Thollem McDonas is a pianist, composer, improviser and teacher. He travels perpetually internationally performing as a soloist as well as in collaboration with a wide array of artists in wildly divergent directions such as West African drumming troupes, Javanese Gamelan ensembles, punk bands, with film makers, dancers, poets and painters. In the past 7 years, he has added 40 albums to his discography on 17 different vanguard labels. He was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area of Irish and Cherokee descent. At the age of five, Thollem began studying the keyboard repertoire from the medieval to the 20th century and studied with many notable teachers including Aiko Onishi and Lou Harrison. After graduating with degrees in both piano performance and composition, he stepped from the concert pianist trajectory to dedicate his time to grassroots political movements and ecological restoration projects. In 2005, he returned to his music as his full focus, incorporating his myriad experiences into his compositions, improvisations and teaching.
He is the founding director of Estamos Ensemble, a Mexican-American cross border ensemble for musical exchange. As a writer, his essay, "Deep Listening and the Peripatetic Life of an Improvising Musician" was written specifically for An Anthology of Essays on Deep Listening (Deep Listening Institute, 2012) in honor of Pauline Oliveros' 80th birthday. In 2013, he was a regular columnist in Full Moon Magazine (Prague), a print publication dedicated to independent music.
Thollem's music is diverse, with each album and every concert exploring a variety of approaches and paths, resulting in dramatically new and different outcomes.
"Thollem McDonas travels the world looking for magical sounds that will enlighten and inform him about the possibilities of how to live. He is learning the dance of life through sound. Hear a sound feel a sound, care for them but know they have a life of their own. Man didn't invent music it was here when we arrived and will be here after we have died. Musicians like Thollem know this intellectually and intuitively." -William Parker
"An intense and virtuosic keyboardist" -Time Out New York
"Thollem McDonas is simply one of the great improvisers of today." -The Detroiter (U.S.)