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Joe Maneri: Serial Autobiography

AAJ Staff By

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Strength is Happiness. Strength is itself victory.

In weakness and cowardice there is no happiness.

When you wage a struggle, you might win or you might lose.

But regardless of the short-term outcome, the very fact of your

continuing to struggle is proof of your victory as a human being.

~ Daisaku Ikeda

At some point in life everyone will encounter events requiring struggle. That struggle could be physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, or some combination thereof.

But despite the nature of the struggle, and despite the outcome (as suggested above), the inevitable product of struggle is a personal transformation. Whether one calls this "character" or "soul" or "being", most people claim to have grown as a result of the struggle.

Joe Maneri is one who can claim not only perseverance but also triumph over many of the struggles in his life (as you will read below).

While Mr. Maneri is best known for his critically acclaimed recordings for ECM, Leo, and hatHUT, he is also a faculty member at the New England Conservatory of Music where he teaches music theory, composition, improvisation, and jazz studies, conducting numerous lectures and workshops. Furthermore, even though the majority of his releases have occurred since 1995, Mr. Maneri has pursued a unique musical vision over his nearly 75 years of life. Profoundly skilled on a variety of wind instruments, his repertoire spans jazz, ethnic music, and his own microtonal compositions. As both composer and performer of microtonal music, Mr. Maneri is co-author of Preliminary Studies in the Virtual Pitch Continuum, is co-inventor of a microtonal keyboard that has 588 notes with 72 notes per octave, and is founder and president of the Boston Microtonal Society. Many jazz scholars have suggested that had Mr. Maneri become recognized in the '50's or '60's (when he first began recording), he could very well have achieved the stature of Ornette Coleman or Albert Ayler (but who's to say that he still can't?).

The reason for presenting his story at this time, is not to help promote a new record or tour, but to celebrate his life. On Feb. 9, 2002, Joe Maneri will achieve his 75th birthday. On this date, Tonic will host the Joe Maneri 75th Birthday Gala Celebration (@ 9:30pm). TONIC is located at 107 Norfolk Street (between Delancey & Rivington). Further information can be obtained by calling 212-358-750 or by pointing your web browser to (Official disclaimer: neither All About Jazz nor this writer are associated with Tonic)

Correspondence with Joe Maneri was conducted via e-mail and fax during winter 2000-2001.


1927 - 1937 "Early Memories"

I was born on February 9, 1927 in New York City. My parents, Toto and Nina, came to America from Sicily, Italy. I was an only child. We spoke Italian at home and I began to speak English in my first year of school.

We lived at 45 Melrose Street in Brooklyn, top floor, right. It was called a "cold water flat" type of apartment with railroad rooms.

Several times a month my parents would have a musical party at our "apartment". We had a typical quartet of clarinet, guitar, banjo, and mandolin. My dad played clarinet. I would sit as close as possible to the musicians. I became excited when I heard them tune-up; it took a long time. The first party that I remember was when I was three years old. These parties went on throughout most of my life there.

My father played the clarinet very well. My mother was a self-taught singer of opera and folk songs. She, as well as I, learned the operas and folk songs from the Italian radio station.

My mother and father were good storytellers. My father was exceptional as an improviser, creating comedy situations at social gatherings. He didn't tell jokes. He kept a "deadpan" look in his delivery. At times, my mother and father would spontaneously go into a duo presentation.

Whether we were shopping, at a funeral, a wedding, or involved in just our daily living, we were always "on stage".

Ethnic music exposure did not occur in my early years in Brooklyn. But I knew the kids on the block were a mixture of nationalities.

1938 - 1940 "The Teachers"

In 1938, at age eleven, a neighbor schoolteacher convinced my father to allow me to take music lessons.

I began by having a clarinet teacher (totaling three all together). All three became one great package.


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