Robert Thomas Jr. is an American jazz percussionist and hand drummer. He is known as an innovator in Be-bop and has been nominated for two Grammy awards. He is also a visual artist.
Born in Miami, he was encouraged by his fifth-grade teacher to play music, and not having an instrument, Thomas learned to play percussion on his desk. He sang in the choir at Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church, and at age sixteen, began playing percussion with the Broomfield Family, a local group that performed in churches and nightclubs.
After graduating from high school, Thomas studied at Miami-Dade Community College. During this time, he discovered jazz, and began to play with an array of artists including Jet Nero, Ira Sullivan, Billy Marcus, Zoot Sims, Thad Jones, Monty Alexander and Mel Lewis. In the late 70s, Thomas played at a benefit with Jaco Pastorius. Soon afterward, Thomas auditioned with Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter‘s jazz fusion group Weather Report at a live performance in New Haven, Connecticut. Thomas said afterward that they were looking for someone to play Be-bop, rather than Latin-style percussion. He settled in France, and continued to play with Weather Report until 1986. After the group disbanded, Thomas resettled in Miami, and shortly afterward released “In the Dreamtime”, a solo CD of his own music. He continued to work with Zawinul until 1994.
In addition to Weather Report, Thomas has performed with The Zawinul Syndicate, Jaco Pastorius’ Word of Mouth Band, Stan Getz, David Sanborn, Carlos Santana, Eddie Harris, Branford Marsalis, Herbie Mann, Ahmad Jamal, Roberto Perera… and world artists including sitar player Amitava Chatterjee and African artist Vinx. Thomas maintains an extensive discography on which he plays an eclectic mix of instruments including conga drums, wind instruments, guitar and the African bow harp.
Thomas is married to Jane Thomas and has a son, Spencer.