beginning for this multi-faceted artist.

In addition to playing with some of smooth jazz’s biggest stars, NexLevel featuring Jesse Thompson on keyboards has performed as the house band for Conya Doss, Dwele, Goapele, Choklate, Abby Dobson, Gordon Chambers, Yahzarah, Angela Johnson, Rahsaan Patterson and Avery Sunshine. The group, also featuring saxophonist Richard Randolph, has also played at prominent regional festivals, including the Columbus Jazz & Rib Festival, Gahanna Creekside Blues Festival, Easton Smooth Jazz Summer Concert Series, Wendy's Smooth Jazz Concert Series, Community Summer Festival, Columbus Urban League series, King Arts Summer Music Series at Mayme Moore Park, Lincoln Theater and many others.

As a solo performer, Thompson – who prefers to stand as he plays keys to bring more funky energy and better interact with audiences – has played two sold out shows as part of Gertrude’s Jazz Series in Kailua-Kona, HI; the Jazz & Jokes tour with comedian Jammin’ Jay Lamont at the Blue Note Hawaii in Honolulu; the Levitt Summer Music Festival in Dayton; and the Kona Jazz Series at the Blue Dragon Cosmic Musiquarium, also in Kailua-Kona. In addition, he opened for Peabo Bryson, Eric Darius and Boney James at the Jazz Legacy Foundation Gala and Afterparty in Hampton, VA.

* Gertrude’s Jazz Series - Kailua-Kona, HI - Two Shows - Self Featured (Both Shows Sold Out)
* Heart 2 Heart Music Presents - Buffalo, NY (w/DeeAnn DiMeo and Rishon Odel)
* CD Release Party - Columbus, OH (Sold Out)* Juneteenth Festival - Buffalo, NY (w/Adam Hawley)
* The Smooth Jazz Showcase - Chicago, IL (w/Eric Darius, Jeff Lorber, Paul Jackson, Jr., Everette Harp, and Damian Escobar)
* Jazz & Jokes Tour - Honolulu, HI - Blue Note Hawaii (w/Comedian: Jammin’ Jay Lamont)
* Levitt Summer Music Festival - Dayton, OH - Levitt Amphitheater Pavilion
* Kona Jazz Series - Kailua-Kona, HI - Blue Dragon Cosmic Musiquarium
* Jazz Night at The Lyric - Lexington, KY - The Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center (w/Jeanette Harris)
* Catalina Island Jazz Trax Festival - Avalon, CA - (w/Christian De Mesones)
* Jazz Legacy Foundation Gala and After Party - Hampton Roads Convention Center - Hampton, VA (opened for Peabo Bryson, Eric Darius, and Boney James)

Though its dance floor ready lead single “Weekend Groove” will immediately spark excitement and lift the spirits just as Jesse Thompson intended, there are a multitude of other pleasures to experience on The Inauguration of Jtjazz (Jesse Thompson the Man Behind the Keys) – an album which truly rolls like an autobiographical blend of his many influences, from those Dayton funk legends to George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Joe Sample and Brian Culbertson. The album’s latest single “It Doesn’t Matter” is a sensual, easy grooving romantic joint featuring Thompson interacting with #1 Billboard charting trumpeter Lin Rountree – who he connected with via mutual connections at the individual HBCU schools they attended. As a showcase for Thompson’s great talents on Fender Rhodes (creating a moody effect and his sparkling acoustic piano, the song taps into Thompson’s love of Joe Sample’s vibe both with the Crusaders and as a solo artist. The elegant funk ballad “The Right One Baby” offers a similar seductive duality.

The collection’s second lead single, the elegant, silky and infectiously slow grooving ballad “Obsidian,” offers a stirring, emotional blend of Thompson’s beautiful ivories, the soulful bass of Rishon Odel (best known for his work with Brian Culbertson) and the passionate, soaring sax of Carl Cox. Thompson turns another of the album’s great ballads, the exotic and atmospheric “Why Do You Keep Going On” into a breathy, heartbreaking showcase for Egyptian singer Silver Angelina, whom Thompson connected with online. Her towering voice is definitely work keeping our ears on! As the son of a mother who was a church organist and pianist who began playing drums at worship services when he was seven, Thompson naturally makes gospel another powerful force in his musical aesthetic. In homage to that, he closes the set with a wondrously meditative, yet also dazzling and energizing version of “the Black national anthem,” “Lift Every Voice” which truly brings us all to a divine plane of existence. 

Being the son of a father who was a professional jazz drummer and a mother who was a church organist/pianist, Jesse Thompson – aka “JTJazz” came by his musical gifts naturally and started playing the drums as his first instrument at the age of five. By the time JT was twelve years old, he played a total of thirteen instruments, the piano being one of them. In addition to his parents, he was influenced by his oldest brother Marvyn Wheatley, who recorded and played with Parliament and Slave. Thompson spent time with his brothers in the studio hanging out with Slave, Roger Troutman & Zapp, Steve Arrington and others
These experiences truly fueled his musical passions and ambitions. While he studied manufacturing engineering and IT at Central State University (in Wilberforce, OH), he played in the school’s marching band and jazz ensemble and joined the national honorary band of the Kappa Kappa Psi fraternity. His other influences include Alex Bugnon, Jimmy Smith, Billy Preston, Jeff Lorber, James Lloyd and Bob James.

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