ListN Up Playlist: Elijah J. Thomas (May 23, 2024)

ListN Up is a series of artist-curated playlists that offer an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice.

Elijah J. Thomas (he/him/his) is a Black Philadelphia-born, Harlem-based flutist, multi-instrumentalist, educator and composer/experimentalist. He creates what he calls “enuff music”: music for Black healing and spiritual transcendence. Elijah is Musical Director of the global street band performance organization Honk NYC!, whose mission is to “make events that reclaim, reuse, and redefine public space and connect communities through music-making, pageantry, audience participation, and education.”

Hello, my name is Elijah J. Thomas and I am a Black Philadelphia-born and Harlem-based flutist, multi-instrumentalist, educator, and composer/experimentalist. It is my absolute honor and privilege to be able to present my “ListN Up” Curated Playlist for May 2024. I give all thanks and gratitude to Amanda Cook, editor-in-chief of I Care If You Listen (the in-house digital publication of American Composers Forum), and the entire I Care If You Listen staff.

The nine (9) selections that you’re going to hear on this playlist is “music that is me.” All of these nine selections is music from my earliest musical and lived experiences that have followed me throughout the entire trajectory of my career to the present day, that continues to guide me and influence me and mold me and speak not simply to my musicality and my artistic output, but very much speak to who I am as a person. I hope that you enjoy these selections, and that they illuminate a path forward for all of you. Thank you so much!

Zurich by Hermeto Pascoal, Performed by Hermeto Pascoal & Grupo

From my very first listen to Hermeto some years ago, I knew that I was experiencing a musical mind that somehow found a way to merge their many divergent lived experiences, sonic influences, and aspects of self into a singular artistic output – everything I strive to encompass and express in all areas of craft. Hermeto’s humor, intensity, passion, joy, and immense musicality shine through on this release by him and his heralded Grupo.

“Evil” by Maurice White and Phillip Bailey, Performed by Earth, Wind & Fire

I remember my father had a CD box set named The Eternal Dance: The Music of Earth, Wind & Fire (1971 – 1989). The artwork was alluring, and one day I had to listen. Track 9, Disc 1 was “Evil”, and up until then I hadn’t heard anything like it. The track carries a strong Afro-musical aesthetic in its Diasporic instrumental timbres and groove so prevalent in Black American music, and a deeply foreboding, timely message.

Suite No. 1 for Military Band in E-Flat Major, Op. 28, H. 105, I. “Chaconne” by Gustav Holst, Performed by Frederick Fennell and the Cleveland Symphonic Winds

I’m a band kid at heart. In high school our great teacher-mentor Kevin Rodgers introduced our concert band to Holst’s Suite No. 1 in E-flat, and I realized: 1) I think that wind instruments in their various forms represent aspects of the human voice we otherwise can’t access with the voice itself; and 2) composition is community – every single musical part is vital for the complete musical experience. Maybe Holst actually felt this, too.

Medley: “We’ll Be Together Again/People” from Funny Girl by Carl T. Fischer and Frankie Laine/Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, Performed by Rahsaan Roland Kirk

In many ways I don’t think I understood the flute or ballads until I heard Rahsaan Roland Kirk. I Talk With The Spirits, 1964/65 is the only album where Elder Kirk plays flute alone (and flutes of many kinds). His mastery of sing-play, intimate knowledge and understanding of lyric content (he literally sings the words in call-and-response to his own flute playing!), intentional statement of melody ever drenched in blues, and mechanical mastery of the instrument…simply put: flawless.

Eulogy for Charles Clarke by Henry Threadgill, Performed by Air

Air for me destroyed the barriers between individual, ensemble, composition, performance, and improvisation. The degree of communication between Henry Threadgill, Fred Hopkins, and Steve McCall and their challenge to remain attuned to intention – creating, developing, sustaining it, and letting music “be” – is wholly evident on this recording. Honoring a founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), it encompasses those feelings indicative of the selection’s title. True sonic painting.

Places And Spaces by Fonce and Jason Mizell, Performed by Donald Byrd, Raymond Brown, George Bohannon, Tyree Glenn Jr., Jason Mizell, Fonce Mizell, Clarence Scarborough, Chuch Rainey, Craig McMullen, John Rowin, Harvey Mason, King Erisson, Mayuto Correa, James Carter, Kay Haith

Growing up to this day, THIS is what “orchestration” is and always has the potential to be. Lush, balanced ensemble writing, singable and replicable melody, irresistibly danceable, driving  groove, smooth and sultry barbershop-derived multi-part vocal performance, freedom of individual improvisation and creative choice. For me, THIS was and is classical music, as Black as it gets. Donald Byrd, the Mizell Brothers, and those musicians who would eventually become The Blackbyrds convinced me of that.

“Glory, Glory” by Anonymous, Performed by Odetta

I didn’t come to Odetta and this album until later down the road. But when I did, it stirred in me something  deep and intrinsic to my blood and bones, something purely ancestral. Her voice alone – deep like the waters holding so much of Our history, unwavering and powerful yet delicate and sacred in delivery of a time-honored spiritual melody – is perfection. This recording is the roots, the soil, the yearning, the hope – Blackness itself.

“Peace Starts Inside of You” by Nicole Mitchell, Performed by Nicole Mitchell, Haki Madhubuti, Ugochi, Miguel de la Cerna, Rene Baker, Harrison Bankhead

Nicole Mitchell is a revolutionary Afro-creative whose vision stretches into the richness and possibilities of Black past, present, and future. As a flutist, composer, leader, and conceptualist, there is none like her. The album Liberation Narratives is music and poetry for the good of Blackfolx, and spotlights Chicago as a beacon always leading us where we should be. This selection, a mantra and reminder from Nicole and Haki, is what We need to survive.

“Artists Ought To Be Writing” by Jason Moran, Performed by Jason Moran, with audio by Adrian Piper

The title says it all, and it’s a sentiment that resonates deeply (perhaps apparent in my reflections on these nine selections!). Jason Moran articulates the prosody of Adrian Piper’s words on the piano, uplifting them, accentuating their urgency through use of the instrument’s full sound palette and possibility. I hope that all artists continue to write, talk, shout aloud about and advocate for their art on no uncertain terms – for themselves and all others.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, and is made possible thanks to generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF.

You can support the work of ICIYL with a tax-deductible gift to ACF. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or composersforum.org.