Sarah Manning: Shattering The Glass Ceiling
AAJ: Did you have a fully formed idea of what you wanted to do with the group, or have the concepts and goals evolved along the way?
SM: I think that I've been determined to have the same band, the same members, and to write for them and their strengths, as opposed to just picking up bands. That's one thing I see a lot of in jazz that is unfortunate. Again, it's just the structure of itthe way that leaders work as opposed to sidemen. It's less conducive to having the same group. I think that the music suffers. I just got through playing on the West Coast, where there were certain things I couldn't write if I didn't have the rehearsal time. It couldn't be sight-read on stage. I can't bring in the charts. And the times I would do that, something might fall apart. It was limiting me as a composer.
Now I feel that my band really challenges me, and they're opening my ears to different directions. For example, [pianist] Art Hirahara has an incredible left hand. He has the most contrapuntal left hand of any jazz pianist I've heard on the scene today. This counterpoint that he's doing is almost like a classical sound. That's definitely influenced how I've written for the band, because I know he has that capability.
AAJ: What motivated you to become a role model for young women who want to play jazz and lead groups?
SM: I didn't have a lot of those role models, coming up. It was significant to me when I met the first other female jazz player who became my friendshe's a flautist by the name of Sukari Reid-Glennsomebody who had the same interests that I did. Since they were few and far between when I was growing up, it was really important for me to be able to talk over my experiences with them. I want to provide that for other women coming up and also to lead by example. By promoting my own group and getting out there and getting heard and being a visible presence, that's going to encourage young women, and it will encourage people as a whole to listen to women players and pay more attention to us.
AAJ: Does the politics of women's empowerment ever get in the way of the music, or vice versa?
SM: That's a good question. I would say that I do my best to not let that happen. I'm basically trying to lead by example more than anything else. As part of our mentoring, we've invited women to open rehearsals. For instance, I played a show at the Jazz Gallery where I had people submit an inquiry to come to the show as a special guest and come backstageanother female instrumentalistand get to know the band, be a part of the hang. But it's not something I talk about while on stage. When I'm on stage, it's just about the music.
AAJ: In putting together Shatter the Glass, was it difficult to find musicians who share both your musical and political visions?
SM: No, I don't think so. I actually got very lucky with who I ended up choosing, right away. I'm sure there are people who wouldn't be supportive of the name of the band. Generally speaking, the meaning is a double-entendre. It could also mean music that's edgy and can shatter glass. So it's got a double meaning. We're not a political organization. We're just out there to challenge people's perceptions by what we play.
AAJ: Tell me something about the kinds of responses you get from Shatter the Glass' live performances.
SM: They're really no different than if the band was performing under my own name. We try to perform in different ways. For instance, we did a residency in Northampton, MA at an art gallery on the main street. It had floor-to-ceiling glass windows. We performed in the window and left the door open. People were walking by on the street. We were in a fishbowl scenario. We try to interact a little more with the audience when we can in that way. During the concerts, there was a point in which there were about 20 or so people on the sidewalk looking in, while the rest of the audience was looking out at them and at us. So we're trying to break the barrier between the audience and the music in ways that are a little less conventional.
AAJ: Congratulations on the release of Dandelion Clock. It's impressive how well everything works on the record. Your compositions are interesting and melodically rich. You've developed into a soloist with a genuine voice. There's a feeling of mutual support in the band. And everyone on the record gets a chance to shine. Please elaborate on the origin and evolution of the project.
SM: Actually, this project is extremely cathartic for me. I hadn't recorded in about three years. And in that time, I moved to New York City on April 1st of last year. It was a major life change for me in many ways. I arrived in the city with little more than some books and my horn. So it was a major transition. I really felt like I had arrived at a place where what I was going for with the music was almost implicit in lives of my peers. I feel like I stepped into a community in a way I never felt before. The life change was very positive but also painful. The compositions are coming from a place where I was able to translate what I was going through in my life into music.
One of the compositions is called "Crossing, Waiting." That one is modeled after the sound of a train's signal gate. I had Kyle [Struve] use one of his cymbals that has a concert A overtone. And then I wrote the tune based on knowing that. It's got some tritone elements as well.
The train crossing is very symbolic for me in my life experience, and it has a literature reference as well to a book by Madeline L'Engle. She's written some books for children and a number of books for adults. In one pivotal scene from the book, And Both Were Young, the protagonist is a young artist and boarding school student. She has broken the rules to visit someone outside of campus boundaries, and just when she is about to cross the train tracks and back onto campus and safety, she's spotted by school officials. Because it is dusk she can't be sure they recognized her since many of the girls look alike in their uniforms. At that moment a train passed by, giving her the choice to run off and hope they didn't identify her, or wait for the train to pass, cross the tracks, and face the consequences, which could include being expelled. She chose to wait for the train to pass and then cross the tracks. So that's kind of the metaphor I was using for this particular tune.