Posthumous pieces: Music offers healing after son's death
A posthumous album by a prodigious local guitarist debuted July 6 at the Crozet Baptist Church thanks to a chance discovery and some help from local musicians. The jam band-influenced jazz-rock compositions of late Charlottesville native Kyle Thomas might never have been heard by anyone besides their composer, but instrumental music fans can now experience these lost tunes as well as a one-of-a-kind duet.
“I had no doubt that the younger people in the audience would respond positively to Kyle's music, but when I arrived at the church and saw all the older people, many of them from rural backgrounds, I really wondered how they would respond to this music that was probably different from anything they had heard,” said Reggie Marshall, a music promoter and close friend of the family. “I think it's a tribute to Kyle's artistry that they listened so attentively and applauded so enthusiastically.”
Guitarist and composer Kyle Thomas passed away at age 29 on March 23, 2010, but it wasn't until several weeks after his death that his devastated parents, Roy and Jane Thomas, discovered a comforting surprise: a box of cassette recordings in their son's closet. The tapes contained nearly 10 hours of music that would become the source for Resurrection Guitar, the album of his original compositions that debuted at the July 6 listening event. Friends, family, and former teachers reflected on Kyle’s life and music, the latter of which demonstrates an impressive knack for jazz improvisation and a penchant for bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead.
“What Roy has done to keep Kyle's music alive and share it with the world is a wonderful thing,” adds Marshall. “When someone takes a tragedy and turns it into a positive, that represents the best of humanity I think.”
Annie Jacobs, a former teacher of Kyle's who encouraged him to hone his craft in high school, was among those who attended the event to take solace in the music.
"The event for me was part of the healing process at the passing of such a fine human being at such a young age," said Jacobs. "It was also an acknowledgement that this young man touched and still touches so many of us through his music and art."
Thomas died from an accidental mixture of prescription and non-prescription drugs and had been battling drug addiction for more than a decade. At the time of his death Thomas had been living in Delray Beach, Florida, where he had been teaching guitar and working as a fitness instructor. His parents had hoped that he'd conquered his demons and would finally find success and peace. It wasn't to be.
"We have two motives for this project," says Roy Thomas. "One has been to share my son's original music with the world. At the same time, we are trying to combat the social stigma and misunderstandings surrounding addiction. Kyle had battled this disease since his teen years."
"Our culture's response to addicts tends to be judgmental and punitive," writes Kyle's mother in a booklet that accompanies the album. "Every addict is somebody's child, brother, sister, father, or mother."
After finding the tapes, Kyle's father began reaching out to area musicians. The feedback was so enthusiastic that they began culling the nearly 10 hours of material into a cohesive album. The 18-month-long editing and re-mastering process proved a daunting task as the tapes were primarily practice tools and contained frequent stops and starts. James McLaughlin of The Sound, a Preston Avenue studio, performed the lion's share of the audio snipping and sewing, ultimately rendering a seamless, 25-track physical CD, and the music can also be downloaded digitally at www.kylethomas1.bandcamp.com.
John D'earth, legendary jazz trumpet player and the UVA jazz performance director, was eager to lend an ear in the sequencing stage, and later, his own musical gift. Roy offered to drive D'earth to Virginia Commonwealth University and back so the two would have a chance to listen and ponder the music. During one of these treks, they came across a song that D'earth likened to jazz-rock fusion of late-era Miles Davis, one that D'earth said might benefit from the addition of brass, and before he knew it, he was in the studio overdubbing takes of horn improvisation on the driving number that D'earth instinctively dubbed "Double Helix."
Thomas grew up in Crozet and attended Henley Middle School in Crozet and Murray High School in Charlottesville. He picked up the guitar at an early age, eventually studying under the late Dean Musser and playing in a Charlottesville band called Rains. D'earth and Thomas nearly met up once to play together when Thomas was still a budding jazz guitarist living in Charlottesville.
Extolling Thomas's "private passion," D'earth writes, "Kyle was a pure artist in that he created his music from love alone."
The Thomases are a musical family– Roy and Jane met in the Lane High School band, and their daughter is a music teacher. Finding the tapes, and the process of bringing Kyle's music to the public, has helped them heal.
"When we found his music, we began playing it to comfort us as we grieved, to help us feel his presence, and to connect with his eternal, beautiful soul," writes Kyle's mother. "As we listened, we felt the passion of his soul springing forth. We felt a strong desire to share his music and his passion with the world."
Kyle Thomas’ album was played publicly for the first time on Friday, July 6th at the Crozet Baptist Church. This is an updated version of an online article that originally went online July 3.