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Take Five With Renée Manning

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Meet Renée Manning

Widely celebrated vocalist/composer, Renée Manning, has been educating students ages 2 to 100 years for the past 35 years. During her 10 years as instructor and Vocal Chair at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, she has been awarded several grants including Met Life grants for her choral work with Prospect Hill Senior Center, Brooklyn. World renowned, Renée has toured, performed and recorded with the likes of Taj Mahal, Carmen McRae, Dizzy Gillespie, David "Fathead" Newman, Nat Adderley, Mel Lewis Orchestra, Mingus Big Band, Chico O'Farrill Orchestra, George Gruntz Big Band, David Amram, actor John Ventimiglia and many others. She has also been a teaching/performance artist in hundreds of schools, senior centers, and special needs organizations. Some of these projects were in partnership with Brooklyn Arts Council and Young Audiences.

A student of the famed brass instructor, Carmine Caruso and several other notable teachers, Ms. Manning has developed her own vocal method which has achieved extraordinary results with seniors, children and people of all ages and disciplines. Renee is the co-founder of Excelsior Music Studio where she teaches this unique method.

Instrument

Vocalist.

Teachers and/or influences?

Teachers: Carmine Caruso, Sybil Mandel, Anna Ext and Elliot Ames Influencers: Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, and Johnny Hartman.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

As a little girl, I danced and sang in my recitals. Often, I would be the one taking the lead. My dance teacher thought I had a sweet voice and made me into a chocolate "Shirley Temple." I think my biggest influence was the minister at my Aunt Ruby's church in South Carolina. Every summer after school closed here in NYC, we'd go spend time in Dillon and Little Rock. Her minister had a large, beautiful baritone voice and he would sing his congregation in through big doors. That's when I fell in love with music.

Your sound and approach to music

I studied classically at the High School of Music and Art here in NY and became a member of a ten-piece funk band. While studying with Carmine Caruso, I learned to listen, feel and absorb music a whole different way. For a year, I was only allowed to listen to instrumentalists, no singers. Listening to the way they'd breath, phrase and interpret was the focus.

Your teaching approach

I am known as a "chop doctor." I treat every student like a patient, assessing and analyzing what their focus needs to be, starting with breathing. I believe every bird has a song and I don't believe in "tone deafness."

Your dream band

Over the years, I've been blessed with performing and being supported by so many incredible musicians. I would've been a dream to do a set with James Moody, J.J. Johnson, Tommy Flanagan and Prince.

Road story

My first road trip was with the Mel Lewis Orchestra in Spain. Mel failed to tell me that we were opening for Carmen McRae. At that point, I was a nervous wreck begging to go home but she was very nice, supportive and we had a nice tour. Our first concert, Ms. McRae entered just as I stepped on to the stage and I froze, Mel counted the band off, I sang my two songs and as I was leaving the stage, the audience started throwing things at me. I ran off the stage crying and as I was stripping out of my gown, the promoter came into my tent and asked me why I was stripping and crying. He said, "Please Ms. Manning listen!" as he zipped up my gown. They were stumping for an encore. The promoter walked me back to the stage where two little girls stood at the edge with their little hands full of flowers. When I bent down to take them I realized the stage was full of flowers not rotten fruit and veggies. I sang the encore, left the stage and Ms. McRae complimented me and said "for the rest of the tour, I open, you close."

Favorite venue

Visiones (now The Groove), Village Vanguard and Birdland. They treated me well and my audience always felt at home.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

Clarity, sanity and a good time!

Did you know...

I used to be a coloratura first soprano and I got hired on recording dates to sing Minnie Rippleton like riffs. In 1978, during my pregnancy with my daughter, Amanda, my voice dropped an octave and a fifth. God bless my husband Earl McIntyre and Carmine Caruso, who convinced me that God had given me a new gift and it was going to be alright.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

It saddens me because a lot of folks have turned away from it. It's become too complicated, egotistical and competitive. It's missing that "I'm here to make you feel good" touch.

What is in the near future?

I am excited about this gig coming up on July 23rd at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music and a special re-release of two remastered albums.

What is your greatest fear when you perform?

Having to go to the bathroom at the last minute.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

"Please don't talk about me when I'm gone."

By Day:

I am co-founder of Excelsior Music Studio. I teach students from all walks of life from age 2-100.

If I wasn't a jazz musician

If I wasn't a jazz musician, I would have been a veterinarian. I have a great love of the other species.

If I could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?

I'd like to have dinner with Edgar Allen Poe. He lived through a lot of tragedies alone. He needed a friend to talk to.

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