"Most drummers focus so heavily on rhythm that they forget about the melody and the form of the tune," observes hand drummer Bobby Thomas. "I focus on the melodic aspect and I'm allowed a chorus of trading fours or eights with the piano and saxophone and that's been my trademark." Thomas will be on hand today, 4 to 8 p.m., for a Lettumplay Sunday Jazz Series concert at the Lansburgh Cultural Center, 420 Seventh St. NW. Steve Williams will be at the trap drums, Charlie Young on alto saxophone, Pepe Gonzalez on bass and Ronnie Patterson at the piano.

"I play everything by hand and I get more sound and texture than just picking up a stick," explains Thomas, who grew up in Miami Beach and now lives in Paris. Thomas' touch has sparked concerts and club dates for Weather Report, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and Monty Alexander's Combo, and he recently contributed his talents to a studio session with French film scorer Daniel Bechet, son of the great saxophonist Sidney Bechet.

"Usually jazz cats don't even want a percussionist on the bandstand because outside of bossa nova or a calypso tune they wouldn't have any use for one," says Thomas, whose equipment includes congas, bongos, hand cymbals, cowbells and a Brazilian "rain stick" that produces the effect of a downpour. "So to get by on hand drums I realized that I had to have a different concept."