Michael Manson, from first-touch, has an uplifting spirituality to his approach, which sensitizes the temperament of the listener. Each melodic tone signifies a gentle calmness, similar to a wave’s final act of existence. This peaceable guitarist is grounded, not only in his craft’s prowess, but his life’s values. Mr. Manson, on all accounts, is that stable force one yearns to embrace.
With his 2008 release of Up Front shelved, make no mistake and discard any scattered speculation, the man has struck solid "groove." The disc is a lesson in smooth, world-class sound, navigated in full-throttle! The manipulation of the Manson bass along with a cast of named artistic craftsman, the sound generated ignites a titanic response from those who spin its majestic impact.
One of the many strong vibes you get with Mr. Manson is his drive for really profound music--music that shakes the memories and stimulates the senses, for the passion of his sound to communicate and celebrate life is that light at the end of his process. This theory is never so evident than with the intro spin "Bring It On," on the current release of Up Front. For while you’re involved in the full experience of this cut, you’re in "his" groove! The bass is full of vibrant soul, as it simmers the R&B influence in the jazz mindset.
In the space we shared, Mr. Manson touched on numerous aspects of his life and music. He spoke to the realities of the business and how the setbacks one approaches are not a reason to tune out the dream. This self-proclaimed "Band Geek" elaborated on the importance of improvisation and how it bonded his friendship with the R&B universe. The technically-secure artist addressed the recipe of his gumbo-esque new spin and its eclectic nature. There are so many sides to such a focused, able artist of jazz who is untainted by the shrewd influences of success. Mr. Manson the real deal with real feel!
When all is said and done, Up Front will certainly be a highly respected and noted for its velvety approach to the genre-bending sound. For now, however, the pleasure is all yours. Venture between sets with the magnificence and shelving design of bassist Michael Manson.
JazzReview: Michael, let’s first examine the fulcrum of your craft, the balance of R&B in line with jazz. Go into your thoughts on the path this partnership of genres has taken. Where it is today?
Michael Manson: Growing up, I always admired the R&B style of playing. While I admired and studied other styles of music, R&B was most prevalent in my community. That being said, that style is still influential in my writing and playing. However, I’ve grown as a studied, improvisational musician so that is was the two styles meet in me-- the cross between the improv and the soul of R&B. I do think that this is the contemporary/smooth jazz style I will focus next on this style.
JazzReview: Characterize the "Groove," which you perform and speak of. Where is your psyche when you find it?
Michael Manson: Good Question. So, groove is when music, specifically rhythm, and harmony are moving in sync with one another. While it is uniquely musical, it is also spiritual, which happens between musicians--everyone contributing their part, but in concert with one another. When it’s right, there is nothing like it. When it’s wrong, it is unpalatable.
JazzReview: How was the move to the Nu Groove label? Speak a bit about the label, David Chackler, and the vision you have in years to come with this new venture.
Michael Manson: It is an exciting time. I must admit to being a little nervous after both labels that I was previously associated with went bankrupt. Hey, it’s the reality of the music business these days. I have some history with Dave and his team so making the transition from 215 Records, Dave’s former label, to this one, was relatively easy.
As far as vision and concept for the next years, we definitely want to expand our audience so more can hear the music and enjoy and support it--perhaps broadening beyond what is called smooth jazz and really exploring the R&B/gospel/jazz market, the goal being to expose the music to a wider audience.
JazzReview: First it was The Bottom Line, then Just Feelin’ It, and today Up Front, all recorded phases in your young career all with different personalities. Discuss the transformation each time you hit the studio from project to project. How did the signature "Cool" of Manson mature?
Michael Manson: Signature Cool? I really still feel like the quintessential "band geek" who’s living out a fantasy dream. I’m enjoying the ride, but living a dream nonetheless. I do approach the studio with a lot more maturity these days. I do think that everyone is evolving into something different than what they were "yesterday." That being said, I am evermore conscious to express my heart and what is going on today, for it will be different tomorrow.
I think that people who enjoy music want that story--to know you and what’s going on with you. In the studio I do my best to convey that in every technical aspect and in the presentation of every song.
JazzReview: There is a great story behind your start. Mom buys you a bass and your brother a guitar to become the catalyst behind the sound today. You welcome the guitar and magic transpires, as does that tenacious drive and self-assured growth. Speak about that time, your mom, your growth, and the epiphany that influenced your place in jazz today.
Michael Manson: Wow! That takes me back. My parents were determined that I and everyone in the family were going to play some musical instrument. It started with piano, in which my future mother-in-law was my first teacher. I hated it. But, they had a bass in their house so I told my parents that I wanted to play that. After much begging she bought us different instruments.
I believe that everyone has a special teacher in his or her life. My teacher was Mata Bowden in the 7th grade. He was the first one to tell me that I could play music, play it well, and play it for the rest of my life. I believed him. He and my parent also instilled in me a great work ethic and respect for my craft. They all insisted that I go to college for music, and I insisted that I get a graduate degree in music, for I wanted to be prepared for making music as I could.
JazzReview: Before we get on to the project itself, you seem to be a very spiritual person. Does your belief influence your ability? Touch upon how those values sculpted you as both a musician and individual.
Michael Manson: My spiritual (convent) relationships shape who I am. I don’t think there is a spiritual "side" to me. It is who I am. So it is very influential to everything I do, inclusive of music. There is a passage in the Bible that essentially says that the greatest among you are the one who serve. Therefore, I consider myself a servant and the music that I have is the vehicle in which I serve. To reach people with music forms my heart to reach their hearts. That is my mission.
JazzReview: Up Front is smooth with a gentle yet deliberate flow of many tones--an easy spin with a diverse showcase of arrangements! Before the tracks were laid out, what was the goal of this third project? Did you achieve that which you hoped?
Michael Manson: Yes I did. I wanted diversity in mood structure and timbre in this project. I believe on the next project we’ll go even further down this road. [On] this project, there were things I had to say, even down to the ever escalating divorce rate in this country, that were not off limits. Also, the tribute to my girlfriend/wife who has stood by me for all these years, that’s very important.
JazzReview: I noticed that the art of jammin’ appears throughout the disc. The technique of that free-spirit attitude amongst musicians on stage is a "never to be duplicated" art. Was it a deliberate attempt or just fell within the studio walls?
Michael Manson: DELIBERATE! I was determined not to be a slave to style labels, radio formats, or any such thing. Musicians should play, and play their hearts out to the best of their ability. That’s what we were going after.
JazzReview: Bill Wither’s "Lovely Day" is just what the lyrics speak too when spun. The vocals, matched with the tempo, just seem to justify the feel of the original. Why this selection, and how did you shape it to bring out your personality and style?
Michael Manson: On "Lovely Day," I tried to achieve a style of music and dance called "stepping." It is an underground craze here in Chicago. In fact, Chicago is the Mecca for steppers so I wanted to try to emulate that style along with the message of lovely day, in which Bill himself, gave the blessing to perform his song in this manner.
JazzReview: The critics will swing with "Bring it On," but so many more cuts have that same quality. It is a special production! "End of the Road" is one of those unique spins, from the smooth temper of the sax to the sensual string manipulation throughout. Talk about Steve Cole’s influence on this piece.
Michael Manson: Steve is essential to "End of the Road." It is done in a quasi-gospel style, and I needed someone that could not only exhibit tremendous technique, but also perform with heart and spirit. The song has got this great choir sound and with Steve playing his tail off it, has become one of my favorite tracks on the CD.
JazzReview: Flutist Najee also puts his classic stamp on this disk in "Steppin’ Out," along with Lenny Castro on percussion. Talk about all the classic artists that adorned your studio and their impact on the final spin.
Michael Manson: I admire so many of the artists that I’ve shared the stage with over the years. It is an honor to have them all sharing their gifts and spirit with me, and everyone on this Up Front project. They are genuinely nice people and love to make music. I love them all and I feel their love back.
JazzReview: Is there a specific cut that brings your 20 years of music full circle?
Michael Manson: I don’t know if there is a specific cut or track that brings me back full circle, but I do think that this new project, as a whole, does. I’ve made some great music over the years with a lot of different people and a lot of great people have "poured" into my music style to create the kind of "gumbo" style that you experience on Up Front.
JazzReview: If I were to use a few words to define this current project, it’s "passionately smooth with a dash of cool." Now it’s your turn, describe the spin Up Front.
Michael Manson: I would describe it as some cool grooves with an edge of some funky jamming mixed in.
JazzReview: Okay Michael, you were an ex semi-pro football player for the Chicago Heights Broncos. Let’s look at the world of pro sports and the world of music, two very high-profile professions. Do they in some way interrelate and if so, explain. Oh, and what position did you play, just for kicks?
Michael Manson: I think they are similar, in that the football field is no place to be timid. You hit (tackle) or you will be hit. You must be aggressive and go after your targets with all that is within you. That same attitude has to be when a performer gets on stage. If you’re timid, people will know. And while they may not tackle you, they may throw something at you. Anyway, you have to be aggressive on stage and give your all. It’s all in how you approach it that matters. I played middle and strong side linebacker.
JazzReview: That’s a great comparison, Michael Let’s slide out of the serious and dig deep inside you! Answer if you will these probing questions, and be blatantly honest
1. What book in the Bible had the biggest impact on your life? Tim. 3:16- If you don’t believe the Bible, then the Bible is just a good book with some confusing language.
2. If you could interview three people, who and why? Jesus, he is just the coolest and intriguing. Quincy Jones, to understand his commitment at all cost to his craft. Joe Sample, the stories of how he learned to play in the segregated south in which, at times, you had to groove right or die. All of his stories about the Jazz Crusaders are so interesting.
3. When stressed, where do you go? Church! To hear an encouraging word and not necessarily from a preacher or minister! The people at church are like a second family. Just being around them is encouraging.
4. If art is life which artist would mirror yours? David, the first great poet and musician! He, like me, is so far from perfect, but has heart and commitment that is to be admired.
5. Your favorite vocalist in any genre? Hands Down Al Jarreau!
6. Your album of choice? Al’s Look to the Rainbow, Live in London 1977