A Dulles High School alumnus and Rice University senior is making a name for himself in the Houston music scene by transcending genres and blending cultures.
Pianist and composer Tomás Jonsson, who grew up in Sugar Land, will have two performances in Houston this weekend to premiere music from his forthcoming debut album, “First Impressions.”
Jonsson hails from a musical family, and a multicultural one at that. His maternal grandmother was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and his father is from Ohio.
“When my mom and dad got married, they had a kind of a joke,” he said. “But it was also a bargain they made. (My dad’s end of the bargain) was that all of us will learn to play musical instruments, and on my mom's side, we would all learn to speak Spanish.”
Jonsson’s father is a violinist, he said, and he and his three siblings started out playing the violin as well. But Tomás quickly discovered that the violin wasn’t for him, and found himself “wandering toward” the piano.
He currently serves as the pianist for the West University Baptist Church, and spent three years playing for The Fountain of Praise in Southwest Houston, which helped him foster an appreciation for the Black Gospel tradition and has shaped his own musical composition to this day.
Because of his father, Jonsson’s musical upbringing was mostly classical for the first decade of his 15-year playing career.
“And then I started taking interest in jazz from recordings and albums and stuff,” Jonsson said. “And I started teaching myself. And then I really wanted jazz lessons. So right now I'm kind of on two tracks.”
At Rice, Jonsson studies classical piano performance under the tutelage of Brian Connelly, and is minoring in politics, law and social thought. He also takes private jazz lessons from Paul English, a Houston native who has worked with Willie Nelson and other well-known Texas musicians.
Jonsson has given many public and private performances over the years, both solo and with ensembles. He has placed in the top three in nine different competitions across the country since 2015, three of which he won individually and two others where he was a part of the top ensemble.
“Ever since I started doing jazz, I've really enjoyed playing spontaneously,” he said. “I feel like there's a side of me, some ideas that come out when I'm playing with friends that otherwise I just wouldn't get. So I guess I have a slight preference towards playing with others, but it's close.”
The inspiration for a solo album came during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jonsson said.
“I've never done a solo project, even though I spent most of my life doing solo music,” Jonsson said. “So I thought that I should do a solo album that represented me alone, doing everything. So that goes from writing all the tunes to playing them all. And mixing, mastering, recording and revision every step of the way, in part because of the pandemic. And also because I think it's a way to demonstrate things that I can do for people that might be interested in working with me on music.”
Jonsson’s music has many inspirations, including pianist Rubén Gonzalez of the Afro-Cuban All Stars and Buena Vista Social Club. He grew up listening to his father playing Ludvig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms. As he discovered jazz, he became fond of Miles Davis and John Coltrane and pianist Dave Brubeck.
Jonsson said of his current music on Spotify, including “Four Songs Without Words,” “Nocturne” and “Jubilate Deo”, that all of his projects have been-self funded, as is first-impressions.
His goal is to eventually be signed by a label that can fund and promote his work, or to find someone who is looking to fund and help the next generation of upcoming artists find commercial success.
“I'm trying to build a portfolio for myself,” Jonsson said. “I'm trying to show that I can produce high quality music on a small budget cost-effectively."
While he is proud of his previous projects, he said he’s looking forward to releasing something that “makes a statement” and displays all of his musical influences.
“It’s called ‘First Impressions,’” Jonsson said, “because it’s the biggest statement I've made so far as an artist.”
Jonsson is performing at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Duncan Recital Hall and 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Kawai Piano Gallery.
The link to RSVP to the Kawai Piano Gallery concert is herehttps://www.facebook.com/events/1195956460871243, and the following is a link to live stream the concert at Rice University: https://oit.rice.edu/event-3.