Three Musicians Spotlighted in “Music of the Heart”

A trio of Big Band Jazz session faculty members from Egg Harbor’s Birch Creek Music Performance Center will present Music of the Heart, an annual fundraiser concert to benefit Birch Creek students. 

Together, the three performers will play jazz standards and new arrangements of classic songs during the Feb. 10 fundraiser. 

That featured trio is made up of Mardra Thomas on vocals, Reggie Thomas on piano and Rick Haydon on guitar. 

Mardra Thomas has performed with the Birch Creek Jazz Orchestra for over 20 years, making appearances at concert halls, jazz festivals and premier clubs, as well as on the theater stage and in the director’s chair. The vocalist, who also performs with the historic Chicago Jazz Orchestra, was nominated for Best Leading Actress in a Musical by Chicago’s Black Theatre Alliance’s Award for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in the musical Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar and Grill. 

Mardra Thomas’ husband, pianist Reggie Thomas, is Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University and the director of the college’s award-winning jazz orchestra. His other current positions include the frontman of the Chicago-based music group Trio Nexus; an ensemble coach for Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra; the holder of “The Count’s Seat” in The Count Basie Orchestra; a rhythm-section accompanist for the Herbie Hancock International Jazz Competitions; and a clinician/adjudicator for the University of South Africa international competitions. His time with Birch Creek spans over 30 years.

The third member of the trio, guitarist Rick Haydon, is Professor Emeritus of Music at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, teaching private applied jazz guitar and directing the jazz guitar ensemble. During his career at the university, Haydon helped develop its jazz program as well as its recording studio. Haydon has also served on the summer faculty of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Director Academy, and has a twenty-plus year connection with Birch Creek.

Doors open at 5:15 pm, a pre-concert social starts at 5:30 pm and a cash bar opens at 6 pm. Tickets are $85 and should be purchased early. They are available online at, over the phone at 920.868.3763 or in-person at Birch Creek, 3821 County Road E, three miles east of Egg Harbor. Birch Creek’s winter office hours are 9 am – 4 pm Monday to Thursday, and 9 am – 2 pm on Friday.

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