Justin “Justefan” Thomas is an American vibraphonist, composer, producer, and singer from Baltimore, Maryland. This world-renowned musician rose to prominence in Chicago, playing genres from jazz to hip-hop, R&B and pop.
What is the Justefan musical style?
My musical style is predominantly jazz with lots of improvisation. I’ve been crossing over to other genres bringing the improvisation aspect of jazz to hip-hop, pop and electronic music.
Why did you choose to play the vibraphone and how has it helped your career as a musician?
The vibraphone has been my instrument of choice for 20 years. I started at a really young age. I was introduced to that instrument in elementary school by my music teacher at the time, Mr. Wendell Hairston. It was fairly easy for me to learn the vibraphone because prior to my encounter, I had already studied piano. The piano and vibraphone are pretty much the same instrument. The only difference is how you play it (piano is played with the hands, vibraphone with mallets).
Playing the vibraphone I believe has helped me keep an open mind about music and my career. The instrument itself can be played in any genre and has showed up on many recordings from different cultures. Even though it is a rare instrument, the sound is familiar to many all over the world.
What unique opportunities have you discovered as a result of playing that specific instrument?
The vibraphone has led me perform with many artists internationally but also be featured as a guest performer or member with orchestras such as: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Chicago Jazz Ensemble, Chicago Jazz Orchestra, and the Chicago International Orchestra. I’ve been able to perform with a DJ group called “Ludwig & Stiegler Co, where we were featured on VH1 and MTV during the Austin City Limits Festival. Lastly but not least, you can hear my vibraphone playing on a myriad of albums, most recently on Ludacris’ “Ludaversal”, which was released in early 2015.
What is the biggest misconception about playing the vibraphone?
The biggest misconception about playing the vibraphone is most people mistaken it for a xylophone, which is fair. They are very similar in structure but have different functions. The xylophone is used for mostly orchestral works, marching band, and solo performances. The vibraphone can be used for those same settings but is often used in jazz settings.
How are you making your musical instrument cool and relevant to this generation?
My goal is to expose this instrument to the pop culture. With that being said, playing music that is familiar to this generation’s ear is going to make the instrument relevant. Making the instrument cool would be mean I need to have fun while playing pop music. Having fun playing pop music is something I already do, hoping that it inspires this generation to hear more of the sound or wanting to learn how to play the vibraphone.