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5

Joe Manis: Killin'!

George Colligan By

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[ Editor's Note: The following interview is reprinted from George Colligan's blog, Jazztruth]

Sometime last year, I got an email from a dude named Joe Manis, who said he was from Eugene and he wanted me to make a recording with him. He wanted me to play organ. I said to myself," Hmmm. Tenor player named Joe Manis. Never heard of him. Wonder if he's any good?" Well, turns out, Joe Manis is killin! It was a pleasure to make his latest recording, North By Northwest, which is now available on the Steeplechase label ( which means on iTunes, which means you barely have to lift a finger to own it!). Manis has a big tenor sound, and an aggressive improvisational approach, which is the polar opposite of his unassuming personality. Hopefully, this new recording will make more folks aware of Mr. Manis and his tough young tenor.

GC: What are your earliest memories of music?

Joe Manis: I took piano lessons when I was little, but I didn't stick with it. My dad played clarinet and my mom took piano lessons through high school for both of them. There was always music playing on the stereo at my parents' business and around the house. They took me to lots of concerts after I started band in elementary school. My parents and my grandma were always very supportive of me playing music even though they weren't musicians. My dad made me practice, which could have really backfired, but didn't. I still play my dad's clarinet.

GC: When did you know it was going to be your life's pursuit?

JM: After I started playing saxophone, I played by ear a lot. My parents had a satellite dish and they would watch Jay Leno three hours earlier than network TV—so, as an elementary schooler, I got to watch. This was when Branford Marsalis was the bandleader and Jeff "Tain" Watts was in the band. I recorded the closing credits on our VCR, learned the closing theme music, and wrote the noteheads down (with no rhythms) on a homemade piece of manuscript paper (a piece of notebook paper with a staff drawn on the lines).

My private teacher saw my "transcription" in my music folder, along with my Rubank saxophone books, and asked me what it was—I played it for him. I think he liked that I had done that on my own, but it's hard to say because he was kind of a gruff guy. Seeing those guys play on TV really made me want to be a musician, even though I didn't really know what that meant! I consider that period to be a pivotal time in my development as a musician and deciding that music was what I wanted to do.

GC: Why tenor?

JM: I went to a small high school in the country with about 450 students total. Despite being a small school, it had two full big bands and there were more people that wanted to play than there were spots in the bands. The top jazz band was competitive at high school jazz festivals. My first private teacher, Mike Wiggins, was the high school music teacher. I started on clarinet in elementary school band, then played alto and bari. Mike Wiggins switched me to tenor because he was always looking ahead to what his top jazz band was going to need. I just went with it.

GC: Who are your tenor sax heroes?

JM: Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Warne Marsh, Dave Liebman, Steve Grossman, Joe Lovano, Chris Speed, my teachers, Jerry Bergonzi and George Garzone...The list isn't limited to these players, but these are the first that come to mind.

GC: Do you have any affinity to the other saxophones?

JM: The tenor is my favorite. I play sopranino, soprano, alto, C melody, and baritone. I also play piccolo, flute, and clarinet. Being able to play various woodwinds has made me more employable, playing gigs in big bands, musicals, recordings, orchestras, rock groups, etc. However, sometimes I feel that because I can play the different woodwinds it ends up that really one of the only people that hires me on tenor is me! I also have my uncle's vintage Rogers drum set that I enjoy playing. I think that my drum set practice has helped my writing and arranging with drummers in mind, as well as my ability to communicate effectively with drummers in rehearsals. When I coach student ensembles I try to have something to show the drummers that they can't already do.

GC: Who are your musical heroes who aren't saxophone players?

JM: Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Miles DavisChick Corea, Tony Williams, Freddie Hubbard, Lennie Tristano, Roy Haynes, Booker Little, Kevin Congleton, George Colligan...

GC: What was your practice regimen?

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