Reader Spotlight: Thomson Kneeland

Thomson KneelandMeet Thomson Kneeland, our bassist in the spotlight for May 4, 2010.


Acoustic bassist and composer Thomson Kneeland has established himself as a formidable sideman and leader since moving to New York City in 2003. He quickly found himself working with such established musicians as Ted Rosenthal, Kenny Werner, Billy Drummond, Lynne Arriale, Paul Bollenback, Peter Leitch, Jed Levy, and many others as well as leading his own groups. Kneeland has established himself as an in demand bassist with a rock solid swing feel and a unique virtuousic and rhythmic voice; but while delving deep into the jazz history, Kneeland also brings a variety of musical interests to the table from classical counterpoint, and 20th century chamber music, to Indian Karnatic music, Indonesian gamelan, Balkan folk music, electronica, heavy metal, and more.

His latest album, Mazurka for a Modern Man, was released in March 2010 and features a quintet of his peers making their marks on the NYC scene of today. In the past decade, Kneeland also released three previous albums as leader of the group Kakalla, a Boston based group that performed weekly for 8 years until Kneeland made the move to New York City.

In 2004, Kneeland collaborated with recording engineer Warren Amerman on a techno/electronica studio project, Grid-X, as well as for the electronica movie soundtrack of Magdalena’s Brain. Besides composing for various jazz and improvisational idioms, Kneeland also composes chamber music, some completed works including a string quartet and a string trio; he was also commissioned to write three pieces for the Longy School of Music Jazz Ensemble. As a leader, sideman, and composer, Kneeland has appeared on over 40 recordings to date and performed with such luminaries as Jerry Bergonzi, Kenny Werner, George Garzone, Chris Potter, Ted Rosenthal, Lynne Arriale, Rick Margitza, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Joe Maneri, Gunther Schuller, Peter Leitch, Paul Bollenback and many others. He has performed internationally at such venues as The Kennedy Center, Medellin University in Colombia, the Toronto Jazz Festival, the Perth Jazz Festival, the Vancouver Jazz Festival, and more.


New York City, NY, US

Day gig:

Fulltime performing musician, some private lessons

Years experience:

20 years

Bands & Gigs:

I make a living freelancing with many different groups: Ted Rosenthal Trio, Paul Bollenback Trio, Jed Levy, Nate Radley and many others. As well, I work with my own groups performing straight ahead jazz through out the NYC area. I also lead my own group performing all my original music, fusing jazz improvisation with rock, Balkan folk music, Indian classical music, chamber music, and more. I just released an album Mazurka for a Modern Man (2010) featuring some of the material.


  • 1920 Wilfer acoustic bass (german, 3/4 size) – my main instrument
  • 1950 Wilfer acoustic bass (7/8 size)
  • John Norwood Lee bow
  • Renaissance electric fretless
  • Euphonic Audio iamp500
  • Euphonic Audio Wizzy 10 and CXL12 cabinets

Why I play the bass:

I played classical and jazz guitar and took up bass as an extension of those instruments, due to the needs of the high school jazz band. I immediately found a special connection with the instrument…it quickly became my main instrument; I acquired an upright bass upon graduation, a graduation gift from my father. From that point on, upright bass became my main instrument.

My bass superpower/claim to fame

With attempted humility: bass virtuoso in pizz technique. My knowledge and usage of rhythms from Balkan folk music, Indian Karnatic music, as well as Meshuggah give me a unique take when used in a jazz context. accordingly, I play a lot of mixed meter music as a leader and sideman and have a reputation for being able to handle and solo in any meter from 7/4, 11/8 to 7/8, 15/16 and more.

My influences

I’ve drawn great inspiration from countless musicians and classical composers. Bach is one of my main musical influences. for bassists: Charlie Haden, Jimmy Garrison, Dave Holland, Gary Peacock, Albert Stinson (a little known bass virtuous in the early-mid 60’s who died young), and many others. no bassist is complete without a drummer: Elvin Jones, Jack Dejohnette, Billy Drummond. Coltrane, Bill Evans, Messiaen, Takemitsu, Lou Harrison, Morton Feldman… all the great musicians and peers I get a chance to work with… the list goes on.

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