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Many other players on Manley's new CD, but none in the studio with him

Jim Manley 2013
Devin Rodino

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon - Usually when a musician releases a new recording and schedules performances at a major area venue the following week, audiences can expect to hear a heavy dose of songs from the new CD played at those live concerts.

But that won’t happen at Jazz at the Bistro this Friday and Saturday, Nov. 15 and 16, when horn player Jim Manley – who has gained critical acclaim for his breathtaking ability to hit and hold incredibly high notes on the trumpet – takes the spotlight with his band, Mad Rhythm and Brass.

That’s because Manley’s latest recording, “Short Stories & Tall Tales,” features Manley playing trumpet, valve trombone and keyboard recorded over an assortment of tracks by musicians from around the country that he mixed and mastered on the computer in his home studio.

It’s definitely a new approach for Manley, who has released 10 previous recordings from his 1994 debut, “Lip Trip,” to 2011’s “Brass Poison Too.” All of those recordings were done in the recording studio with Manley and other musicians playing live – in most cases recording together.

Playin' solo

According to Manley, talking at Joyia Tapas restaurant in the Grove before he started his weekly Thursday night duo sets with pianist Chris Swan, his latest recording didn’t start as a project that would essentially become more of a solo effort rather than his usual process of recording in the studio.

“It definitely wasn’t an ego thing,” Manley said. “I didn’t plan on doing it solo, but that’s just the way it happened. I got to the point I wanted to get something done as far as a recording. And it really was tough scheduling other people. So I decided to check out tracks on the Internet and see what happened.”

Search the Internet for “drum tracks” or “bass loops” or “horn section recordings” and you’ll find literally hundreds and hundreds of pre-recorded tracks available for purchase and download. Other sites – such as StudioPros.com -- offer to record any chart you send them for up to a six-piece horn section, then send it to you for use in your own recording.

“These tracks aren’t recorded to tape anymore,” he said. “They are recorded in a digital format called a wave, which you can download, and then move around and play with. I compare it to writing a document on the computer – where you can move the words around after you start writing.”

Manley decided he wanted to experiment with downloading drum, bass and horn tracks, then record his own trumpet and other instrumental tracks on top of them and see what the happened. The result was “Short Stories & Tall Tales” – but the recording process took him months.

“It turned out to be very, very time-consuming, because it was such a learning process,” Manley said. “It took me four months to do it all. But … it took me three months to figure out what the hell I was doing! After I figured things out, it went really fast.”

Recognizing talent

In terms of drum tracks, Manley found he was immediately drawn to recordings done by Dave Garibaldi, the drummer for the legendary Oakland, Calif., funk and horn band, Tower of Power.

“If you listen to my other recordings or hear me live, you know that basically, I’m stuck in the 1970s when it comes to the music I love,” said Manley. “And when I found Dave Garibaldi’s website, and saw that he had about 800 drum tracks out, I had to use some of those.”

Manley emphasizes that he wasn’t downloading electronically simulated tracks for the recording project. Instead, he made sure he was using tracks recorded by musicians on their instruments – some of whom he actually recognized even though their names weren’t listed on the downloads.

“I love working with live musicians,” he emphasized. “You just can’t duplicate that with electronics. So these cuts I downloaded are all real musicians playing. And it’s interesting that when I was listening to some of the horn tracks, there was one I thought was done by Carl Fischer, who used to be in Maynard Ferguson’s band. He’s now playing with Billy Joel. So I called him and asked, and he said that yes, he was on the track.”

Manley assembled tracks he liked – “just like building blocks that you cut and paste,” he said. He soon discovered that some tracks could be manipulated and looped - played over again in various combinations. But others proved to be more restrictive in how they could be altered.

Sharing has limits

“In a certain sense, you are limited in that you can only do certain things on some tracks,” he said. “For example, on some, you can’t change keys, or you can’t change the beat or tempo. But others you can speed up or slow down. So eventually he learned how to create combinations of tracks that sparked his own creativity in building compositions that he could record over and create finished songs.

“It also made me play more instruments than just my trumpet,” he said. “I got my valve trombone back out – I hadn’t played it in years. And I added some keyboard as well. I thought, well I can play just enough trombone and keys to get myself in trouble … and I was able to make it work. And when it didn’t work, you just moved on to another group of tracks.”

Manley ended up with 20 tunes and chose what he regarded as the 14 best cuts for the new CD. And although the temptation to work some of the songs into the set lists for his Jazz at the Bistro performances this weekend was tempting, it’s a concept that just won’t work.

“I couldn’t do it,” he said. “Nothing’s written out as far as charts for the tunes on the new CD. Plus, for a band that could play this style, you would have to rehearse the hell out of them. So, I couldn’t really do a release party for this CD unless it was just me playing to tracks. And that wouldn’t be any fun!”

But as anyone familiar with Manley and the bands he’s played with over the years knows, there’s plenty of fun – and amazing music – at any performance he’s involved in.

In addition to the weekly duo performances Manley plays at Joyia Tapas on Thursdays, at Sasha’s Wine Bar on Wednesdays and at Jimmy’s (the latter two on Demun in Clayton) for Sunday brunch, he also plays with his band, Fantasy, which has been a staple on the private event and club scene for decades. Add other dates with the Charlie B Group and Mad Rhythm and Brass, and you have a very full musical calendar.

Performing at the Bistro

Manley is especially excited about the Jazz at the Bistro performances this weekend, since it’s a rare opportunity for Mad Rhythm and Brass to perform.

“This group has only done three concerts total,” said Manley, “and two were out of town in Omaha, Neb., and in Columbia. So it’s going to be fun. It’s an unusual combination of instruments, with Joe Weber drums, Jeremy Pfeffer on bass and Arthur Toney on piano, plus Larry Johnson on sax, Jim Owens on trombone and another trumpet player, Chris Miller, and me.

“The band swings hard. In addition to doing arrangements of band things from the ‘60s and 70s, we’ll be playing “Take the A-Train,” “Dreamsville,” from the Peter Gunn TV series and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Tin Tin Deo.” Plus, we can drop out the horn section and I can play a Miles (Davis) tune with the trio, because I love using horn mute. So it’s a perfect world.”

Manley will have copies of “Short Stories & Tall Tales” – plus several of his other recent CDs as well – available for purchase at his Jazz at the Bistro performances.

“I hope they like CD,” Manley said with a smile. And if they don’t, it makes a wonderful coaster!”

For more information about Jim Manley, go to: www.jimmanley.net.

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. He has written for the St. Louis Beacon since 2009. Terry's other writing credits in St. Louis include: the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis American, the Riverfront Times, and St. Louis magazine. Nationally, Terry writes for DownBeat magazine, OxfordAmerican.org and RollingStone.com, among others.