Cult Classic: Ralph Thomas-Eastern Standard Time.

Back in 1980, saxophonist and flautist Ralph Thomas released his debut album Eastern Standard Time  on the obscure Zebra Jazz imprint. Sadly, when this future spiritual jazz cult classic failed to find  the audience it deserved until much later. 

By then, copies of Eastern Standard Time  were almost impossible to find, and when a copy came up for sale the prices were prohibitively high for most jazz fans. The majority were unable to afford a copy of Ralph Thomas ’s oft-overlooked hidden gem Eastern Standard Time which nowadays, cost in excess of $350. It’s a reminder of a Ralph Thomas cult classic which sadly, was the only solo album he released.

Ralph Thomas was born into musical family in the Windy City of Chicago in 1950. Growing up, Ralph Thomas’ principal instrument was the saxophone, but he was able to play a variety of different instruments. It was no surprise when Ralph Thomas decided to study music at one of Chicago’s most venerable institutions.

In 1969, nineteen year old Ralph Thomas nerved at the Chicago Conservatory of Music which was his  home for the next few years. During this period, he became a member of the Chicago A.A.C.M, and studied alongside  master musicians Phil Cohran and Richard Muhal Abrams. By then, Ralph Thomas was keen  to put what he had learnt into practise.

Soon, Ralph Thomas was recording with blues legend, Howlin’ Wolf and Mighty Joe Young for the Cadet imprint of Chess records. Although this was just the start of his career he was already working with some big names,

Five years later, this continued when Ralph Thomas moved to LA and continued to work as a session player ‘20th’  Century Fox and Motown. Ralph Thomas recorded with Marvin Gaye, Jermaine Jackson, Smokey Robinson and Rick James. A talented and versatile reedman, Ralph Thomas was never short of offers of work.

As the eighties dawned, Ralph Thomas was keen to embark upon a solo career.  Although Ralph Thomas enjoyed session work, he felt the time had come to record and release his debut solo album. It would be a reflection  of the music that had influenced him as a musician.

Later, Ralph Thomas described himself as a practicing ethnomusicologist and said that his musical vision had evolved during the sixties. However, by the time he came to record Eastern Standard Time his multifaceted, global approach gave the music a captivating and unique sound. “My music has always been open to different cultures and sounds Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, Mexican, Peruvian, American, Hebrew, Turkish, African, Indian and Japanese.” Ralph Thomas was inspired by different types of music from all over the world. These would influence him as a musician when  he began work on his debut album  Eastern Standard Time

For his debut album the thirty year old wrote Cafe Phillipp, E.S.T. and Spellbound and cowrote Muscavado and Venice with Lawrence Dixon. Ralph Thomas and Thierry Sharfe joined forces to write Doloreso which was joined by Joel Ector’s Big Spliff. These seven tracks were recorded by Ralph Thomas and his band and became Eastern Standard Time,

Ralph Thomas arranged and produced Eastern Standard Time, alto, tenor, soprano and baritone saxophone and flute. His rhythm section featured  drummer and percussionist Joel Vierset, Joel Ector who switched between acoustic and electric bass plus guitarist Thierry Sharfe. They were joined by flautist Joann Leauanthal, percussionist Warren Thomas and keyboardist Lawrence Dixon.

One the ‘9th’ of January 1980, Eastern Standard Time was released on Zebra Jazz, but sadly failed to find the audience it deserved. With tracks of the quality of  Cafe Phillipp, EST, Spellbound, Muscavado and Venice, Eastern Standard Time where Ralph Thomas and his talented band  combined hard bop, modal, post bop and spiritual jazz. The result was Eastern Standard Time, which was an ambitious and innovative debut album from Ralph Thomas. It passed record buyers by like so many albums released on small labels.

The problem was many small independent record labels didn’t have the financial muscle or expertise to promote an album properly. Some didn’t even have a distribution deal which meant the label was unable to get the album into shops in different towns and cities. Instead,  the album was  sold locally and often labels went round record shops trying to get them to take a one or two boxes of albums and sometimes were willing to risk a sale or return agreement. It’s no wonder that many albums released on small independent labels weren’t a commercial success. 

It wasn’t until much later that this Ralph Thomas’ spiritual jazz cult classic started to receive the recognition it deserved. By them, copies of Eastern Standard Time  were almost impossible to find, and on the rare occasion when a copy came up for sale the prices were prohibitively high for most jazz fans. Nowadays, original copies of Ralph Thomas’s Eastern Standard Time change hands for in excess of $350. That’s despite a reissue a couple of years ago. 

Forty years after Ralph Thomas’ oft-overlooked hidden gem Eastern Standard Time was released by Zebra Jazz in February 1980 and somewhat belatedly it’s starting to find the wider audience it so richly deserves. Eastern Standard Time is a reminder of a talented and versatile saxophonist and flautist at the peak of his powers  on his spiritual jazz cult classic which sadly, was also Ralph Thomas’ only solo album. 

Cult Classic: Ralph Thomas-Eastern Standard Time.

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