Georgia Mancio: ReVoice!
Anita O'Day, the great American vocalist, is another performer who had a large impact on Mancio (pictured above with bassist Arnie Somogyi), to such an extent that she has developed her own tribute to O'Day, which she now performs. "It's taken me all this time to be brave enough to do it. It's a tribute, but I also wanted to put my own stamp on it. It was fascinating to go into depth about one artist, to revisit one person's body of work.
"I still think of myself as a standards singer. It was my introduction to jazz. I loved the '40s musicals and the songs of that era before I knew who the songwriters and singers were. Nowadays, there seem to be two camps: the standards singers and the singer-composers. Some people think standards are the way to go; others think there's a stigma attached to it, and you have to be writing. I think all of that is nonsense: you should only do what you feel you can do truthfully. It doesn't matter if that's songs from the '20s or something you wrote on the bus that morning, if you do it with conviction."
Composition and Collaboration
Mancio also writes. More accurately, she's a lyricist, adding words to existing tunes or working with other musicians on original material. "I collaborate for a couple of reasons. One, I don't feel qualified, as it were, to create an entire song from beginning to end. It's still quite new to me, and if I'm honest it's still not something I spend a lot of time on. I haven't really got a pattern that I work to. Sometimes it takes me a year to finish something. Perhaps I'll have a line missing, and I'll just put the song away and forget about it. Sometimes I've written things in 10 minutes, which is quite alarming!
"I tend to wait until I hear music I'm inspired by and want to add lyrics to. I'm a lyricist, really. Again, Norma Winstone's been a real influence on me. She's a lyricist who's put words to such a wide range of music; she's really inspiring. Tim Lapthorn, a pianist I've worked with a lot, was my first collaborator. He'd written a piece of music I thought was really lovely, and he said, 'Why don't you put some words to it?' That shone a light for me, made me think I should try it."
Writing is still a small part of her work, however. "I haven't really written too many lyrics. Most of the ones I've recorded are on Silhouette. There are some I've co-written with Tim, some with Kate Williams, who's also a pianist; the lyric I added to Pat Metheny's "Question And Answer" [which Mancio retitled "Question The Answer"]. I'm working on a Joe Zawinul tune; I've done some Horace Silver, too. I'm also doing some translations of Spanish songs, trying to keep the meaning of the original words but creating a nice English lyric. It's really hard! I'd love to try and be a lyricist for hire. I think that's a huge challenge. You have to put your ego aside and really serve the song."
Take It With Me
Contemporary songwriters are being adopted into the jazz repertoire, creating what might be thought of as a new body of standards. Tom Waits is pre-eminent in this group. His "Take It With Me," co-written with Kathleen Brennan, has been performed or recorded by artists including Shaw, Carroll, Solveig Slettahjell and Mancio herself (on Silhouette). But how does a song become adopted by a singer? Mancio's own stripped-back, atmospheric, version of the song comes not from discovering the Waits original but from hearing an instrumental version.
"That song came to me through a bassist, Nick Kaçal, rather than through another singer. Nick recorded the song with a band called Guerillasound. I loved that version, and he suggested that I should learn it. I learnt it to do guest spots on gigs with the band. After I'd recorded it, I found out that Liane Carroll had done it on her album. We always do it as a bass-and-voice number live, very stripped down; on the album there's a cello as well. It's a simple melody, but the lyrics are fantastic, and the song is incredibly moving. With a ballad, the acid test is: have I moved myself? It's important that the song affects me emotionally, otherwise it just feels like I'm going through the motions.