During his decades on the road, Gary Thomas either was a side man for or hung around with such jazz world glitterati as Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock.
Here, in his own words, are some of his favorite stories about these legends:
I was sitting in my mother's house in Baltimore when the phone rang. Some guy says, "Gary Thomas, Chief wants to speak to you." I get this voice on the phone, and it's that voice. I thought it was a joke, so I hung up.
A few minutes later, he called back. He wanted me to send him an audition tape by FedEx. To me, FedEx meant any kind of express mail, so I sent it by the U.S. Postal Service.
A lot of people think that I have a strange way of playing, and the first gig that I played with Herbie, I thought I was going to be fired. I was playing the saxophone, but I wasn't hearing any piano.
I went to the drummer, who was a good friend of mine, and asked what was going on. She said, "I just don't think he knows what to do for you yet."
A few days later, we were doing a sound check. I was standing in a corner warming up, playing my usual stuff. After a while, I started hearing some of the same sounds coming from Herbie's piano. I realized he'd been sitting there trying to figure out what I was doing.
Somebody like Herbie Hancock does not need to cater to the people in his band. But that's not how he thinks. He's one of the most selfless musicians I've ever played with.