Tomas Doncker interview with Sammy Stein

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By: Sammy Stein

Tomas Doncker is a musician whose music is an eclectic mix and traverses jazz, funk, groove and soul. He has played with luminaries such as James Chance, J.Walter Negro and The Loose Jointz as well as touring internationally and recording with Sadoa Wanatabe and Masabumi Kikuchi. He has worked with Madonna, Bonnie Raitt and Bill Laswell to name just a few. His collaborations with Pulitzer prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa have received critical acclaim. He founded his label, True Groove to provide a platform for recording artists and it is one of the fastest growing labels in New York City.  The label is currently expanding to include theatrical scores and film music. Tomas has participated in festivals and had 6 sold out shows at the Blue Note, Tokyo. A busy and creative musician, I managed to catch him for an interview.

Tomas was born and bred in Brooklyn New York. From an early age he came to realise the power and possibilities of music. Once this happened he says, “ I had no choice – I was in.” He was inspired initially by bass player Larry Graham of Sly and The family Stone and frontman of Graham Central Station. Doncker says, “Graham inspired my but when I saw the size of the strings I thought the guitar would be easier to learn. Little did I realise…..” Tomas’ first band was a collection of friends and they performed in the courtyard of his apartment building in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. He says, “ My mom provided lemonade and cookies for everyone – the reviews were fabulous. ”

Tomas collaborates with a lot of musicians and I asked him about this and how he decides who to work with. Tomas commented, “ It’s actually a very simple process deciding who to work with. First, despite the ‘cache’ they may come under you have to decide, “is the other person really ‘All that?” By that I mean is there a possibility for growth and longevity within this collaborative effort? For example, on-going collaborations with Komunyakaa have been one of the true blessings (artist is and otherwise) of my life.  A perfect collaboration, the telling of an ongoing story” of the emotions when he performs, Tomas says, “ It truly runs the gamut – from what I’m feeling (and hopefully channelling to the audience), to how I’m interpreting the energy or vibe the audience is sending back at us. Whatever it is, it’s intense. When we’ve performed overseas-in China, for example, the response was clearly nothing but love. Waves of love coming back at the stage towards us. It was overwhelming at times-especially when you realize that for the most part, the audience has absolutely no idea what we’re singing about. They don’t need to-they are open to just “feeling the music”. No thought process, no analyzation, just a pure and very human response to the power of music. Indescribable, really.”

Tomas listens to a lot of music. In his words, “Everything. Always have. About his own music, he makes no attempt to describe it saying, “I wouldn’t describe my music at all. I create it. I don’t have to describe it, but if by chance I did choose to, I would say it’s…well, just listen to it. My philosophy on music and life really is just listen, to great music, artists and, most of all, each other.” Tomas says audiences are appreciative wherever he performs and when he plays he is really aware of those on stage with him. He says, “I/we are all very aware of each other. We are extremely well- rehearsed, prepared to present the message/magic in the music to any audience. Anywhere, anytime.

Founding his own label was important for Tomas and he says of this, “True Groove was born simply out of the need for a legitimate platform to present great artists creating great forward-thinking music. We’re not interested in following the so-called trends or bandwagons that appear on a daily basis in this ever-changing industry. What we are interested in is in building a supportive environment for artists with a unique voice and spirit.” As to the future, Tomas comments, “There’s a lot going on. We’ve got a jam-packed schedule of exciting releases. For example, Mac Gollehon has an upcoming release “Mac Gollehon & The Hispanic Mechanics” which is out on 5/20/16. (Reviewed on Jazz in Europe).

The highly anticipated new album from Marla Mase is ‘Miracles: Lost & Found” and will be released this summer, as well as the debut release from Touchy Feely – True Groove’s most elusive and reclusive artist and re-mixer this fall. Get ready to have your minds blown!!! {{Charlie Funk}}, our in-house lyrical Ninja and funkateer just released his debut EP, ’Give Me A Groove’ in February. We shall also release Phoebe Nir’s debut EP ‘The Broken Parts’ which is a collection of alternative pop gems to be released sometime this summer. We’ve also been developing a musical theatre project over the past year and a half with Nir. It’s called ‘Diana & Navy & The Golden Tooth’ Nir wrote the book and lyrics and I composed the score. It’s a brilliant piece about two young African American girls/sisters trying to survive in post-apocalyptic America set to a psychedelic Americana/Blues/Roots music score. We are currently workshopping the play at Black Box Studios in NJ (performance dates June 23-June 30) with phenomenal director Matt Okin in preparation for an off-Broadway run in the late summer or early fall at a theatre we cannot yet disclose in Manhattan. Of course, The True Groove All-Stars are the band in the show. Stay tuned.”

Other than music Tomas comments, “I collect cool Black T-Shirts. It’s my thing.”

So a lot to look forward to from this affable and energetic musician.

Last modified: July 15, 2018