Notes by Ben

Notes by Ben

Ben Thomas plays the vibes and bandoneon, and composes music.


“Ben is a great composer, and an energetic performer who knows how deep music can go. It’s always fun to play with him.”

Dr. Ben Thomas is one of the most in-demand vibists in the Pacific Northwest. Known for combining virtuosic technique with flowing lyricism, Thomas’s music spans from pyrotechnic improvisations to delicate soundscapes. 

In addition to leading jazz and tango ensembles, he performs as a sideman on mallets, percussion, and bandoneon with a wide variety of groups throughout the United States, including the Jovino Santos Neto Quinteto and the Atlas Tango Project. He currently has five albums of original compositions available on Origin Records: “Triskaidekaphobia”, “The Mystagogue”, “The Madman’s Difference”, “Yet What Is Any Ocean…”, and “Eternal Aporia”. 

After falling in love with both tango music and dance, Thomas started playing bandoneon in 2006, traveling to Argentina and working with tango musicians from across the world. He was guest artist with the Eugene Opera in 2018 as the bandoneon soloist for Piazzolla’s “Maria de Buenos Aires”. He tours regularly with the Atlas Tango Project and can be heard on their most recent album, “Estaciones y Sueños”. 

Thomas completed his Doctor of Musical Art in Percussion Performance at the University of Washington in 2007. His dissertation was on the development of Cal Tjader’s early Latin Jazz vibraphone style. Thomas received his Master of Music with Honors in Improvisation from the University of Michigan in 1994. While in graduate school, he directed the University of Michigan’s Jazz Composers Orchestra and worked with composer Stephen Rush. Thomas also graduated from Swarthmore College, where he majored in mathematics and music.

Over the years, Thomas has performed at the Stowe Tango Music Festival, Ballard Jazz Festival, Earshot Jazz Festival, Detroit-Montreaux Jazz Festival, Bumbershoot Arts Festival, Issaquah Jazz Festival, Anacortes Arts Festival, Ellensburg Jazz in the Valley Festival, Tacoma Maritime Festival, Bellingham Art of Jazz Series, and the Juneau Jazz and Classics Festival.

As a composer, Thomas has written for chamber groups, big bands, jazz combos, dance and theater. Thomas is currently chair of the Music Department at Highline College, where he teaches music theory, composition, and performance.