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Youngbloods: Pianist Isaiah J. Thompson

Photo: Zeph Colombatto; Graphics: Amna Ijaz
Zeph Colombatto
Photo: Zeph Colombatto; Graphics: Amna Ijaz

In this second installment of our Youngbloods series, Jazz Night in America takes a look at Isaiah J. Thompson: a young musician and composer with a mature touch and rare combination of talent, creativity, humility and honesty.

That last quality is especially important to Thompson, who, for someone who has accomplished so much at such a young age, seems unburdened by ego. "I think sincerity is something that's missing, especially in my generation," he says, "and when you're writing music, your job is to bring people back to what's actually happening."

And what's "actually happening" in Thompson's life is a lot. During his sophomore year at Juilliard, already on the radar of many musical elders, he was taken under the wing of trumpeter and educator Wynton Marsalis. Since then, Thompson has been earning recognition both at his regular residencies around New York and on stages around the world.

Thompson's inspirations are wide-ranging — the past (Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey are two of his musical heroes); the present (his compositions reflect socio-political movements, like the Black Lives Matter movement); his childhood (and a love of comic books); and his peers, like saxophonist Julian Lee, whom he met when they were both teenagers at Jazz House Kids in Montclair, N.J.

In this episode we'll hear three of Thompson's original compositions, performed by his quartet at Dizzy's Club. We'll also hear him musical directing and performing two songs with The Young Stars of Jazz, featuring Wynton Marsalis.


Isaiah J. Thompson Quartet: Isaiah J. Thompson, piano; Julian Lee, tenor saxophone; Philip Norris, bass; TJ Reddick, drums.

The Young Stars of Jazz featuring Wynton Marsalis: Isaiah J. Thompson, piano and musical direction; Julian Lee, tenor saxophone; Alexa Tarantino, alto saxophone; Endea Owens, bass; Kyle Poole, drums; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet.

Set List:

  • To Walk in the Wake of Something Beautiful (Isaiah J. Thompson)
  • Reflections (Thelonious Monk) 
  • Little Man (Charles Fambrough)
  • Burial Scene (Thompson)
  • I'd Rather Be Tried by 3 Than Carried by 6 (Thompson)
  • Credits:

    Writer and Producer: Alex Ariff; Assistant Producers: Scout Opatut and Camilo Garzón; Host: Christian McBride; Recording Engineers: Rob Macomber, Todd Whitelock and Chris Gold; Consulting Editor: Katie Simon; Episode mix: Ron Scalzo; Producers: Sarah Geledi and Trevor Smith; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Vice President of Visuals and Strategy at NPR Music: Keith Jenkins; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand.

    Special thanks to Jake Cohen.

    Copyright 2023 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

    Scout Opatut
    Camilo Garzón