Meet Acclaimed Jazz Musician, Educator, Arranger, and Award-Winning Composer Omar Thomas

The conference takes place September 25–28, 2024, in Atlanta, Georgia, and registration is open.

Described as “elegant, beautiful, sophisticated, intense, and crystal clear in emotional intent,” the music of Omar Thomas (b. 1984) continues to move listeners everywhere it is performed. Born in Brooklyn, New York, to Guyanese parents, Omar received his Bachelor of Music in Music Education from James Madison University and his Master of Music in Jazz Composition at the New England Conservatory of Music in 2008. He is the protégé of lauded composers and educators Ken Schaphorst and Frank Carlberg and has studied under multiple Grammy-winning composer and bandleader Maria Schneider.

Omar Thomas headshot

Photo by Izzy Berdan

Hailed by Herbie Hancock as showing “great promise as a new voice in the further development of jazz in the future,” educator, arranger, and award-winning composer Omar Thomas has created music extensively in the contemporary jazz and symphonic idiom. Omar has previously served as an Associate Professor of Harmony at Berklee College of Music and on faculty in the Music Theory department of The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University. He currently serves as Assistant Professor of Composition and Jazz Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. He has thrice been awarded the Certificate of Distinction in Teaching from Harvard University, where he served as a Teaching Fellow for four years. Omar was awarded the Boston Music Award’s “Jazz Artist of the Year” in 2012, and in 2017, Omar was selected from an international pool of applicants to be an artist-in-residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. In 2019, he was awarded the National Bandmasters Association/Revelli Award for his wind composition “Come Sunday,” becoming the first Black composer awarded the honor in the contest’s 42-year history.

Now a Yamaha Master Educator, Omar has become a highly sought-after speaker and thought leader on issues of diversity and equity in music education. Most recently he served as the 2023 College Music Society National Conference Trotter Lecturer and gave the keynote speech at the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) 2023 Annual Meeting. His music has been performed in concert halls and on stages across the country and internationally, by such renowned groups as The United States Marine Band, The Houston Symphony, The Colorado Symphony, and the Showa Wind Symphony, to name a few. He has had a number of celebrated singers perform over his arrangements, including Stephanie Mills, Yolanda Adams, Nona Hendryx, BeBe Winans, Kenny Lattimore, Marsha Ambrosius, Sheila E., Leela James, Dionne Warwick, and Chaka Khan. His work is featured on Dianne Reeves’s Grammy Award-winning album, “Beautiful Life.” His big band, the 18-piece Omar Thomas Large Ensemble was formed in 2008. The group’s first album, “I Am,” debuted at #1 on the iTunes Jazz Charts and peaked at #13 on the Billboard Traditional Jazz Albums Chart. Their second release, “We Will Know: An LGBT Civil Rights Piece In Four Movements,” has been hailed by Grammy Award-winning drummer, composer, and producer Terri Lyne Carrington as being a “thought provoking, multi-layered masterpiece” which has “put him in the esteemed category of great artists.” Says Terri Lyne: “Omar Thomas will prove to be one of the more important composer/arrangers of his time.”

Omar Thomas will deliver the keynote address on Thursday, September 26.

YouTube video
Follow Omar Thomas on Instagram.

Further reading:

Erineah Quan, “Omar Thomas: Sparking musical representation and revolution one composition at a time,” Massachusetts Daily Collegian, 27 February 2024.

Lauren Warnecke, “Composer Omar Thomas returns to ISU for 5th anniversary of ‘Come Sunday’,” WGLT (NPR), 14 November 2023.

Top photo: Rob Retting Photography

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