Thollem McDonas is a composer, pianist, improviser, teacher and writer. 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 dedicated his 20s and 30s to grassroots political activism. In 2005, he refocused his attention on a breadth of musics that incorporate his myriad experiences and curiosities. In this last decade alone, he has played well over 1,000 concerts throughout North America and Europe as a soloist and in collaboration with hundreds of musicians, dancers, and filmmakers. As leader or co-leader, he has released almost 50 albums in that span on 19 different vanguard labels to international critical acclaim. “Thollem is an astounding pianist who understands the huge scope of the instrument” (Terry Riley) and who continues to delve into the furthest reaches and sub-genres of Post-Classical, Free Jazz, Noise, Punk, dance and film. A brief cross section of his many recent collaborators include William Parker, Pauline Oliveros, Stefano Scodanibbio, Nels Cline, Mike Watt, Martha Colburn and Matthew Barney.
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One of the most captivating pianists working today
— Rui Eduardo Paes, Jazz.pt (Portugal)
“fearless experimentation…super-human handwork”
– Brad Cohan, New York City Jazz Record
“McDonas is half pianist, half hurricane”
— Steve Holtje, Culture Catch
A particularly powerful voice — David Keenan, The Wire (England)
“An intense and virtuosic keyboardist —Time Out New York
Transforms 88 keys into a texturally staggering ensemble.
- Detroit Metro Times
“McDonas is known for his rapturous solo piano work which transgresses genre boundaries as much as it transcends them
Over 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.
* piano technique
* music history/appreciation
*the creative process
* improvisation as a way of life
* career development