About Leon "Foster" Thomas
Leon “Foster” Thomas
Jazz Pannist Leon "Foster" Thomas is carving a new path when it comes to the contemporary styles of jazz, especially concerning one of the finest musical instruments invented in the 20th century…the steelpan. Winner of the 2002 World Steelband Music Festival Soloist category and the Festival's Duet category in 2004, Foster, as he is also called, is doing his part to expose music lovers to the versatility and many capabilities of this remarkable instrument. Awarded Florida Memorial University Musical Department's Most Outstanding Student in 2005, Foster has proven to be as versatile as his instrument of choice.
Born August 25th, 1981, in San Fernando, Trinidad, Leon the fourth of seven siblings started his musical journey at the tender age of three. Under the leadership of his late father, Loderick “Rollo” Foster, Leon began playing African drums with some of the best drummers in Trinidad & Tobago, representing the country in Carifesta celebrations and also Desmond Tutu's visit.
Although the Steel Pan is the National instrument of Trinidad & Tobago, Leon never had any interest for it. "I never liked the Pan. Every time it came on the television I would always change the channel to watch 'Price is Right', or something else more interesting," he said, not knowing the passion he had in him for the instrument and music.
In 1993, Leon began playing the Steel Pan through his friend Roger Charles, the arranger for both Pleasantville Senior Comprehensive School and Panasonic Connection Steel Orchestra at that time. At age 14 Leon played with Panasonic Connection and Fonclaire Steel Orchestra in his first National Panorama Competition. The National Panorama Competition, the super bowl of the steel pan, is the competition that every pannist dreams of winning. Leon has done it three times. In the years 2005 and 2007, he was the drummer for both bands that won Trinidad and Tobago's National Steelband Panorama Competition: Phase II Pan Groove and Courts Sound Specialists of Laventille, respectively. In 2008, he played on the frontline for Phase II Pan Groove. Always using his family as his motivation for excellence, Leon completed school in Trinidad and enrolled at Florida Memorial University in 2001 as a music major with a concentration in Jazz and Percussion. While at the University, he traveled locally, nationally, and internationally giving workshops and concerts.
Apart from his playing, Leon is also recognized for his compositions. In 2003 he composed a piece, “Call of the Amerindians”, as his contribution towards raising funds for Shiron Cooper (now deceased) which won her the top prize at the 26th Biennial Music Festival held in Trinidad and Tobago. He is also the founder of "Sweet Tuesday's", Florida Memorial University's weekly jazz jam session. Going strong since 2004, "Sweet Tuesday's" has had musicians such as PeeWee Ellis, Lou Donaldson, Ken "Professor" Philmore from the Caribbean and the college's own Melton Mustafa grace its stage. Geared towards helping students utilize what they have learned in the performing arts, "Sweet Tuesday's" is a way of bringing the jam session to the students instead of them having to find their own.
Having performed at many Jazz Festivals, Classical Concerts and Carnivals throughout the Caribbean, the United States and Europe, Leon has performed and worked with great musicians such as; Len "Boogsie" Sharp, Carlton “Zander” Alexander, Francis Prime, H2O Flo, Winston Bailey “The Mighty Shadow, Ken “Professor” Philmore, Dolly Parton, Melton Mustafa, James Moody, Nathan Davis, Richard Smallwood, Sam Henry, Cyril Neville, Mark Withfield, Billy Taylor and Abraham Laboriel, just to name a few. Primarily a jazz musician, Leon is well versed in and has recorded/performed for many different music genres such as Gospel, Latin, Funk, Classical and Rock.
Currently Leon is the musical director for the Miami Pan Symphony Steel Orchestra, a steelband comprised mainly of students from both Middle and High Schools. Miami Pan Symphony is a non profit organization that is not only geared towards promoting the culture of Trinidad and Tobago and the steel pan, but also mentors the youth, providing them with positive options away from the negativity of society and helping them to become better citizens of the world. Under his leadership they have won the Bomb Competition of both the 2005 and 2006 Miami Carnival, as well as Miami’s 2009 Panorama Competition.
Leon "Foster" Thomas is becoming a household name throughout the world. Who knows what lies in the future? Only great things from this musical genius. All will agree that the rest is and will be history.