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  Point Richmond Summer Music Returns This Friday
July 6, 2005
The popular Point Richmond Summer Music Festival makes its second appearance this summer at Baltic Square on Friday, July 8, from 5:30 to 8:00 PM featuring N Focus (Funk / Jazz) and Thomas Banks & Cultural Gumbo (Jazz). For more information, see http://www.pointrichmond.com/prmusic/ and the following article from West County Times.

Summer music fest continues
Posted on Tue, Jul. 05, 2005

FROM HIS DAY job as a carpenter to his off-hours pursuits as a vocalist, chocolate-maker and sculptor, among other things, it's safe to say Thomas Banks is a creative type.

The longtime Richmond resident will be putting his talents on stage locally Friday as Thomas Banks & Cultural Gumbo plays as part of the free Point Richmond Summer Music Festival. Also appearing will be jazz group N Focus.

Cultural Gumbo is a fitting name for Banks' group, both because he's a native of Louisiana -- "Born on the bayou," as he puts it -- and because the ensemble's music is a stew of smooth jazz tinged with "old school" R&B-style vocals. And like gumbo, the musical mix is spiced with lyrics Banks describes as "cultural exploration."

"The music I'm doing now I like to call my attempt at cultural enrichment," he said, with songs that go beyond standard lyrics to impart such things as African traditional stories.

"My goal is to take my R&B roots and mix it with my cultural heritage," Banks said. "When I'm doing a song about African gods it's so people who are of my culture can embrace it and people of other cultures can maybe appreciate something they don't know about."

The diverse composition of the group also fits the gumbo description. It includes bass player Tony Saunders, son of veteran Bay Area musician Merl Saunders; keyboardist Jeffrey Chin; drummer Billy Hobson; sax player Brad Hughes and Segun, who plays instruments from his native Nigeria.

Fronting the group on vocals is Banks, who gives his age as "in my 50s," and has been singing professionally for some 20 years. That includes being an opening act for such artists as Aretha Franklin, Boz Scaggs and King Curtis. He is also in another band that performs at weddings. "I enjoy putting on the tux and doing the tux thing, too," he said.

Banks spent most of his childhood in south Richmond, where his family moved from Louisiana when he was 2. He later moved to Hayward, where he went to high school. He studied architecture for a time in college and applies that background in his carpentry work.

Today Banks is back in Richmond, where he finds various ways to satisfy his creative urge and his desire to increase cultural awareness.

He is a sculptor and also creates wall hangings based on African masks. In addition, "I have a little chocolate company called Imperial Chocolate," whose creations are faces of famous black people in confection form.

"I try to uplift people musically and tastebud-ally," he said.

Following Friday's show, the free concert series continues with a double bill of the Fez Tones and Wendy De Witt on Aug. 12, followed by an all-day art and music festival in downtown Point Richmond on Sept. 10.

The 2005 Point Richmond Summer Music Festival continues from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday with two jazz acts: N Focus and Thomas Banks & Cultural Gumbo. The free performances take place at Baltic Square behind the Baltic Restaurant, 135 Park Place in Point Richmond. Details: 510-223-3882 or www.pointrichmond.com/prmusic.


If you have tips about people or programs our readers would like to know about, call me at 510-262-2784, e-mail ctreadway@cctimes.com, or write to West County Times, 4301 Lakeside Drive, Richmond, CA 94806. Our fax is 510-262-2776.