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A Fireside Chat with Joe Maneri

AAJ Staff By

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I have to force myself to practice everyday. I am very upset. People don't understand that I made my first record when I was 67. They don't understand you could spend 35 years without people knowing you exist...
Perception is reality. But perception is an unfortunate consequence of opinion and rarely is opinion validated by substance. And perception of Joe Maneri corresponds with his lamentable mainstream obscurity. However, Maneri's obscurity is not his failure, but our own.

All About Jazz: Let's start from the beginning.

Joe Maneri: Music was the only thing that was interesting to me. But I suppose it was because my mother played opera on the radio everyday and I was attracted to it. And when I was about eleven and started on the clarinet, I knew right away, it was something special. I was learning disabled and during those days, there was no name for it and so I failed all my classes. But when I played the clarinet, people liked it and I felt good about it.

AAJ: Then you were not merely musically inclined, but musically destined.

JM: In my world, that was all there was, jazz and opera on the radio. Despite the fact that I always played a wrong note in tunes. That was my mark, I couldn't seem to play a tune without screwing up on one or two notes.

AAJ: As a composer, how have you managed to master your learning disability?

JM: To learn music, to the point of composition, that was very, very hard for me. I took a five year course and it took me eleven years. Everything that has to do with intellect, it takes me very long. But when I improvise, I know it intuitively and my intuition knows how to play. I can be sophisticated in my improvisations because improvisation is the easiest, most pleasant experience in my life.

AAJ: How did the Tales of Rohnlief session lead to Angles of Repose?

JM: Steve Lake of ECM set this recording up. He had this idea that Barre Phillips should record with us and since Barre had recorded for them, he set it up. When we came together, I mentioned to Steve that I made up my own language and I read it to him. Rohnlief was one of the poem's names. The latest one was kind of a surprise. It was the most laid back album I ever made. I have been changing my playing an awful lot in the last two years. I have been seeking love and melody. I am sick and tired of squawking and squeaking and showing off fast technique. And on this album, it seems to come through quite well. This album is the closest to where I want to bring music.

AAJ: Do you recognize your significance as an improviser?

JM: With all my experience, it is like being a painter who paints a picture spontaneously. I always see a painter as an improviser.

AAJ: But spontaneity remains a servant to invention.

JM: It is painful experience because I have strong believes of love and passion and pain. When I play and feel the emotion, I cry on the horn. When I feel the joy, I try to bring that love in. I guess I should have said that it is like living your life through your music.

AAJ: And yet, critically, your life is microtonal.

JM: That is a very sad, a pain in the ass. I happen to have turned out to be a microtonal composer. I started out fascinated by the notes between the notes. But because of my learning disability, by some fortune, instead of that, I ended up playing Greek and Turkish music. And I had an aptitude for it. The microtonal tag that they give to me is a pain because it certainly is a thing that I use. I use it because I know it and all improvisers should use what they know, but I don't know microtones. Nobody knows microtones. I don't like to be called microtonal because people make that into not being a jazz player. Microtonal makes you more classical. That has been annoying me. I don't like that label. My soul hears jazz every second of my life.

AAJ: And yet, do jazz circles hear your soul?

JM: I still have trouble in this country. I am very, very sad. I wish to hell I could get some respect here. It makes me really sad. I spend more of my time at home when I am just dying to play. In the last six months, I am starting to feel myself being resigned to it and I don't want to resign to it. But it is one of the hardest things to take as an artist, as a teacher, and a lover of music. I am so sad I cry. I just cry.

AAJ: An artist should never be burdened with such doubt.

JM: I worry about not playing anymore. In order to make myself available, I have to force myself to practice everyday. I am very upset. People don't understand that I made my first record when I was 67. They don't understand you could spend 35 years without people knowing you exist and yet, you keep the candle going.

Visit Joe Maneri on the web at www.joemaneri.com .

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Joe Maneri: Serial Autobiography


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