Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Thiam, Pascal (Bokar)
Thiam, Pascal (Bokar), guitarist/vocalist, educator; b. Neuilly Sur Seine, Paris, France, 22 March 1962. While he was an infant his family moved him to Segou (Mali) and then to Dakar (Senegal) where he grew up. Parents were Abdou and Noelle Thiam, jazz aficionados who exposed the youngster to the MJQ, Sonny Rollins, Nat King Cole at a very young age. Pascal comes from a musical family, his uncle Moussa Thiam was a famous trumpeter and bandleader in Senegal, Mali, Guinea and Ivory Coast during colonial times in West Africa.
Pascal attended the National School of Arts in Dakar at age 8 and took classical piano lesson with Madeleine Ba. He eventually switched to guitar at age 12 and left for France in 1977 to attend the former Royal Military College of Soreze. There, he becomes more interested in pursuing a musical career than a military one and performed in the Soreze-Toulouse-Castres area with an Afro Fusion-Jazz band named Akwaaba. In 1979, he returns to Dakar, reorganizes Akwaaba and performs on national TV (Kaleidoscope presented by Antoine Dos Reis) and local concert halls (Daniel Sorano) backing travelling African Pop stars such as Aicha Kandi, Aminata Fall and more. This is the time of the Afro Jazz Fusion explosion on the African continent with influences such as Manu Dibango (Cameroon), Fela Ransome Kuti (Nigeria), South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela and pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. This explosion is felt in Senegal with bands such as Xaalam, Ifambondi, Bataxaal and Akwaaba.
In 1980 a major jazz festival sponsored by the Club Mediterranee sets sails to Dakar and last approximately 6 months during which, Pascal will meet firsthand and listen to jazz luminaries such as Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Phil Woods, Al Foster, Satn Getz and Roy Haynes to name a few. After this festival, Pascal decides to return to France and attends the National Conservatory of Nice where he studies Jazz guitar with Franck De Lucas, classical guitar with Maestro Henry Dorigny and Pascal holds the guitar chair of the Conservatory of Nice Big Band directed by Andre Borly from 1980-82. In 1981, while in Antibes Juans Les Pins performing at a Jazz club, Pascal is spotted by tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen who will ask him to join his band.
In 1983, intent on learning from the best, Pascal Bokar attends the Berklee College of Music. Pascal will study jazz guitar with the Chairman himself William Leavitt and then Al Defino. He receives the Jim Hall Jazz Master Award and the Professional Scholarship Award. In 1984 at Berklee, he is the guitarist for the Back Bay Brass Jazz Orchestra directed by Ben Elkins and Pascal will perform with Tommy Campbell, Cyrus Chestnut, Bandford Marsalis, Jeff Watts, Bud Revel, Tom Garling, Greg Gisbert, Greg Osby, Kaj Eckart, Jackie Terrasson, Antonio Hart and more. Between 1983 and 1988, on and off the road Pascal plays at Wally's Cafe. He will perform with drummer Roy Haynes, with pianists Art Matthews and Donald Brown and on the West Coast with Dizzy Gilllespie and James Moody. Pascal Bokar is the recipient of the Outstanding Jazz Soloist Award presented by Dizzy Gillespie and James Moody. Tired of the lack of employment in jazz, he takes a staff job at the Boston University Medical Center and redirects his composition and concepts toward his African roots.
Between 1989 and 1993, he performs around New England with a 12 piece band and in 1993 Pascal Bokar signs with Accurate Records, Jazz Division of the Cambridge based Rounder Records label. Bokar goes back on the road as a leader insufflating jazz with a Senegalese Sabar Rhythm section from 1995 through 1998 and will tour extensively the US jazz festival circuit (Houston, Aspen, Kansas City, San Jose, Birmingham, Atlanta) and more. In 1997, Pascal Bokar Thiam becomes a US citizen and in 1999 earns his master's degree in Education from Cambridge College (MA) and moves to the San Francisco Bay Area where he reconnects with bassist Kaj Eckart and pianist Peter Horvath.
Pascal is currently finishing his doctoral degree at the University of San Francisco (USF) and is on faculty at University of California Santa Cruz, where he teaches Jazz History, and Jazz Guitar. He teaches jazz theory at San Jose State University and gives lectures on African Musics at the University of California Berkeley Extension through the Jazz School. Pascal Bokar remains active on the festival circuit as a leader, and a sideman, and is currently developing an African percussive style of guitar that expresses Bebop as an extension of the natural improvisation voice of traditional West African music.
Beyond the Blue Sky; Savanna Jazz Project (2002)