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Joe Manis: Killin'!

George Colligan By

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Joe Manis—North by NorthwestJM: Early on, I did: a lot of solo transcriptions; playing along with the recordings and trying to match all the details, such as time feel, cutoffs, articulations, vibrato, sound, etc.; learning vocabulary in all twelve keys; scales; scale exercises and arpeggios; and learning tunes. I would begin everything initially at a very slow tempo and work it up incrementally with the metronome. I would take a piece of vocabulary and practice starting it on every different 8th note of the measure and/or play it in triplets, trying to get the most mileage and flexibility out of it. I think I was always a slow and methodical type when practicing.

Jerry Bergonzi was a great teacher because he gave me enough information to work on for the rest of my life, and I still practice that material to this day. He is probably the person who's had the most influence on my practice regimen. He has endless numbers of assignments, but if you came into the lesson with a different question, he'd go that direction. He has so many methods that he's worked out and he's taught them so many times to so many people so well that it feels natural: you never get the sense that he's just taking you through the book. Plus, he's just a really nice guy.

GC: Are you able to maintain a practice regimen currently?

JM: I'm always trying to make time to practice, but it can be pretty inconsistent between being a dad, everything teaching entails (prepping, grading, commuting 400+ miles a week, etc.), rehearsals, gigs, the logistics of being freelance, etc. I'll have periods where I'm practicing regularly and others where I realize that I have touched a saxophone in 11 or so days and that I have a gig the next day...

Sometimes it's nice to be able to take a break so that when you come back you can enjoy just hearing and playing the instrument instead of just chipping away everyday practicing and losing perspective. I had kind of a "duh" realization about five years ago that the sound is what people hear, meaning that if your sound isn't good then what you're playing really doesn't matter. So, when I'm putting time in daily, I practice long tones, especially on flute and clarinet as well as saxophone. It helps you to be able to play loudly with a big sound as well as maintain your embouchure and air support. I also spend practice time learning music for upcoming gigs.

GC: Why did you want to do organ trio?

JM: Larry Young's album Unity is one of my all-time favorite records. The first album of any genre that I got was Sonny Rollins Way Out West, so I just always had that "saxophone, bass, and drums" sound in my head and didn't care that there wasn't a comping instrument. I have performed in that setting since 2001. More recently I was playing in a trio of saxophone, guitar, and drums, which I guess was an even weirder instrumentation, but was a fun setting to play in. The funny thing is that the absence of bass or a comping instrument is really only "strange" to jazz musicians. I think the average person doesn't notice if any particular instrument is "missing."

I heard that you had moved to Portland and that you also played organ. I started checking out your recordings on organ: both with Gary Thomas and as a leader. I wanted to do a new recording with my friend Kevin Congleton, a great drummer who I've been playing with since I was 16, but I wasn't sure what the third instrument should be. My wife Lillie, who is a violinist, always wanted me to do an organ group. I mentioned the possibility of doing a recording with you and she was very supportive of the idea. I feel that the organ suits my music well. I like working in trio settings because of the openness and the fact that the lines of communication are very direct between the musicians.

GC: How has fatherhood changed your music and your career goals?

JM: I feel like the time leading up to and since our son Ellery's birth has been the best and most productive time in my life. I feel like I've always been a pretty motivated person, but within the last year and a half or so, I think I've really accomplished a lot, contrary to what I might have expected. He has definitely made my life better. I think I'm a happier person now: he always makes me smile. I really enjoy being his parent.

But, as you know, being a dad is challenging. It takes time and patience, and, as a first-time parent, you have no idea what to expect: there's no manual. I'm not quite sure how it's affected my music, because he's only 13 months old. I can say it's made me want to continue to be a person of integrity for my family—both in my professional and non-professional life.

GC: What's your take on jazz education?

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