|Jim Manley Interview
As an avid Maynard Ferguson fan, I get frequent recommendations from other trumpet enthusiasts. I often hear about Jon Faddis, Cat Anderson, Arturo Sandoval, etc... I have enjoyed most, but none have generated as much excitement for me as Jim Manley. I purchased a couple of his albums when I was in college, and I was hooked. My appreciation only grew more when I would see quotes from Jim praising Maynard's influence. This was my kind of trumpet player! Jim was kind enough to answer a few questions for my site recently.
- Let's start with your musical background. Can you tell us about your musical education?
I started playing trumpet in the 7th grade after the band director at my grade school came around to each class asking if anyone wanted to sign up for band. No one on my family played any instruments and I found out at a young age I couldn't hit a whiffle ball with even the large red bat-so it seemed natural at the time to try a cornet. That was in 1967 and Herb Alpert was the real deal. I fell in love with music that very first year and was so into it I formed my first band by 1968 and played at several libraries and school concerts-I only can imagine how those things sounded! I had a great band director in high school who really turned me onto to the jazz trumpet greats. I continued playing in groups through high school and college. I was always putting groups together and trying out things I had written.
- In the liner notes from your newest CD, Splendor in the Brass, you mention that Maynard's music was very influential to your playing and enthusiasm for music. Can you elaborate on this, and also discuss what other musicians have been inspirations for you?
Maynard has been a great influence on me as I am know he has been to many, many trumpet players. I heard "Ole" from Maynard 61 when I was a junior in high school. I had never heard MF and could not believe what my ears where being assaulted with! I can vividly remember walking out of the band room in a daze. I started collecting everything I could by this guy named Maynard. I found a few of the great Roulette LPs and then of course all the MF 1,2 etc. started coming out. I was relentless in my search and have collected everything he is on. I have to say he is my major influence. His sound is so pure and open and exciting and he always swings! You'd be very hard pressed to name a trumpet player I don't have something by. I am crazy when it comes to hearing trumpet players. My collection is huge and keeps growing everyday. I was an avid Don Ellis fan and of course Doc-but then I started getting into the straight ahead jazz guys-Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Clifford,Chet and I love all that stuff to. As a matter of fact I love all the trumpet stuff I can get my hands on.
My list of favorites would take up an entire website!
- You are known for your amazing range on the trumpet. Who blows your mind in terms of range?
There are so many guys out there with the range thing happening it is mind boggling. Mf is still and will always be number one on my list-not just because of his upper register-but his sound and the way he uses his upper register musically. You have to remember high notes by themselves are pretty meaningless. In a musical context they can sure add a lot of excitement.
- When did you decide to play trumpet for a living? And how did you break into the business?
I played in bar bands all through college and then after I left school I played in a few bands and started putting group together for fun. I did odd jobs and the longest one I had was running printing presses at a brokerage firm for about four years. My boss use to crack up because I'd bring in my horn and practice during my lunch hour in the storerooms. In the summer of 1983 my girlfriend's parents had a pool at their house and I decide to quit my day job hang out by the pool and join a local group called Fantasy that played pop/dance/funk music in the bars here. I am still in that group and we averaged twenty nights a month from around 85 to 95. It was insane! We now do private parties, wedding receptions and a few clubs. I also got into putting different groups together so I wouldn't get too bored just playing the same stuff all the time. I was always recording groups and writing (some of this stuff is plain awful) but I knew each time I did a project that I was learning something. I now have several different groups here in St. Louis and they keep me fairly busy. I might be playing lead on night and then doing a trio gig the next-it just depends on what is needed. The only thing I do not attempt is the classical stuff. I leave that for my buddies here that can do that much better then me.
- I've had "Splendor in the Brass" for a few weeks now, and I really enjoy it. I've noticed that while you do frequent the upper register on this album, you spend considerably less time there than you do on your first couple of albums. In other words, your high register playing on the newest album seems to be one of many tools that you use, instead of your primary tool. Have you made a conscious effort to avoid becoming classified as a high note artist?
I haven't made a conscious effort-but I think my playing in constantly changing. When I was younger all I wanted to do was play as high as possible- (Some Assembly) and then when Scott and I did Lip Trip we really wanted to try and put out the ultimate modern high note trumpet CD. We had a blast writing the tunes and recording the stuff. I was in LA in 94 right after the big earthquake and we would be recording and there would be these huge aftershocks that would shake the whole studio up in Laurel Canyon-it was really something to see us all running between takes everytime the building shook-I wish I had some videos of that! I still love the upper register stuff-but I can also dig playing a chorus like Freddie Hubbard (I wish I could swing that hard!) My heart will always be with the big band thing and this new CD was a dream project for me. We are so lucky to have MF still out on the road playing his ass off. It is really unbelievable to think about the playing this man has done and continues to do. I just saw the band a little while back and MF was tearing it up.
- Which brings us to commercialism. Is it frustrating for you as an artist that has obviously had to put in countless hours of practice and effort to see N Sync sell over 1,000,000 albums in their first week of release when jazz artists go largely unrecognized by the record-buying public?
I don't think jazz will ever be as popular as pop or country or whatever. It is just how it is. The difference I guess is the people that do dig jazz really love it. As a musician you have to do a lot to make ends meet. Producing a CD is an expensive venture and you are usually lucky to break even. I feel committed to keeping trumpet music alive and well-and I'll probably continue to put out CD's until it is just not possible anymore. I support jazz by going out and buying CD's, going to as many concerts as I can. I feel very lucky to have been able to hear some of the greatest trumpet players live.
- Let's get technical for a moment. What equipment do you use and why?
I play the Yamaha Z with a custom made Bob Reeves mouthpiece. I like the Z because it is so responsive and it can purr and bite at the same time. I also have several Mark Curry mouthpieces that he has made and I also use them on occasions I am a horn junkie-I am always buying and selling different horns just to to try them. I also have a Don Ellis quarter-tone trumpet, a bass trumpet, a Cuesonon Monopole Flugel and a new acquired Firebird.
- Do you have any tips for our trumpet playing readers regarding range?
I was voted by my college teacher "the worst student he ever had" He was right. I was a very poor student at college and it really wasn't until later that I started to figure a few things out about how the trumpet works. I was lucky enough along the way to get some advice from Lin Biviano, Cat Anderson, Roger Ingram and the teacher that really put a light on things, Bobby Shew. If you ever get a chance to hear him play make the trip. If you ever get a chance to take a lesson with him-do it! Some players have a natural ability to play the trumpet easily - the are few and far between. The rest of us fall into the category of having to learn to play. The best advice I can give is to play as relaxed as you can and don't fight the resistance of your horn (or the notes). Open up and let the air do the work. Of the player I have seen who come through St. Louis to take a lesson there is usually way too much tension in their playing and they overblow the horn. There is a fine balance between the air you use and the resistance of any given note.
- Tell us a little bit about your current CD, Splendor in the Brass. What approach did you take with this album that you haven't taken with previous albums? What are your favorite tracks, and why?
When the chance came along to record a big band CD (twelve people) I knew right away I wanted to pay tribute to the recordings I heard in high school.
The Command Doc stuff-Shorty Rogers, and of course MF . I picked tunes form various recordings I had and narrowed the list down to what is on the CD. We really had a blast re-arranging these thing for this ensemble. It is hard for me to pick and favorite tracks because they all have very close ties to me and my experiences growing up. I can tell you it was quite a challenge for me, as all my other recording have been in the jazz/fusion category.
- Do you have a favorite recording of your own?
Hopefully-the next one! They all represent a growing process and I have no idea what the next experience will bring. I'd really like to do Lip Trip 2 with Scott and we are already talking about Splendor 2. We had a sold out CD release party in St. Louis with the band that is on the recording. It really was amazing to see the turn out we had and know that the support is out there. The label I am on (for Splendor) was blown away by the response and the turnout.
- You are now on the internet at www.jimmanley.net. What caused you to create an Internet presence?
I wanted to try and get my music out there-that is the most difficult thing letting the public know you exist. I record these CD for my love of music-if I really wanted to make the big bucks I'd get a jumpsuit and apply at Jiffy-Lube. Please everyone get out and support your local players and groups! We need to keep this music live! (alive!)
I want to thank Jim for taking time to answer my questions. I was thrilled to discover that Jim is just as enthusiastic about this kind of music as we are! Let's support him by visiting www.jimmanley.net and buying his music! He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.