Although not a huge name nationally, veteran improviser Duane Thamm is a likable vibist who has been around the Chicago jazz scene for more than half a century. Thamm hasn't stuck to hardcore jazz 100 percent of the time; over the years, he has played traditional jazz-influenced pop as an accompanist for singers like Frank Sinatra, Steve Lawrence, and Tony Bennett. The Chicagoan has also toured with the Henry Mancini Orchestra, which is jazz-influenced but not jazz in the strict sense. Acoustic jazz, however, is Thamm's main focus, and he has done most of his improvising on the vibes (although he started out on the drums and plays the chimes as a secondary instrument). Thamm -- whose influences have included Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Terry Gibbs, and Red Norvo -- likes his jazz on the straight-ahead side. The Chicagoan's preference is bop, swing, and big bands, although he has done his share of Dixieland gigs as well.
Born in the Windy City suburb of Oak Park, IL, Thamm began listening to Hampton as a kid and was encouraged to study the drums by his mother (who was a classical singer). Hearing Hampton's vibes playing inspired Thamm to study the vibraphone as well, and eventually, the vibes became his primary instrument. Along the way, he also got hip to Norvo, Gibbs, and Milt Jackson -- and Thamm has cited Gary Burton as one of the vibists he admires. In the '90s, Thamm developed a relationship with producer Bob Koester's Chicago-based Delmark label, which employed him on albums by local artists like big-band drummer Barrett Deems and clarinetist Chuck Hedges. In 2002, Delmark gave Thamm a chance to record an album of his own; that year, he teamed up with Hedges' group for Tribute to Hamp, which was recorded live in Chi-Town and is, as the title indicates, a tribute to the late Lionel Hampton. Delmark released Tribute to Hamp in early 2004. ~ Alex Henderson, Rovi