Thundercat Looks For Connections During A Bewildering Moment


Thundercat is a second-generation product of the Los Angeles jazz scene: Drummer Ronald Bruner Sr., his father, gigged with saxophonist Rickey Washington, father of Kamasi Washington.

(Photo: The1point8)

Across four full-length efforts, Thundercat has pushed jazz into unknown territories. The bassist, though, remains keenly aware of the roles that his family—both his biological and chosen affiliates—have played in forging the unique sound.

Born Stephen Bruner, Thundercat has become an integral part of the contemporary jazz scene that’s sprouted in Los Angeles, a city many see wrapped in a romantic past. Bruner just sees it as home. He’s actually a second-generation product of the scene there: Drummer Ronald Bruner Sr., his father, gigged with saxophonist Rickey Washington, father of Kamasi Washington.

“There’s photos of us when we were babies. ... [Our parents] just kept us around each other,” Thundercat, who released It Is What It Is in April, said about the younger Washington. “Once they realized that we were very musically talented, they figured it would be better for us to hang out with each other” than to fall in with a questionable crowd.

As teens, the pair would practice in the Washingtons’ garage, a place they called “The Shed.” Longtime collaborators like the saxophonist and producer Flying Lotus form a significant and notable part of Thundercat’s expansive musical family.

“Like the leader of the band that I was in, Suicidal Tendencies, used to say all the time: ‘You have your family you’re born with and the family that you choose,’” the bassist recalled.

Among his various family members, Thundercat also is quick to credit a longtime teacher at Locke High School in Los Angeles with helping to raise him, musically.

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June 2021
Vijay Iyer
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