Thaddeus Tukes Reinforces the Vibraphone's Legacy

Photos by Michael Salisbury

Photos by Michael Salisbury

“Just expect vibes” Thaddeus replied, when asked what a new listener should expect from his music. After conversing with him it’s apparent that Thaddeus possesses many talents, but none more important than the vibraphone, his instrument of choice. The vibraphone comes from the percussion family, developed in 1921, resembles the xylophone and is often commonly used in jazz music. Over ninety years later, Thaddeus is making it into a lane of his own. Growing up in various neighborhoods across Chicago, he was introduced to playing music on his Grandma’s piano.
It was at his Grandma’s house where he heard the renowned vibraphonist Lionel Hampton’s Flying Home album that changed his life forever. “I saw a vibraphone on the front and I thought 'hey, I play that instrument' so I listened it and was entranced. After one rotation, I decided that I wanted to play jazz vibraphone. Lionel Hampton is definitely one of the greatest vibists ever, and probably my personal favorite.” 

There’s something about the vibraphone that grabs Thaddeus’ imagination. He sees it as instrument that fits his personality, and which offers endless possibilities.“The vibraphone is the most diverse instrument, it can be louder than everyone else or in background but you can still hear its distinct sound. I think the instrument represents my personality in a lot of ways because I’m a person in the right context I’m the life of the party and in others I’m just in the cut and chilling. So when I think back on it the vibes chose me, it was a match made in heaven.”
Thaddeus has collaborated with some of Chicago’s most prolific artists, participating in projects such as Surf and Juju’s Exchange. “I feel like Chicago is where my family is, the music community is a family, and audience members are sometime family members or might as well be family. Because I’m surrounded by family there’s more inspiration to push myself and far as I can.” This collaborative period in Thaddeus’ life taught him many key lessons in his musical career. “Chicago is a city where you have to figure it out yourself to build your own name and brand. In Chicago you got out do it yourself, there are not a lot of huge companies trying to put people on. You have to organically build your own network to be famous in Chicago. If you can do business in Chicago you can do business anywhere”


Recently, Thaddeus has had many life changing moments, from performing at venues across the city, to premiering a musical experience, NuViibez, at the Chicago Jazz Festival in August. “During my time in college, I saw people I worked with like Chance and Vic blow up and it became real for me. I knew I had these skills and I knew how to make it happen and had the network that could help me out.”  After his groundbreaking summer, Thaddeus released a single entitled “Chicago” giving his own version of Frank Sinatra’s famous entitled track, putting the city on notice. “I wanted to do a song that would pay homage to my city and its history, but try to encompass as many sounds of the city as possible. "Frank Sinatra made Chicago” famous [worldwide], but it tells the story of so many faces and places in our extremely diverse and sometimes divided jazz scene within the city. My arrangement of Chicago considers all of those histories in a modern context. It's a song that can be played on any side of the city and be appreciated (I've tested it).”  

He followed this release by dropping his full-length project Thad’s Groove” which showcases an assortment of melodic elements on each track from the up tempo and trumpet heavy track “I Got..Now” to “Encantado” that features salsa type themes. The true beauty of this project is bringing together an array of Chicago musicians, creating a sound that can be played at any setting. “The project is extremely collaborative for Chicago, everybody’s role changed during the recording. Collaboration is the key to sustaining life, the more [music] that we put out there, the more everybody eats. “
Thaddeus believes the vibraphone is in need of some recognition as one of music’s most unique and versatile instruments.  When it comes to the vibraphone, “I want people to understand what vibes are and how they work, not only the instrument and how they work in popular culture.” He aspires to stay true to himself and go down with the greats, to be an inspiration for upcoming generations.  “I’ve always felt I stood out so it left me less inclined to fit in. What’s cool changes all the time. How many vibraphone players have you met? Most cases you’ve never met anybody like me. It’s not something that's unauthentic but this is how I am because of the places I’ve been. I want to make great music because I believe it's our history keeper. As musician you write history and the current times too. The best ones are the ones who can capture both. I want people who listen to my music and to have something of which they are inspired from.” With the vibraphone and the city behind him, nothing is out of the question.