Thollem McDonas

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Thollem McDonas
Thollem McDonas at PianoFort in Portland, OR.jpg
Thollem McDonas at PianoFort in Portland, Oregon, US
Background information
Born (1967-02-23) February 23, 1967 (age 47)
Origin Palo Alto, California, USA
Genres Classical
Avant-garde jazz
Occupation(s) Pianist, improviser, educator
Instruments Piano
Years active 2002 – Present
Labels Porter, Edgetone Records, ESP-disk', Pax, Creative Sources, Amirani, Saravah, Die Schachtel, Post-Consumer, Dromos, Wild Silence, Thick Syrup Records, Setola di Maiale, New Atlantis Records, Union Pole Tapes, Relative Pitch Records
Associated acts Estamos Project, Picoas Project, Thollem Electric, Impulsive Machinations, Thollem/Chase, Tsigoti, Thollem/Scodanibbio, Thollem/Parker/Cline, Soar Trio, Bloom, Magimc, 10,000 Tigers, The Hand To Man Band, Bad News From Houston, The Everywhere Quintet, Bitahkiz Ayeli
Website Official Site

Thollem McDonas is an American pianist, improviser, composer, singer-songwriter, touring performer, musical educator,[1][2] and social critic.[3] His musical compositions and performances have ranged from classical, and free jazz, to experimental and punk rock. He has toured North America and Europe since 2006, performing solo works and collaborating with an array of musicians, dancers, dance companies and filmmakers.[4]

Origins and Musical Developments[edit]

McDonas began studying piano at the age of 5. His mother was a piano teacher and this led him to study the instrument. At the age of 14, he began teaching and authoring his own compositions. Shortly after McDonas graduated with degrees in piano performance and composition from San Jose State University, the Gulf War began.[5] He abandoned the academy in his 20s to pursue direct political action. Eventually he merged these concerns, using music and performance at protests to draw attention to pertinent issues. Eventually he resumed his professional music career on [his] own terms, integrating his ... political ideologies into his compositions and performances.[6] He is constantly in motion, playing solo concerts, concerts with various groups—both established and ad hoc—and leading workshops and clinics.[7]

Recording Artist[edit]

Estamos Ensemble[edit]

McDonas is the founding director of Estamos Ensemble, an international musical group whose purpose is to promote more dialogue and collaboration across the U.S. - Mexican border. In 2011, Edgetone Records released a double disc album by Estamos Ensemble premiering original works by William Parker, Nels Cline, Pauline Oliveros, Joan Jeanrenaud, Vinny Golia, Ana Lara, Juan Felipe Waller and Jorge Torres Sáenz.[8]


Tsigoti is Thollem McDonas’ most overtly political project. A freewheeling anarcho-punk group, Tsigoti serves as a literal mouthpiece for his activism. Thollem sings politically charged lyrics alongside his off-kilter piano playing. The group is rounded out by Italian musicians Andrea Caprara (drums), Matteo Bennici/Piero Spitilli (bass), and Jacopo Andreini (guitar).[9]

Debussy Project[edit]

In 2008, McDonas was invited by Musee Labenche to perform works by Claude Debussy on the last piano Debussy owned. He was accompanied by world renown contrabassist Stefano Scodanibbio. The resulting album, OnDebussy'sPianoAnd..., was released in 2010.[10][11]


10,000 Tigers: McDonas (right) playing with Arrington de Dionyso at the 19th Olympia Experimental Music Festival, June 2013

Composer, teacher, author[edit]

As a composer, Thollem has received Meet the Composer: Creative Connections, 2007 and American Music Center: CAP (2010) 'Stirring Awake' debuted at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (Aug. 19, 2010)[12] He was awarded the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation: USArtists (2010) as director of Estamos Ensemble[13]

As a teacher, Thollem tours with his project The Everywhere Quintet. The musicians involved are entirely different at each performance, and they represent countless genres or styles of playing.[14]

As a writer, Thollem's essay "The Peripatetic Life of an Improvising Musician" was published in the Anthology of Essays on Deep Listening (The Deep Listening Institute, 2012).[15] In 2013, he was a contributor to Full Moon, a Czech music magazine, based in Prague, covering mostly – not only – independent music scene and artists pushing the boundaries of music, one way or another.[16]



  • Dear Future (compilation, WIld Silence, 2013)
  • Gone Beyond Reason To Find One (Edgetone Records, 2010)
  • Racingthesun Chasingthesun (Creative Sources, 2008)
  • Somuchheaven Somuchhell (Saravah, 2008)
  • Poor Stop Killing Poor (Edgetone Records, 2007)
  • Nuclearbomb Cavepainting (Pax Recordings, 2006)
  • Everything's Going Everywhere (Edgetone Records, 2005)


  • Read Between the Lines … Think Outside Them (Post-Consumer Records, 2013)
  • Imagination Liberation Front Thinks Again (Post-Consumer Records, 2012)
  • Private Poverty Speaks To The People Of The Party (ESP-Disk, 2010)
  • TheBrutalRealityOfModernBrutality (née WarIsTerror TerrorIsWar, Edgetone Records, 2008)

Estamos Ensemble[edit]

  • People's Historia with Carmina Escobar & Milo Tamez (Relative Pitch Records, 2013)
  • JimpaniKustakwaKaJankwariteecherï (Edgetone Records, 2011)

Bloom Project with Rent Romus[edit]

  • Sudden Aurora (Edgetone Records, 2009)
  • Prismatic Season (Edgetone Records, 2008)
  • Bloom with Jon Brumit & Steven Baker (Edgetone Records, 2006)

The Hand to Man Band with Mike Watt, John Dieterich & Tim Barnes[edit]

  • You Are Always On Our Minds (Post-Consumer Records, 2012)

Bad News From Houston with John Dieterich[edit]

  • In the Valley of the Cloudbuilder (Post-Consumer Records, 2013)
  • AllForNow (Dromos Records, 2010)

10,000 Tigers with Arrington de Dionyso[edit]

  • Intuition, Science, And Sex (Edgetone Records, 2008)

Other Collaborations[edit]

  • The View From Up with Marco Rogliano/Francesco Dillon/Daniele Roccato (Setola Di Maiale, 2014)
  • Whistling Joy Jumpers: Surprising Wooden Clocks with Jad Fair & Brian Chase (Thick Syrup Records, 2013)
  • Soar Trio: Emergency Management Heist with Skeeter C.R. Shelton & Joel Peterson (Edgetone Records, 2013)
  • The Gowanus Session with William Parker and Nels Cline (Porter Records, 2012)
  • Polishing the Mirror Magimc Trio: Edoardo Marraffa/Stefano Giust/Thollem McDonas (Amirani Records, 2012)
  • OnDebussy'sPianoAnd... with Italian contra bassist Stefano Scodanibbio (Die Schachtel, 2010)
  • Noble Art with Nicola Guazzaloca (Amirani Records, 2009)
  • Arrington de Dionyso: Gigantomachia - also with Gregg Skloff & John Niekrasz (ESP-Disk, 2009)
  • Sono Contento Di Stare Qua with Edoardo Ricci (Edgetone Records, 2006)
  • I'll Meet You Halfway Out In The Middle Of It All with Rick Rivera (Edgetone Records, 2006)


  1. ^ McDonas, Thollem. "Workshops/Lessons". Thollem McDonas Official Website. Thollem McDonas. Retrieved 5 February 2012. 
  2. ^ "Thollem Mcdonas at Conundrum". The USC Music Times. The USC Music Times. Retrieved 5 February 2012. 
  3. ^ "Interview with Members of Tsigoti". ESP-Disk' Lounge. ESP-Disk'. Retrieved 5 February 2012. 
  4. ^ Thollem McDonas,, Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  5. ^ McDermott, Ryan, Thollem McDonas : Medium Messaging,, 2005-08-29, Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  6. ^ Bucko, Bob, Soldier of Ideas: Thollem McDonas, Tsigoti, and the Geo-Politics of Sound,, 2013-02-21, Retrieved 28 February 2013.
  7. ^ Wayne, Dave,Thollem McDonas: the Beauty Of Never Going Back Home,, 2013-08-07, Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  8. ^ Frandzel, Benjamin. "Estamos Ensemble: Improvise. Enjoy. Repeat.". News & Reviews. San Francisco Classical Voice. Retrieved 5 February 2012. 
  9. ^ Bucko, Bob, Soldier of Ideas: Thollem McDonas, Tsigoti, and the Geo-Politics of Sound,, 2013-02-21, Retrieved 28 February 2013.
  10. ^ Singh, Gary. "Silicon Alleys:Key Witness, 9.24.2008". MetroActive. MetroActive. Retrieved 4 February 2012. 
  11. ^ Djll, Tom (2011), "Gone Beyond Reason" Signal to Noise, Spring 2011.
  12. ^ "StirringAwake". American Music Center Website. American Music Center. Retrieved 5 February 2012. 
  13. ^ US Artists International Archive,, Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  14. ^ "thollem mcdonas’ everywhere quintet :: an all-idiomatic ensemble"., Retrieved 06 November 2012.
  15. ^ "Anthology of Essays on Deep Listening - Monique Buzzarté & Tom Bickley, editors"., Retrieved 06 November 2012.
  16. ^ "Full Moon"., Retrieved 21 April 2014.

External links[edit]