Guitarist and composer Thom Douvan hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan where he grew up listening to the Motown sounds at the very source as the 45’s from Hitsville Studios landed on the streets of West Grand Boulevard in nearby Detroit. Later, Thom had the distinct privilege of playing regularly with four of the original ‘Funk Brothers,’ the elite studio musicians handpicked by Berry Gordy to be in the Motown recording bullpen: pianist and organist John Griffith, pianist Joe Hunter, drummer Richard ‘Pistol’ Allen and drummer ‘Spider’ Webb. Between those four Funk Brothers, they played on virtually all the major Motown hits and with all the major Motown artists from 1958 to 1971, including ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine,’ ‘My Girl,’ ‘What’s Going On,’ ‘Dancing in the Streets,’ ‘Heatwave,’ and the other hits by Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the Temptations, the Four Tops, etc. The experience of playing with and hanging out both on and off the bandstand with these master musicians profoundly influenced Thom and deepened his appreciation of soul music and R&B. However, the Funk Brothers were also accomplished jazz musicians who played and recorded with Kenny Burrell, Coleman Hawkins, Dinah Washington, Pepper Adams, and others. Thom learned a great deal about jazz from them as well. Thom also frequently accompanied the great sixties soul singer Jimmy Delphs of Ollie McLaughlin’s Karen/Carla record labels (“Don’t Sign The Papers”; “Almost [But Not Quite]; “Dancing a Hole in the World”).
Thom released his first solo CD of all original compositions in 2008, entitled “So Shall We Learn.” The CD featured a core group of Michigan musicians loosely associated with Motown — e.g., Carl Graves, touring drummer for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Larry Walton, bassist for Ray Parker Jr., and other Michigan associates Thom has played with for many years — Timm Stubbs on piano, Cary Kocher on vibes and percussion, and Duncan McMillan on Hammond organ. Thom then added overdubs in California using Clinton Day on bass who also served as recording and mixing engineer and co-producer. Several tunes on the CD feature the great Tony Malfatti on sax. Thom describes the music as “Midwestern Americana Heartland Music” in the style of Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden and Gary Burton, but with a funky edge that propels Thom’s music straight into the territory explored by artists like Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Ayers, George Duke, Eric Gale and Cornell Dupree.
Thom released his second CD in 2014. Entitled “Brother Brother,” it is a soul-jazz organ combo tribute to the Funk Brothers, featuring 14 classic Great American Soul Songbook tunes, plus an old English folk song played in the swing-jazz tradition. The CD features Detroit organ phenom Duncan McMillan on the Hammond B3 organ, and organ legend Bobby Pierce on one cut. The CD features five celebrity drummers from L.A.: James Gadson, Ralph Penland, Tony Moore, Michael Barsimanto and Frank Wilson. Also featured on five of the tunes is saxophonist extraordinaire Tony Malfatti. The CD is available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, and other retail establishments.
Not wasting any time, Thom finished his third CD, “All Over Again,” in early 2015. The new CD features a core band of world class musicians: Mitchel Forman (Mahavishnu Orchestra, John Scofield, Mike Stern), Michael Barsimanto (Jean-Luc Ponty, Billy Preston, Ivan Neville), Trey Henry (Ray Charles, Gerald Wilson, Kenny Burrell, Herbie Hancock, Flora Purim, Airto) and Jimmy Earl (Robben Ford, Jimmy Kimmel Show). Like his first CD, the new one features Thom’s original compositions which continue to mine the “Midwestern Americana Heartland Music” vein first tapped on “So Shall We Learn,” but with a decidedly funky, soulful bent. Like his first CD, “All Over Again” is mostly original material, plus a Kenny Burrell composition “Then I Met You.” “All Over Again” is slated for an April 2015 release date and will be available on iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby.
Thom has performed as a sideman on other artists’ CDs (e.g., Gayle La Rone, Juliet Annerino, David DeMordaunt), and recently added a producer and arranger credit on singer-songwriter Michael Patch’s CD “Mighty Engine Roll.” Thom played mandolin and electric guitar on that project. In 2005, Thom played guitar and tenor banjo on the recording, ‘Blue Skies’ by vocalist and entertainer Shawn Ryan (www.shawn-ryan.com), which was selected among the final 32 recordings nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male Vocalist that year. Based on the success of that recording and performances at San Francisco’s Plush Room (now the Rrazz Room), Thom was invited to perform with Shawn and musical director Kelly Park on the Jazz at Lincoln Center stage in New York, where Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra regularly perform. Thom says that “playing on the Lincoln Center stage in that brand new acoustically perfect auditorium before thousands of people is an experience I will never forget, for which I will be forever grateful to Shawn and Kelly.”