Jesper Thilo is today one of the elder statesmen in European jazz. He has been playing professionally for more than 50 years, nicknamed “the King” by his Danish saxophone colleagues. Internationally he is in the league of fellow danes like Svend Asmussen, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Palle Mikkelborg, Pierre Dørge and John Tchicai.
He has played side by side with many of the greatest jazz musicians in the world, f.x. Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, Benny Carter, Wild Bill Davison, Johnny Griffin, Eddie Lockjaw Davis, Scott Hamilton, Roy Eldrigde, Cat Anderson, Harry Sweets Edison, Clark Terry, Al Grey, Richard Boone, J.C. Higginbotham, Vic Dickenson, Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Sir Roland Hanna, Kenny Drew, Doug Raney, Jake Hanna, Billy Hart, Alvin Queen.
From 1966-90 he was a member of the famed DR Big Band, where he worked with many international guest conductors and soloists, f.x. Thad Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Oliver Nelson, George Russell, Maynard Ferguson, Phil Woods, Jerome Richardson, Lee Konitz, Pepper Adams, Mary Lou Williams, Bob Brookmeyer, Frank Foster, Lucky Thompson, Slide Hampton, Sahib Shihab.
From 1990 he has led his own groups, as well as touring as a soloist all over the world, and at the same time being a member of the Ernie Wilkins Almost Big Band and Niels Jørgen Steen’s A-Team. He also co-led the “Three Tenors” group together with saxophonists Thomas Franck and Bent Jædig.
His roots are in the great jazz tradition: Straight-ahead, swinging music, of the sort that used to be called mainstream. Thilo has often been compared with Zoot Sims for his fluency and unrelenting swing. He was also greatly influenced by Eddie Lockjaw Davis and the great Ben Webster, doyen of the US exile community in Copenhagen. His roots in swing and bebop are evident. He has with great skill sensitively embraced these traditions to a degree, where he today is probably the most outstanding European saxophonist in the mainstream tradition.
His own group has been in existence since 1993 with three Danish top musicians: Pianist Olivier Antunes, the internationally well-known Bo Stief on bass, and drummer Frands Rifbjerg. Like Thilo, both Antunes and Stief have won the prestigious Ben Webster prize, and Frands Rifbjerg has won the equally acknowledged Bent Jædig prize.