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Primary Instrument: Piano

Born: 1967

”A fresh, disciplined avant-pianist with an attractively extreme viewpoint” (LA Weekly), Thollem travels perpetually as a performer, comproviser, activist and teacher, covering much of the North American continent and Europe. He performs as a soloist as well as in collaboration with a wide array of artists in wildly divergent directions. In the past 7 years, he has added 30 albums to his discography on 13 different vanguard labels in 4 different countries.

Thollem McDonas (b. 1967, US) is a pianist, composer, improviser and teacher. He was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area of Irish and Cherokee descent. At the age of five, he began studying the keyboard repertoire from the medieval to the 20th century and studied with many notable teachers including Aiko Onishi and Lou Harrison. After graduating with degrees in both piano performance and composition, he stepped from the concert pianist trajectory to dedicate his time to grassroots political movements and ecological restoration projects. In 2005, he returned to music as his full focus, incorporating his experiences into his compositions, improvisations and teaching. Since then, he has added 30 albums to his discography on 12 different vanguard record labels in 4 different countries. He is currently touring perpetually as a soloist, in collaboration with many other individuals and groups, as well as leading large ensemble free improvisation/collaboration workshops as well as master classes. He has performed extensively as a soloist as well as with film makers, dancers, poets and painters and a wide array of divergent musicians. His music is diverse, with each album and every concert exploring a variety of approaches and paths, resulting in dramatically different outcomes....
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“fearless experimentation…super-human handwork” – Brad Cohan, New York City Jazz Record

“McDonas is half pianist, half hurricane”
— Steve Holtje, Culture Catch

“An intense and virtuosic keyboardist” —Time Out New York

“McDonas is known for his rapturous solo piano work which transgresses genre boundaries as much as it transcends them. And while his solo piano oeuvre is remarkable for its stylistic breadth and depth, McDonas has more pure technical ability than most musicians would know what to do with.” — Dave Wayne, AllAboutJazz NY

“Thollem McDonas does what few can: He combines extreme imagination with terrific post-classical chops and an ability to communicate through melody a fresh, disciplined avant-pianist with an attractively extreme viewpoint.” - Greg Burk, LA Weekly

“Thollem dives headlong into fascinating unforeseen and bold musical adventures that make him one of the most interesting pianists of the current improvised music genre...the result is the natural consequence of being intrinsically eclectic at heart...

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Primary InstrumentPiano

Credentials/BackgroundOver the years, as a teacher, Thollem has worked with musicians and non-musicians alike in a wide variety of approaches and techniques through private lessons and large ensembles, in music conservatories, high school concert bands, with developmentally disabled adults and children, the incarcerated, the elderly, youth symphonies and chamber ensembles. He has been traveling perpetually for years working within communities throughout North America and Europe, collaborating with a wide array of musicians, dancers, filmmakers, writers, poets, and painters. Thollem grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the son of the dedicated and inspiring piano teacher, Geraldine Simons. He began teaching private and group piano and theory lessons when he was 13 years old. Thollem is available on-line and in person for one-on-one and small group instruction. Subjects include: * piano technique * music history/appreciation *the creative process * listening * improvisation as a way of life * composition * collaboration * career development


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  • BUY

    Thollem/Robair: Trio Music Minus One

    Setola di Maiale
  • BUY

    Michael Snow and Thollem McDonas: Live at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Edgetone Records
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    The View From Up

    Setola di Maiale
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    Conformity Contortion

    New Atlantis Records
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    Imaginary Images

    Leo Records
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    Dub Narcotic Session

    New Atlantis Records
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    Dear Future,

    Wild Silence
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