October 2004

Thales Thomas “Skipp” Pearson

Jazz Legend

Thales Thomas “Skipp” Pearson, son of Alfred T. and Louise E. Pearson, is a native of Orangeburg, South Carolina. As a 12-year-old in public school, Skipp was learning hard knocks as a paperboy for the Times and Democrat in Orangeburg. One year later, he was playing with his own band for dances in the local area and on television. When he graduated from high school, he joined the United States Air Force and played clubs from California to England. After four years in the Air Force and touring with shows, he returned to his hometown, graduating from Claflin College in 1973 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in music.

For twenty-four years, Skipp Pearson worked as a band director|music teacher in both Bamberg County and Clarendon County School Districts, while maintaining his professional musical connections by performing in the United States and throughout the world. He has shared the stage with internationally renowned musicians such as Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Patti LaBelle, and others.

During the past five years, Skipp Pearson has performed weekly at the Hunter Gatherer in Columbia during sessions that he calls “The Workshop”, where he invites all musicians to sit in including students and internationally-known artists. The name of his current band, Jazzology, reflects Pearson’s affinity for learning, and his work draws upon and further enhances the spirit of community among musicians and ultimately enriches the music scene in South Carolina. He is currently creating The Jazz Resource Center, an enrichment program designed to help students with homework, and establishing studio and gathering space for jazz musicians. During the Charleston-based Spoleto Festival USA in the early 1990’s, Pearson met Wynton Marsalis, who sat in after his evening performance with Pearson and the Bill Aycock Trio, then performing at the Orient Express Charleston Place Hotel. Two years later, Wynton and his group performed at Greenstreets, a local jazz club in Columbia, inviting Pearson to join them on stage. This impromptu arrangement was repeated again the following year and demonstrates the camaraderie among musicians highly valued by Skipp Pearson. At Greenstreets Pearson met Wycliff Gordon, at that time Wynton Marsalis’ trombonist, recently featured as a guest artist in concert at the Hunter Gatherer in Columbia with Pearson and Jazzology for the Thursday Night Jazz Workshop. Other guest appearances at the Jazz Workshop include Joe Samples (of The Jazz Crusaders), Columbia’s own Chris Potter, and Ron Westray, a Columbia native who is presently a member of Marsalis’ band. Such combinations of talent not only enliven the musicians’ experience but provide the audience with unique musical experiences.

Pearson’s contributions to the community of musicians as well as his musical ability are greatly valued by his peers. In a letter of recommendation for the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award for the Arts, Wynton Marsalis wrote: “In the artistic community, someone who has achieved ‘super special’ status as a jazz musician is referred to as a ‘local legend.’ The local legend is a repository of unrecorded history, a hands-on educator, a personal mentor to aspiring artists and above all, a first rate performer. In Columbia, South Carolina, that man is Skipp Pearson. Skipp embraces the highest ideals of American democracy through the art of jazz. When I have had the opportunity to share the bandstand with Mr. Pearson, his big-blues-drenched tenor saxophone resonates with the true meaning of Southern hospitality.”

Skipp Pearson has received a number of honors, including Induction into the South Carolina State University Jazz Band Hall of Fame in 1998, a commendation in 2002 by a resolution of the South Carolina State House of Representatives “for his extraordinary contributions to the world of jazz music and to congratulate him on his outstanding career and accomplishments,” and the 2003 Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award for the Arts in the category of Individual Artist. Skipp Pearson is a worldwide jazz legend.